The “fight of the century” is today (May 2). Manny Pacquiao (57-5-2) vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. (47-0), at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Pacquiao is defending Welterweight champion, but Mayweather is the -225 favorite to win Saturday’s bout (don’t ask me what that means…I have no idea, I read it on the interwebz). The fight has been a long time coming, with on-again, off-again negotiations for the fight beginning in 2009. Mayweather has a reputation for the bravado you’d expect from a boxer with an undefeated record, occasionally even referring to himself in the third person. When asked in a press conference about Pacquiao’s string of successes, Mayweather responded, “When you talk boxing, you talk Floyd Mayweather.” For the Pacquiao fight, Mayweather will be wearing a custom-made mouthguard worth $25,000, covered in diamond dust, gold flakes, and decorated with a $100 bill. As for the more modest Pacquiao, his will have the colours of the Filipino flag.
While Mayweather may fit the mold of the brash boxer, the same certainly can’t be said for Pacquiao. Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao is not only a world-champion professional boxer, he was also a professional basketball player and coach in the Philippine Basketball Association, an accomplished singer, and a Lieutenant Colonel in the Philippine Army’s Reserve Force. Oh, right, and he’s a Congressman in the Philippine House of Representatives. Like I said, not your typical Welterweight champ.
More recently, he has garnered attention for his outspoken Christian faith. Raised a Catholic (he is Filipino after all, where 80% of the population is Catholic), Pacquiao fell away from the faith of his childhood and lived a dissolute life, womanising and chasing pleasure wherever he could. But all that changed in 2011. Pac-Man is now a devout evangelical Christian. He credits his conversion to a mystical experience he claims to have had in 2011 after a fight against Juan Manuel Márquez. Now Manny Pacquiao can add “evangelist” to his already diverse resume. He explains:
“People are surprised by the way I have changed my life…All the running around. In that time and age, I knew I could do whatever I wanted. But I changed when I heard the voice of God, and I can testify that there is a God. I saw two angels, white, long, big wings. I saw Paradise. God showed me about the end of time. This all happened within the last three years. That’s how I changed my life.”*
Naturally, he has his detractors, but Pacquiao remains firm in his faith and in the authenticity of his conversion experience:
“If they believe me or not, it’s up to them. I heard the voice of God. I felt like I was melting. I felt like I’d died. I felt I was melting when I heard the voice of God. It was the turning point in my life. God spoke to me and he told me what He wanted me to do and I had to follow. I’ve tried to live my life that way. This is my life’s work, to spread the Word.**
Pacquiao seems to have been destined to eventually return to the Christian faith (the names of his five children are Emmanuel, Michael Stephen, Mary Divine Grace, Queen Elizabeth, and Israel…for real, though) and he’s now known for his constant desire to talk about his faith and about the responsibility he feels to serve others and to be a witness to Christ. Who knows whether he will return to the fullness of the Christian faith and return to the Church, the faith of his childhood. But there are signs of hope and it seems Our Lady has it out for him…even at the height of his success and wild living, Pacquiao wore Rosary beads into the ring. And his mom, Dionisia (who is still a devout Catholic) is no doubt praying for him to come home to the Church. After his conversion, Pacquiao lost two fights in a row, including one to Juan Manuel Márquez, who he had beaten a few times before. Dionisia blamed it on the protestant pastors he’d been spending time with. “That’s what he gets for changing his religion,” she quipped. Ouch. Better listen to mom, Manny. But the greatest sign of hope for a return to the Church though, is his focus on Jesus.
“I’m happy because I found the right way, salvation, born again. We are required to be born again, all of us. Christ said unless we are born again we cannot enter the kingdom of God. So it’s very important to me. Jesus Christ said: ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ There is no other way. The only way is through Jesus.”*
Amen, brother. Now come meet Him again in the Eucharist (after pounding the snot out of Mayweather).
Update: Mayweather defeated Pacquiao in a unanimous decision. Still praying for Manny to come home…
Cover image: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images, from <https://static.guim.co.uk/>