THE PUNCH that wiped out Pacquiao wiped out the Pinoy.
He felt low, he felt heavy, said Philip, a Pinoy taxi driver in Las Vegas. He did the night shift, starting out at 3 p.m. and ending at 5 a.m., and he had looked forward to celebrating. Of course not physically, he would be driving, but at least in his mind, at least in his soul.
He watched the fight just before setting out, and even now he stared at the world with disbelief. This wasn’t happening, this was a bangungot. “Alam mo naman,” he said, wherever you were, however long you were there—he himself had lived in the United States since 2000 after being petitioned by his father—“Pinoy ka pa rin.”
This hurt, he said. This really hurt.
Boy had done some serious marketing that day, seeking out his favorite suki for fish, shrimp, crabs, kambing, pata, lumpia wrappers, and kakanin. He was planning a feast that night and some serious drinking afterward which would go on till next day, Sunday. He and his guests were fairly plied with food and drink when they watched the fight, which started at a little past 9 p.m., shouting and cheering as Pacquiao began to turn the fight around.
Then from out of nowhere, that punch. That literally last-second punch.
It didn’t just hit Pacquiao, it hit them. It flattened them. It wiped them out. After staring at the TV for a while, they felt their spirits plunge, like Icarus into the water, sinking into the sea. That was probably how a durugista felt, said Boy, when the effects of shabu wore out. Slowly his guests filed out of his house, leaving the case upon case of beer, San Miguel of course, to gather frost in the suddenly wintry night.
The Pinoys who watched the fight live trooped out of the MGM arena like zombies while the Mexicans whooped it up, chanting “Ole, ole, ole, ole,” as though they had just won the World Cup. Some splayed water in lieu of champagne at the crowd. It struck some Filipinos who seethed quietly but couldn’t do a thing about it. They went elsewhere to eat.
It was different last year. Then, the Mexicans were furious, shouting they had been robbed. For many of them, the complaint was literal. They had bet on the fight when the odds favored Pacquiao heavily and stood to earn a fortune had Marquez won. The Pinoys of course were elated but kept their elation to themselves to be unleashed at a later time. For good reason: The Mexicans outnumbered the Pinoys five to one. Prudence was the better part of victory.
This time, it was the other way around. “I want to beat up someone,” a Fil-Am said later, well away from the killing fields that were the MGM. He was of course just letting out steam, he knew taking on the Mexican horde in Las Vegas was about as wise as taking on the horde of General Antonio Lopez de Sta. Anna at Alamo. Or indeed as realistic as Pacquiao’s desire to obliterate Marquez now looked.
The weight of it, the oppressiveness of it, wasn’t just that Pacquiao lost, it was how he lost. Even the word “demolished” didn’t quite capture the absoluteness of it. The Mexicans had reason to be ecstatic, they could not have written a better script for it. Marquez hadn’t just beaten Pacquiao, he had killed him—for a few anxious moments there for Pinoys all over the world, it seemed almost literally. Pacquiao wasn’t moving, he was dead to the world.
“Plakda,” I kept hearing all over the place from Pinoys. The state to which Pacquiao had been sent, the state to which the Pinoy had been sent. Depressed, deflated, wiped out.
It will probably take us a while to get back on our feet, the way Pacquiao got back on his, or get to bounce back the way we do after lethal floods, after catastrophic leaders, after cataclysmic defeats. It’s pretty telling that I still haven’t gotten the usual barrage of text jokes that normally follow things like this. Add our gallows humor to what has been plakda-ed.
But we’ll get there. We always do.
Meanwhile, I would strongly urge Pacquiao, more now than ever, to hang up his spurs, or gloves, and fade into the sunset, or legend, however the fading into legend might prove a little jagged. But he has enough under his belt to send him to boxing Valhalla. I had hoped he might retire in a blaze of glory, but as the Rolling Stones say, “you can’t always get what you want.”
Indeed, I would strongly urge his handlers, his friends, in fair or bad weather, and the public itself to stop egging him on in the name of vindication, redemption, national pride. I know we’re all feeling raw, hurt, depleted. But it’s not us who will be shoved in the ring, it’s not us who will have to do the vindicating, the redeeming, the restoring of pride. Pacquiao is.
And if his fights over the last year, culminating in this one, show anything, he may have already left his best years behind. Of course there’s always the chance he could vindicate, redeem and restore his and his country’s pride. But there’s also the bigger possibility that he could decline more, get hurt more, and embarrass himself more. Something happens when the most formidable of them, when the most invincible of them, fall, and fall in this way. They keep falling. That’s what happened to George Foreman after Muhammad Ali wiped him out. That’s what happened to Mike Tyson after Buster Douglas wiped him out. It sucked the life out of them.
Let’s do Pacquiao justice and give him all the accolades and tributes he so richly deserves. He has been our face all these years, he has been our alter ego all these years, he has embodied our dreams, our aspirations all these years—the masa particularly for whom he had been a peerless inspiration. Enough is enough. Time to gather the old photographs and put them in a compendium. Time to collect the artifacts and put them on display.
But time to let go.