I had always hoped that my first Pacquiao fight experience would be at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, amidst the bright lights and big spectacle that only Sin City can offer. But I was even happier when it was announced that our Pambansang Kamao would be fighting in Brisbane, Australia.
I lived there throughout my college years and sometime after, so I felt that I couldn’t miss the opportunity to watch the fight in my old hometown. I’ve been a boxing fan since my early teens, trained in the sport, and even wrote about it for some Australian sports sites a few years ago. Pacquiao was my idol growing up, which made me all the more determined to make the trip happen.
It’s not Las Vegas, but the locals do call it Brisvegas, albeit ironically, so that must count for something.
I woke up early on Sunday morning to catch a train from the city to Suncorp Stadium. While making my way through Brisbane’s 8-degree weather clad in a warm jacket, I spotted many fellow Pinoys on their way to the match as well. A short ‘Magandang umaga po’ was all it took to start a conversation with them, followed by smiles warmer than my jacket and questions about what brought me to Brisbane. We all had different tales, but we were all in town for one reason. It was like meeting long-lost relatives, instead of total strangers.
In the Land Down Under, we were all unified in supporting our countryman in his battle. Even with Pacquiao’s recent fall from grace due to his activities and controversial comments outside the ring, he was still a hero and an enigmatic figure to Pinoys worldwide. Today, politics and religion took a back seat. The champ was going to put on his boxing gloves.
Suncorp Stadium is a football field with a 50,000 crowd capacity. That’s bigger than three Smart Araneta Coliseums combined. I had watched a few rugby league and soccer matches there before, but I didn’t appreciate its scale until the morning of the fight. The field was lined with rubber mats and seats for the ringside viewers, which made it look even bigger.
It was breathtaking to witness thousands of fans lining the stands and making their way to the merchandise booths. Hearing it, too, would make any Pinoy beam with pride. Every "mate" you heard out of someone’s mouth was punctuated with a "pare" just a few feet way. It was a bi-partisan crowd, but one that shared the stadium in the spirit of friendly competition.
When the decision was announced and Horn emerged the victor, the Aussie fans were ecstatic. Their underdog had fought a gallant fight, and he had brought the country some sporting recognition. While my fellow Pinoys and I were disappointed that Pacquiao had come up short, we forgot all about it once Horn got on the mic and introduced his pregnant wife. Win or lose, the Aussie deserved our respect.
The Aussie fans, too, cheered Pacquiao on when he did his post-fight interview. They respected the legend for all that he had achieved, and thanked him for fighting on their shores. There was no trash talk among the fans, no cries of foul or luto, just mutual respect for each other’s country and fighter. There’s a lesson for us in there somewhere.
The end of the line?
Once the hoopla had ended and I’d made my way back to the city, it occurred to me that I might have just witnessed Pacquiao’s last hurrah. The fighter I saw in the ring wasn’t the dynamo that obliterated the likes of Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto when I was in high school. In his place was an aging legend who no longer exhibited the big bang of brilliance he had had in his prime.
Make no mistake: the iconic boxer could still wow us with his mastery of the sweet science. But, sadly, it came in brief flashes, bright but still sorely lacking.
The biggest spark came in the ninth when he clinically pummeled the hard-hitting underdog for most of the round. But if that’s all that remains of Pacquiao’s talent, then perhaps it’s time to hang up the gloves for good. At 38, his time as a top-tier fighter is done, and for his own health (and for the sake of our government) he should strongly consider calling it a career. There’s nothing left to prove in the ring. Instead, he should focus on his promise to better our country.
If this is the last stop, then I’m glad I got to watch the ride and hitch on for a brief moment. Thank you, Manny, for showing the world what Filipinos are capable of. Your politics and religious beliefs leave a lot to be desired, but the memories you left in the ring will stay with me and the Filipino people forever.