Our man of the hour hails from a metropolis on the southernmost end of the Philippine archipelago called General Santos City. GenSan, as it is more commonly known, is a living, breathing example of the extremes in the Philippine world. Steel and glass buildings shine, shimmer, and seem to sweat in the broasting heat. In the shadow of these monuments to progress and commerce lies the other side of GenSan: an overpopulated third world tin shanty slum whose inhabitants labor under crushing poverty.
This is where Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao was born on December 17 1978. As an addendum to his baptism he also received the inevitable shortening of his name to “Manny.” He is the fourth of six children born to Rosalio Pacquiao and Dionesia Dapidran-Pacquiao. Rosalio Pacquiao worked for a time in a different city from his family (not uncommon in the Philippines) to better support them. Rosalio liked the other city so much he settled there with another woman, and in the process of starting a second family forgot all about his first one.
The legend is that Manny never knew his father until the man appeared one day, killed Manny’s dog, ate it, then disappeared again. The truth is as murky as the legend, but according to Manny his dad was around until Manny was ten. Manny also says yes, dad ate his dog - but he didn’t kill it. So there.
Small surprise young Pacquiao sped away from GenSan (well, chugged away on a boat anyway) to the great northern city of Manila. He thought it would help his family if his mother didn’t have to provide for him. Dionesia had separated from Rosalio (divorce is not allowed in the Philippines) and struggled to feed the hungry mouths. So Manny was probably sincere about helping his family, but he may have also thought he would have better luck elsewhere, both for himself and his family.
Family is sacred to Filipinos. They look after their own - one way or another. The great Philippine diaspora includes many Filipinos who separate from their family to work abroad in order to benefit their families with more favorable overseas wages than the cruel Philippine economy will yield.
At any rate, the fourteen year old boy’s diaspora from GenSan to Manila was supported by a tremendous metabolism that allowed him to work countless jobs: construction, selling food, and running various errands until he was tired enough to sleep - usually under a bridge, with newspapers for blankets. Oh, and Manny learned to box.
It is a no brainer to observe that a boy so abandoned and mistreated by his father would want to punch other men. Punch them Manny did, in illegal back alley affairs for a dollar or two a fight. In the gym Pacquiao failed to impress. Trainers thought him a marginal local talent. Nevertheless, he made the Philippine national amateur boxing team, an organization that not only trained Pacquiao, but provided room and board too.
Manny blossomed under regular training. His amateur record was 60-4. At sixteen he turned pro: all four feet eleven inches and ninety eight pounds of him. The problem was he wasn’t big enough to fight anyone. Pacquiao weighted his trunks to fight in the lightest boxing division (junior flyweight). But no one cared because Pacquiao didn’t matter.
People started to care when he kept winning fights he was supposed to lose. How was Pacquiao able to beat bigger, more experienced fighters? Manny hit hard but he was not a knockout artist. His talent was in the incredible amount of punches he threw, and his uncanny knack for getting streams of his punches through his opponent’s defense - round after round. Manny came out swinging and didn’t stop.
At age nineteen Pacquiao migrated to Thailand to fight for a world title. He was an unknown when he squared off with world flyweight champion Chatchai Sasakui. The champ outclassed Pacquiao round after round until near the end of the fight when Pacquiao smacked Sasakui with a home run left hook that left the champ laying. Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao was a world champion.
But Pacquiao physically outgrew the flyweight division. When he couldn’t make weight anymore and lost the title, Pacquiao moved up to the super bantamweight division. When boxers move up in weight they notice their opponents are bigger, hit harder, and take a punch better. It is tough to move up weights and fight bigger fighters, much less beat them all and win the division’s championship belt. A few boxers, like Thomas Hearns, did it. Pacquiao is even more successful than Hearns. Moving up in weight and winning championships became Pacquiao's’ trademark, and will probably be his legacy as well.
Another legacy began - outside the ring. Pacquiao met a girl at a mall in GenSan. She was selling beauty products. He bought something he didn’t need from her. He came back the next day and did the same thing. And the next day. Finally Manny asked her out. She said yes. Her uncle, a part time trainer of Pacquiao, chaperoned the couple. It was love at first sight. Pacquiao broke off his engagement to another girl to pursue his new love.
Her name was Jinkee Capena Jamora. Like Pacquiao she was a GenSan native. Jinkee dropped out of school to help her family out financially as a beauty consultant at a mall. When she married Pacquiao after a seven month courtship, she had no idea how much (and how soon) she really would be able to help her family out.
Jinkee became Jinkee Pacquiao in a civil ceremony in May 2000 - a ceremony shunned by Manny’s mother, who waited to attend another ceremony done in the Catholic Church. Jinky remembers Manny as “just a simple guy back then.” They began having children and raising a family. Then success caught up to the Pacquiao family.
Fame and glory increased with each Pacquiao victory. Fame pounded the Pacquiao family as relentlessly as Manny pounded his opponents in the ring. He became known as “Pac-Man” for his wrecking ball style: punches in bunches, crazy combinations, and precision shots from all angles that somehow got through to target. Manny out punched everyone he fought, and his crowd pleasing style made him a favorite around the world, including America.
It was a fight in San Antonio Texas that made Pacquiao world famous. He became only the second person to knock out Marco Antonio Barrera, which he did in spectacular fashion. It was a career defining fight. Jinkee remembers, “That time I feel that, ‘Oh, Manny’s really famous,’ ” she said. “This is not only the Philippines. This is the whole world. This is very different. So is our lifestyle. And the people surrounding us also.”
Along with the fame and glory Manny had more money than he knew what to do with. So he started giving his money away to people: to anyone with a hard luck story; to the dubious thug life entourage that suddenly surrounded him; but most of all by gambling.
Pacquiao was a remarkably bad gambler. Promoter Bob Arum described him as “a degenerate gambler” who played several types of games and “always lost.” Growing up with a poverty mentality, one might think Pacquiao would have clutched his money and saved it. But he threw money away like he didn’t want to be rich. Or didn’t know how.
Boxing champions are absolute chick magnets, and Pacquiao was no exception. He found himself overflowing in female companionship. Jinkee was often alone at home to raise the children. That certainly kept her busy, because the Pacquiao’s are a fruitful union, with five children over the years: Emmanuel (known as Jimuel), Michael Stephen, Mary Divine Grace, Queen Elizabeth, and Israel.
Manny was wildly successful as a boxer. He has won a stunning ten championships in eight different weight divisions: something that has never been done in the entire history of boxing. He has been recognized by boxing authorities as the best boxer pound for pound in the world, and as the boxer of the decade (2000-2010). And he is the 2nd highest paid athlete in the world as of 2015.
But Pacquiao’s success was destroying his marriage. To be precise, his reaction to his success came perilously close to breaking the bond between he and Jinkee.
Jinkee was tired of the affairs and the gambling. Her husband scheduled a reconciliation ceremony for the two of them and she was a no show. It may have occurred to Emmanuel Pacquiao that he was screwing up his marriage and abandoning his children just like his own father had. In fact Manny was worse than Rosalio because he had many more affairs. The elder Pacquiao did have one affair, but at least he stuck around to take care of the woman.
By 2011 the Pacquiao’s marriage was on the ropes. Manny couldn’t choose between his prodigal lifestyle and the woman (and children) he loved. Of course the act of not choosing is a choice. But maybe it was too late to even choose. Jinkee was talking separation, which could have excluded Pacquiao from his own family. It was crisis time. What would he do?
What happened next can only be described by Manny Pacquiao himself.
"I heard the voice of God and I saw two angels," he said. "When I heard the voice of God I felt like I died. ... I was in the middle of the forest and I was kneeling and praying with my face on the ground and then I saw a light, a very white light and I heard the voice."
Pacquiao was a cradle Catholic but in his entire religious life he had never had an experience like this. The heavens literally opened on him . He saw his career, his success, his money, and his political career (senator in the Philippine Congress) as so much straw. On his knees he cried out to the vision in acute contrition: “'I am not worthy in your sight. Lord just guide me."
As the Pacquiao’s tell it, after the vision Manny went back to Jinkee and his family a new man. His religious experience saved their marriage. In Pacquiao’s opinion, it also saved his soul. He considers himself born again, “convicted by the Holy Spirit” to use his words. And Pacquiao has not been shy in talking about how his conversion, or preaching and evangelizing through the sizable social media he has developed. Manny has become a man of God, a preacher.
The new preacher ran afoul of Western sensibilities by making volatile statements about gays and lesbians. Pacquiao quickly apologized but not everyone was willing to move along so quickly - including Nike, who in a big time money move dropped their sponsorship of Pacquiao.
Freddy Roach has been Pacquiao’s trainer for years. He has seen Manny in all sorts of situations, and he describes Pacquiao’s current life like this:
“It’s (religion) more vital to him now than ever before. He was born a Catholic, now he’s a born-again Christian. His mother [Dionesia] hates it. She’s always trying to force the Rosary on him. The only worry about it is that maybe it could hurt his political career, because 90% of the Philippines is Catholic and he’s a born-again Christian.”
Fat chance it will hurt his political career. Pacquiao could run the country if he wanted to - he is that beloved by his fellow Filipinos. He is their fairy tale: a poverty stricken child becoming a multimillionaire.
But he is mostly beloved for his boxing success, and here is the snag. For Roach also notes Pacquiao has not been as successful in the ring since being smacked around by God. Conventional wisdom is that Pacquiao has lost his killer instinct. He is no longer the Pac-Man, he is a Christian minister and politician. If so, Manny has an entirely new venue to shine in.
Before that new chapter starts, however, Pacquiao seems to be trying to tie up his boxing career by scheduling a farewell fight with American Tim Bradley on April 9. This will be the rubber match between the two. Bradley was a careful choice. Pacquiao is confident he can win, and perhaps close out one of the most remarkable careers in boxing history. But even if Manny is able to leave boxing, expect to see him again soon in a spotlight near you.