Unbeaten since 2005, Pacquiao plans to fight five or six more times. That would leave seven or eight years between his retirement from the ring and the campaign of his life. “Manny is going to be president of the Philippines,” says his legendary promoter, Bob Arum. Arum, 79, promoted the Ali-Frazier “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975, three years before Pacquiao was born. He compares Pacquiao’s charisma to Ali’s. “He wants to help his people like Mandela, like Gandhi, and his popularity gives him a platform. We may be seeing the first stage of a world leader’s life.”
Under Philippine law, presidents must be at least 40 years old. They serve six-year terms. Pacquiao will be 37 when the next presidential election comes in 2016, so he can’t run until 2022. By then his children—Emmanuel Jr., Michael, Princess and Queen Elizabeth—will be teenagers or older. Jinkee’s hands may be pinned to her sides by ever-heavier diamonds. Pacquiao’s goatee will be going gray, his tats fading, his legacy…what?
“I am a man of the people,” he tells me again. “I have to win all my fights, all the fights I have left, so I don’t disappoint them. Boxing, then politics.”
He already has his face on a Philippine postage stamp. When he’s not voting on bills in Manila, starring in martial-arts movies, schmoozing with Playmates from the Philippine edition of playboy (“We’re all jealous of Jinkee,” one says), introducing products like his MP8 cologne and healthy “Pacquiao Produce” veggies or training for his next bout, he hosts innumerable civic events, often jamming onstage with his MP Band. When he and Will Ferrell sang “Imagine” on Jimmy Kimmel Live (“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man”), it was a joke to Ferrell, but Pacquiao meant it.
In Baguio he hosted the first annual Congressman Manny Pacquiao Cup, a nationally televised basketball tournament in which Team Pacquiao and the MP Warriors were favored, mostly because he was playing for both teams. Opposing players whipped cell phones out of their uniform shorts to snap photos of Pacquiao. Lucky for him, Team Pacquiao and the MP Warriors were in opposite brackets. The tourney ended before he had to guard himself.
He lives in a GenSan City mansion with a pool, target-shooting range, grand piano, peach-painted walls and floor-to-ceiling photos of the fighting congressman. No watch-tiger but plenty of help to dust the chandeliers. He sharpens his mind with chess, his reflexes with darts and hoops. On jaunts through coconut groves and tumbledown one-TV villages in his home district, he rides in a bulletproof Hummer or one of several gleaming black Escalades, also bulletproof. His vehicles have no license plates. For longer trips he crisscrosses the 7,107 Philippine islands in Singson’s $8.5 million Dornier jet or a turboprop the governor uses as a backup. Tonight it’s the jet, knifing through fat cotton clouds to a runway hanging off a mountaintop.
“Manny is special, quick and strong like a tiger,” says Singson, who knows tigers. Hoping to breed a liger, Singson tried to mate his female watch-tiger with a lion. Unfortunately for the lion, the tigress resisted, and she outweighed him by about 100 pounds. “He tried and tried,” the governor says, “and then we found him dead.” An autopsy showed the lion had died of a heart attack. He was punching above his weight class.
Cocks are tougher. They die of battle wounds. Cockfighting is legal and popular in the Philippines, where the sport is televised six nights a week. Gamecocks with razor blades strapped to their claws fight to the death in dirt-floored cockpits while breeders and fans call out bets on the outcome.
A recent “Cock Derby” drew a crowd of 22,000. The cocks’ owners carried them into the loud, dusty arena in cardboard cages. They held them by the tails over a line in the dirt, shaking the birds to rev them up. Then, at a referee’s signal, they let go, and the birds exploded into fierce battle. Some of the hacked, bloodied losers that survived were killed by their owners. They would be soup that night. Of course some cocks, Mosley-like, won’t fight. Rather than flutter off with $5 million, those chickens get their necks snapped. Even champion gamecocks tend to be crippled, blind, spent at the age of two or three. For a fighting cock, a 4–0 record is a great career.
Pacquiao raises fighting cocks at a farm in his home province. A giant championship belt hangs over the gate at Pacman Farm, where muscled roosters with black and orange feathers spar—without the razors—under palms and mango trees. Manny likes to pad between the thatched huts in jeans, a polo shirt and his ever-present wraparound shades, inspecting the thousand-plus birds that bear his brand. Now and then he picks one up, gentle as a man lifting a newborn, and hugs it. He wants to feel the bird’s trip-hammer heart against his chest.
The best human fighter alive is starting to feel his own mortality. He has been boxing professionally for 15 years. If not for his sense of duty as the hero of 94 million Filipinos, he might be ready to slow down. Duty and some unfinished business with Floyd Mayweather.
They both know the heavyweight division is dead. Today’s MMA stars are more famous than the Klitschko brothers. Only one fight can make boxing matter again, but time is running out. Pacquiao is 32, Mayweather 34. Pacquiao has already fought more pro rounds than Sugar Ray Leonard totaled in his career, and Mayweather isn’t far behind. Still Mayweather ducks and weaves. He swore he’d fight Pacquiao if he would pee in a bottle and give blood in unprecedented Olympic-style drug testing. When Pacquiao balked at that, Mayweather accused him of being a steroids cheat. When Pacquiao agreed to the testing and a group of backers from Singapore offered a record $65 million purse for the fight of the century, more than doubling the best payday of his career, Mayweather said he’d meet to discuss the bout—but only if he got $10 million for the meeting.
In the end, the factors that make Pacquiao vs. Mayweather an irresistible match—their contrasting styles and personalities, their dominant records and the lack of worthy foes—mean less than nothing to Mayweather. A modern American solipsist, he thinks the universe revolves around him. While Manny Pacquiao builds hospitals, lobbies Congress and literally prays for his people, Money Mayweather complains that the judges conspired against him on Dancing With the Stars.
“What can I do?” Pacquiao asks. “If it happens, it will be a great fight. Maybe the greatest. If it never happens….”
Pacquiao sits on a couch outside his nap room in the Cooyeesan Hotel Plaza. His eyes are steady, dark and deep. When I ask if he’d like to pass a law to make Mayweather fight him, he looks puzzled. Irony’s not his thing. When I ask if Mayweather is chicken, Pacquiao draws a blank. Chicken meaning scared doesn’t translate. But it gets him musing about cockfighting.
“I like the sport,” he says. “I like the roosters. It’s like boxing—the rooster has to be in shape. He has to train for the fight, and he has to have so much fight in his heart.”
Pacquiao has fight in his heart. Does Mayweather have fight or feathers? The future of boxing, if it has one, hangs on the answer.