New film charts fighter’s extraordinary journey from abject poverty into politics via multi-million dollar prize-fighting
Still only 35, Manny Pacquiao‘s life has been an extraordinary journey from abject poverty into politics via multi-million dollar prize-fighting. After every one of his fights, long queues form outside his home in General Santos City, where his people ask for donations to support relief efforts in his violence-torn homeland of The Phillipines, which is in a state of political chaos and economic meltdown.
Pacquiao, who has dominated boxing over the last decade (record 55-5-2), is now using his popularity and platform as a world champion in eight divisions to change the social fabric of his country. On the island of his birth, Mindanao, rebels have been fighting for a separate Islamic state within the predominantly Catholic country for decades; the conflict is said to have claimed more than 120,000 lives. In spite of a ceasefire in 2003 and regular peace talks, violence continues.
It is said though that when Pacquiao enters the ring, a truce is declared between guerrillas and the national army, and the crime rate across the Philippines drops to zero.
Despite his lack of a formal education, Pacquiao’s future appears rooted in Philippine politics. In 2010 he was elected into the House of Representatives as the Congressman for Sarangani Province, and now has ambitions to run for the Presidency in his country. It is near transcendence from boxing for a boy who once slept rough in a cardboard box, sold doughnuts on the streets for pennies and began his boxing career at the age of 16, earning two dollars per bout in Manila.
The Philippines is saddled with a large national debt, and tens of millions of people live in poverty. A third of the population live on less than a dollar a day. Pacquiao knows, because he was once one of them. The country is crying out for an individual who can bring unity and hope for the future of the people there. Pacquiao, now 35, has become that man with his quasi-Messianic desire to rid his country of poverty.
Now, a documentary movie - Manny - has been made about his life and is due to premier at the SXSW Film Festival in March before opening in The Phillipines on March 12. The fiml is narrated by Academy Award Nominee Liam Neeson and directed by Ryan Moore and Leon Gast of When We Were Kings.
Having written extensively on Pacquiao for Telegraph Sport, and followed his career closely since 2007, it was a honour when Leon Gast invited me to talk about the man who has entranced so many of us for the film. “PacMan” really is an extraordinary man to have spent time around, with his promoter Bob Arum, and his trainer Freddie Roach, in London, Los Angeles, The Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, and at his fights in Las Vegas and Houston; he’s a fighter, and he always will be. His greatest fight now, as Pacquiao has told me “is fighting for his people”.