Boxing fan or not, you must be fairly acquainted with the names Floyd Mayweather Junior and Manny Pacquiao by now. If not, here’s the gist: these two—widely considered as boxing’s finest—came together to fight last Saturday (for the very first time) in what has been called the “fight of the century”, and Mayweather won.
Although the judges’ unanimous verdict came as a crushing blow to Pacquiao’s fans all over the world who thought that their hero could finally break Mayweather’s undefeated 47-0 record, post-match reaction on social media pretty much summed up the impact the Filipino boxer had made all over the world: Mayweather wins fight, Pacquiao wins hearts.
Once you skim through the deluge of media reports that have been circulating on the personal life and personality of the smiley and unassuming man, the picture of a humble, down-to-earth, and devoted Christian boxer who derives his confidence from God and shares his wealth with the poor emerges.
In Pacquiao’s first comments on his Facebook page posted a day after the historic fight, Pacquiao thanked his fans for their support and gave glory to God for the outcome of the match:
It’s no wonder then that his popularity is still soaring and he continues to be hailed as the people’s champion despite his loss. But perhaps what is most compelling about the godly and wealthy Pacman (as he is affectionately known) is that he came from a humble background, but God found him and raised him “from nothing into something”, in his own words.
Rags to Riches
In a classic rags to riches story that has captivated readers all over the world and even been turned into a documentary (which was released in US early this year), we learn that Pacquiao was born on December 17, 1978, in one of the poorest areas in Philippines. He is the fourth among six siblings and his parents separated when he was in sixth grade. Due to extreme poverty, Pacquiao dropped out of high school and ran away from home at the age of 12 (after his father ate his dog.) He sold bread and worked on construction sites before joining the Philippines national amateur boxing team with his friend Eugene Barutag, a fellow General Santos boxer who went to Manila with him to make their fortune.
Sadly, tragedy struck in 1995 when his friend collapsed in the boxing ring and died. It was a loss that fired Pacquiao’s drive to continue their “dream” and “battle.” He went on to US where he was taken under the wings of trainer Freddie Roach who propelled Pacquiao into greatness.
His US debut came when he became the last minute replacement to fight one of super bantamweight division’s most feared champions. He won that fight convincingly and went on to become the first and only eight-division world champion and secured 10 world titles under his belt with a boxing record of 57 wins (which included 38 knockouts), six losses, and two draws.
In 2000, Pacquiao married his wife, publicly known as “Jinkee”, and they currently have five children. Besides his boxing title, Pacquiao also wears many other hats, including that of congressman, basketball player, actor, and singer.
But his newfound fame and string of successes proved to be his undoing and Pacquiao soon succumbed to a materialistic and hedonistic lifestyle. In an interview with CBN News in December 2012, he divulged that although he was born into a Catholic family and would go to church on Sundays, he would be in the bar drinking from Monday to Saturday and was constantly gambling, swearing, and womanizing.
One day, he received a letter from his mother informing him that his sister had dropped out of school because he had stopped sending money back to the family. He cried and blamed himself for spending all his money on alcohol. That night, he heard God say to him in his dream, “My child, my child, why have you gone astray?” That ignited his desire and hunger for the Word of God. Poring through the Bible, he was convicted of his sins and need for God in his life. He cried and gave his life to Jesus in repentance and submission.
That was four years ago. Since then, Pacquiao’s life has undergone a complete transformation. His coach, Roach shared in an interview with The Guardian last October that ever since he found religion, Pacquiao no longer drinks, parties, or sleeps around. He would even “(discuss) the Bible when we’re flying somewhere, asking what does this really mean, what does that really mean.” It’s a testimonial that is corroborated by the man himself who jumps on every media opportunity to talk about God, shown for instance, in an interview with Christian Post in April this year. Pacquiao said: “I think every Christian athlete should be open about their relationship with the Lord, as well as every believer. That is what the Bible commands.”
On top of being open about his faith, Pacquiao doesn’t shy away from talking about his new priorities. In his interview with Fox News in February, he shared: “When you have Jesus in your life, when you have God in your life, the things in this world are not important to your heart. What is important is God in your heart.” And it’s not just talk, as the Pacman is expected to donate half of his earnings from Saturday’s fight to charity.
The Pacquiao today is a marked contrast to the man who used to sell donuts in one of the poorest streets in Philippines and to the man who used to splurge his wealth on alcohol, women, and gambling. As we marvel at all he has accomplished today and the inspiration he has become, let’s remember that if not for the grace of God, he would not be who he is today.
Similarly, God has saved us from our sinful state, not because of our merit but because of His love and grace, to be His witnesses that will “declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). Are we, like Pacquiao, living out our faith? If not, it isn’t too late to start now.