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Monday, May 4, 2009

The magic of Manny Pacquiao

JUNIOR WELTERWEIGHT BOXING

Philippines hypnotised by a boxer with a rags-to-riches tale who is doing them proud

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No matter how difficult your life is, how poor you are, you forget your problems for a while when he fights. That's the magic of Pac-Man.

Manila taxi driver Christopher Piolo lauds his hero

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MANILA — Manny Pacquiao was rushed past hundreds of passionate supporters while Ricky Hatton was able to joke with his backers as the two boxers arrived in Las Vegas yesterday morning (Singapore time), ahead of Saturday's boxing showdown.

English star Hatton faces Filipino hero Pacquiao in a non-title fight in the junior welterweight division (63.5kg).

Pacquiao, the 1.68m-tall pound-for-pound ring king, is looking to match a record by becoming a champion in a sixth different weight divisions.

Thousands of kilometres away, cab driver Christopher Piolo wished he was in Vegas to greet his hero. But with little money, it is a far-fetched dream.

Piolo plans to take his first Sunday off in four months this weekend, because like so many millions of Filipinos, he cannot miss watching Pacquiao fight.

"Whenever he fights, the whole country stops," said Piolo, 32, who has driven every Sunday since the boxer known as Pac-Man last fought in December. "Nobody wants to go out on the streets. We're all glued to the TV."

Pacquiao will slug it out in his 54th fight, and first since inflicting a final career defeat on 10-time world champion Oscar De La Hoya.

The Philippines is set for a surge in power demand as millions tune in, while malls and churches are bracing for a quiet time as people stay home to watch the 30-year-old fighter.

"He's a legend, an icon, a role model," said Father Stephen Jantuah, a priest whose church in Manila's business district empties whenever Pacquiao fights. "He represents the whole of the Philippines, someone fighting for our side."

Saturday night bouts in Las Vegas are broadcast live from late Sunday morning in the Asean nation, meaning many businesses feel the pinch.

Stores get 30 per cent fewer visitors before and during his bouts.

Electricity demand in the nation of 96 million surges two per cent when Pacquiao is in the ring, said Carlito Claudio, vice-president for system operations of Philippines' National Grid Corp.

Pacquiao's rise from poverty underscores his appeal in a nation where, according to the World Bank, a quarter of the population lives on less than US$1.25 ($1.86) a day.

Growing up in the southern province of South Cotabato, he sold cigarettes to help his mother feed the family. She now lives beside Pacquiao's home, which has a boxing glove-shaped pool and gold-tinged rocking chairs.

Pacquiao has amassed a fortune during a 14-year career that's brought him four world titles, 48 wins, three losses and two draws, setting him up for a cheque of at least US$12 million for the Hatton fight.

He's aiming for a 37th knockout when he takes on the Briton. Winning would be "like Obama becoming president", claimed Father Jantuah. Bloomberg

From TODAY, Sports – Thursday, 30-April-2009