KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao, who won back the welterweight world title in stunning fashion yesterday, is idolised by tens of millions in the poverty-afflicted Philippines after rising from the streets to the pinnacle of boxing.
Known to his countrymen in the Asian archipelago as “The National Fist”, Pacquiao knocked out Argentine Lucas Matthysse in Kuala Lumpur to be crowned World Boxing Association welterweight champion at the age of 39.
To most of the 105 million Filipino population, the winner of an unparalleled eight world championships in different weight divisions is a beloved national symbol and living proof that success is possible with hard work even if you are dirt-poor.
Pacquiao, 39, declared a net worth of $56.2 million in 2017 and placed 20th in Forbes’ list last year of the highest-paid athletes of all time with total earnings of $510 million.
He has successfully parlayed his boxing fame into a political career, getting elected to the House of Representatives and then, in 2016, to the Senate, a high-profile, national position which is often used as a stepping-stone to the presidency.
He admits to having considered running for president someday and many Filipinos are urging him on.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was ringside at the Axiata Arena Sunday to see his old friend triumph and has even mentioned “Pac-Man” as a possible successor.
Pacquiao has also served as a celebrity endorser for products ranging from appliances to pizza and cars, hosted TV shows, starred in movies and had an improbable stint as a professional basketball player and coach.
He launched his own professional basketball league in 2017 and last month founded his own cryptocurrency, the “PAC Token”.
Known for his generosity and common touch, he has given away huge amounts to friends, supporters and to the poor. He is known for accommodating his fans, letting them watch his training sessions.
The 1.66-metre (5ft 5.5in) southpaw began his professional ring career as a teenager, and in 23 years has compiled a 60-7-2 win-loss-draw record with 39 knockouts.
In the ring he is a volume power puncher who uses lightning footwork to create angles with which to deliver flurries, the likes of which have felled Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera.
The son of a deadbeat father, Pacquiao dropped out of high school at 14, sold doughnuts on the roadside and became a grocery stacker to help his mother support two younger siblings. He became a pro boxer at 17.
The sport brought him fame, power, influence and wealth, and with it the vices: booze, gambling, cockfighting and romantic links to beautiful film stars that at one point nearly wrecked his marriage.
But in 2012 he found religion and he sold his shares in a Manila casino, nightclub and bar, giving away the proceeds to employees. He also gave away his 1,000-plus fighting cocks to friends.
He often cites God as the source of his success, peppering his speech with biblical references.
But Pacquiao has also suffered some setbacks in and out of the ring, leading some supporters to suggest that he should hang up his gloves.
He hadn’t knocked out an opponent since 2009 but silenced all his critics with a seven-round destruction of champion Matthysse Sunday.
Before that his star had seemed to be fading: he lost on points in his much-anticipated 2015 superfight with American Floyd Mayweather as the two best “pound-for-pound” fighters of their generation squared off.
Then a year ago, in a shocking upset, Pacquiao lost his World Boxing Organization welterweight belt to the lightly-regarded Australian Jeff Horn in Brisbane in 2017.
Pacquiao also stirred international anger when he compared homosexuals to animals in an interview in 2016, later citing the Bible in his defence. Sportswear giant Nike cut its ties with Pacquiao as a result.
He has also been an avid supporter of Duterte whose brutal anti-drug campaign has left thousands dead and which has been widely condemned by human rights groups.