I say this often: I did not grow up a sports fan. While I do have cousins and uncles who kneel to the gods of sporting events, I happen to be from the branch of the family without much athletic interest, not to mention ability. My mom’s moderate high school success in swimming failed to appear in my genetic makeup, and I didn’t even inherit my dad’s knack for things like chess and checkers.
So as I grew up, things like the World Cup, the NBA Finals, and even the Olympics stayed in the periphery of life.
Only one event could pull us from this general sports-less existence and take us, as a family, to various breakfast buffet venues to witness it unfolding: a Manny Pacquiao fight.
I don’t remember the details precisely—I’m not sure how the tradition started or which of his fights was my first—but I remember the feeling I would get every time the posters would come out and the commercials would start to air. I’d rush to my dad to remind him to reserve a table at whatever sports grill was still available that served breakfast food, or to buy the pay-per-view airing. Later, I started collecting Manny t-shirts from Nike and proudly wore a new one to every fight.
And though we knew little enough about the technicalities of boxing, we—my mom, dad, younger brother and I—would hold our breaths whenever Manny sidestepped an opponent, yell angrily whenever a fighter got Manny in the ribs, and cheer like mad over our bacon whenever Manny knocked the other guy down. Afterward, we would discuss the fight with the air of professionals before heading to lunch at my grandparents’ house, where we would watch the delayed free TV telecast and talk about it all over again.
Pacquiao-Marquez IV was the first time I missed the live telecast of a Manny fight in at least four or five years. I had to be at the Mall of Asia Arena by 2:00 p.m. that Sunday to cover the PBA, so I had to make do with watching it on blurred streaming video until Round 3. On the road, I kept myself informed through Twitter, checking frantically for updates at red lights.
I had just reached EDSA-Magallanes when the tweets started coming in: Manny had been knocked down, Manny was out cold, Manny had lost.
I was shocked. I had, as a fan, wanted to believe that he would come back from his loss to Tim Bradley with a triumphant Marquez knockout. I didn’t ever think he would be the one asleep on the boxing ring floor.
At the Arena, I stood with some players from Meralco (they were taking on San Mig Coffee that day), technicians, producers, security guards, and everyone else who was there who’d missed the fight, and together we watched a hero go down for the count.
And he is a hero. Say what you will about Manny Pacquiao—that he does it for the money now, that he isn’t focused anymore, that he’s lost his touch, maybe even that he should retire—but for years he brought hope and a sense of pride and unity to our underdeveloped and conflicted little country. That makes him a hero, even though he’s never run into any burning buildings to save babies, or even cats.
It hurt to see him go down like that.
I’m not sure what happens now. Will my family and I still gather round the television to watch Manny fight, or are his glory days over? Will there even still be another Manny fight?
Whatever is yet to come, I feel as though we are at—or at least very close to—the end of an era. All great things must come to an end, after all. Truly great men, however, will always stay great, even when they have to become small. Manny may still have one or two great fights left in him, but if he does retire, I think he deserves a standing ovation from the Filipino people for all that he’s already achieved.
We should also take note of the man standing in line beside Manny. In knocking out Jorge Arce, Nonito Donaire rose in the ranks of Men of Greatness from Talented to Potentially Heroic. I’m excited to see what else he can do.
Who knows, maybe the next time my family and I go to a breakfast buffet at a sports grill, it’ll be to watch The Filipino Flash take on his next Goliath.
(Am I blindly biased towards these fighters, just because they’re my countrymen? Absolutely. Does the knowledge of that bother me, as a sportscaster? Not a whit.)