THE PAIN of defeat begins to sink into Manny Pacquiao today as he returns to the country early this morning when most Filipinos are still asleep. This time around, he won’t see the adoring crowd welcoming him at the airport and lining the streets, deliriously hailing him as a conqueror, as they had been wont to do during the last several years when he dominated eight weight world championship titles.
Pacquiao has won most of his fights, but nothing has been more devastating and humiliating of his few defeats than the smashing knockout punch he received at the hands of Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez at the end of the sixth of their 12-round non-title fight. By the time the Pacquiao entourage arrived at their destination-cum sanctuary, most Filipinos, although shell-shocked by his defeat, could have gotten over their trauma and could have accepted the reality that they had been diminished by the loss of one of their icons, in whom they had taken pride as a worthy representative of their race in the brutally competitive world of boxing.
The fall of Pacquiao from pedestal revealed to us once more the thinness of our bench in the world of sports. Boxing is one of the few sports in the world where we have excelled—but at least in the lighter divisions because of our size. It will take another few generations to have a boxer of his caliber to fill the void he has left behind. Going back to the pre-war Eastern Games and the 1936 Berlin Olympics, we had excelled in a few events—swimming, high jump, short-distance sprint, hurdles, and some group games. We have won medals in Asian Games, but in the Olympics our size betrayed our aspirations. We found out we were no match to the elongated athletes of the Western world, especially the African-Americans whose reach proved better than their aim, although our players were more speedy on the court and very good on the fast break. Of late we have rediscovered that we have become competitive in football, where smaller men with nimble footwork are not tremendously disadvantaged against men with giraffes’ gait. The Azkals are creating waves in international and regional football leagues, and are opening a wider world for Filipino sports to win glory or medals, making us less dependent on solitary once-in-a-generation athletic phenomenons like Pacquiao, and Flash Elorde and Pancho Villa when it comes to carving a niche in international competitions.
As Pacquiao’s motorcade reenters his former routes of glory in his homeland, he must be wondering and agonizing himself over what went wrong in his fourth encounter with Marquez, a man he had previously defeated in three fights. He must find it galling to face questions such as: Where are the crowds who were deliriously cheering in the past, hailing him to the skies as the “invincible” Filipino boxing champion of all time, showering him with ticker tapes and laurels—like Caesar entering Rome in triumph, and with accolades of “Ave Caesar” after his conquest of the land of the Gauls. These previous tributes could not have made Pacquiao believe he was indeed invincible and could do nothing wrong; such that he became reckless in attacking Marquez (who was already battered and, with a bloodied nose, was catching for breath) and thus he went sailing in the range of that murderous punch that could have crushed a brick wall. Pacquiao must be asking himself: Where are the hangers-on who surrounded him during his days of glory? Where are my friends?
Now come the recriminations. It’s time for fault-finding and blame-making. Some say, Pacquiao didn’t train hard enough and as rigorously as Marquez did; that he trained for speed, not to gain strength to deliver the coup de main—the knockout punch when it would be badly needed; that he was doing too many things outside of being a boxer, such as being a congressman, attending Bible-reading sessions in late hours, orchestrating a rock band, etc. All these are coming out now like a deluge after a disaster.
As they say, success is a parent of flattery, defeat makes its victim an orphan.
This is not the end of Pacquiao as a boxer and a public man of various gifts. He lost to Marquez at the age of 33, six years younger than the latter. He quickly decided he would fight Marquez again, out of pique, out of a desire to redeem himself. Some say it’s time to retire, but he’s still young, apparently healthy, and has a longer shelf life ahead of him. If he decides to retire, he would be doing so from the pinnacle of fame and success, but as a defeated man. But he has loads of hard-earned and honest money. He is at the end of the rope with a reputation as a clean fighter.
He has many options available that would not make him idle. That’s his problem and dilemma— what to do with himself after his defeat. Clearly, he is at a crossroads. He is a diminished asset. He may continue to fight, but he can’t anymore dictate the prize money. He will be fair game to upstarts aspiring and hungry for crowns to conquer. They are sensing Pacquiao’s vulnerability. Pacquiao need not be told he is at his best in boxing. Politics is not his cup of tea. It’s not for him. All other occupations cannot get out the best in him. He would be a misfit in those options.
The best thing that his defeat has done to him is to force him to isolate himself temporarily and trim his sails—cut out his entourage and flatterers, and determine who are his true friends—people who can tell him what’s wrong with him.