By Thomas Hauser
When the bell rings, Manny Pacquiao’s eyes turn to burning coals. His ring skills have made him what Steve Kim calls “the Filipino version of Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, and the Beatles.”
Pacquiao carried the Filipino flag at the opening ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He’s the only Filipino boxer to appear on a postage stamp. Earlier this year, Time Magazine
listed him among its “100 most influential people” in the world.
Manny takes himself less seriously. “I’m just a regular person who believes life is simple,” he says. “I want to share the good things that God has given me.”
Pacquiao makes his fellow Filipinos happy the way that Muhammad Ali in his prime made people happy. In the ring, he’s their representative. Face to face, there’s adoration.
Tina Cruz was born in the Philippines. She grew up in Santiago Isabela province. Her parents were rice farmers. In 1983, she came to the United States in pursuit of a better life.
Five days a week, Tina gets up at 4:00 o’clock in the morning and goes to the design company where she works in cleaning maintenance. One of her daughters lives in the United States and is married to an Irish-American. Her other daughter lives in the Philippines.
“Before Manny Pacquiao, I didn’t watch boxing,” Tina says. “I hate violence. I don’t like people hitting each other. But Manny Pacquiao is the pride of all the Filipino people. I have to watch him. He is very special to us. He is our voice to the world.”
On September 10th, with the permission of Top Rank (Pacquiao’s promoter), I brought Tina to Yankee Stadium to meet Manny. The occasion was the kick-off press conference for his November 14th mega-fight against Miguel Cotto.
We took the subway to Yankee Stadium. “I’m very excited,” Tina said as the moment of reckoning neared.
As per instructions, we waited at Gate #2 for Top Rank publicist Lee Samuels (who, with Ricardo Jimenez, forms the best PR team in boxing).
Samuels arrived. Tina and I were ushered into a stadium restaurant that was closed to the outside world. Pacquiao was sitting in a chair, text-messaging.
Tina’s face lit up with joy and awe. The image she’d seen on television screens for years was right in front of her.
They were introduced. Then the image, a real flesh-and-blood person, was talking with her.
“I have to give people time to take a picture and sign autographs,” Pacquiao has said. “I have to be generous to people. It is in my heart. Without that, I would not be Manny Pacquiao. I believe that being famous means one of your responsibilities is to give.”
Tina and Manny spoke in Tagalog; about his children and hers, life in the Philippines, and her joy in meeting him.
The press conference followed. A dais had been set up between first base and the stands. Tina was ushered to a seat of honor in the Yankees dugout. Fourteen hours earlier, Derek Jeter had come out of the same dugout to tie Lou Gehrig’s 70-year-old record for most base hits by a Yankee.
“Just to be here in Yankee Stadium like this would be exciting,” Tina said. “This is like a dream.”
The November 14th match-up will be dangerous for both men. Cotto sounded a word of warning from the dais, when he referenced Pacquiao’s last two opponents. “I’m not Oscar De La Hoya,” he declared. “I’m not Ricky Hatton. I’m Miguel Cotto.”
“Cotto is bigger and stronger,” Pacquiao acknowledged when it was his turn to speak. “But I will do my best.” Then he added several words in Visayan (the dialect in the province where he was born).
The Filipinos in the stands roared.
“What did he say?” I asked Tina.
“I will fight to the last drop of my blood.”
After the press conference, Tina posed for a photo with Pacquiao and he gave her autographs for several family members. Then Lee Samuels suggested that they pose again; this time with the WBC “diamond championship” belt around her waist.
Hopefully, the WBC won’t send her a bill for a sanctioning fee.
It’s unlikely that Manny Pacquiao will remember Tina. She’s one of tens of thousands of people who have crossed his path. But on September 10th in Yankee Stadium, he put joy in her heart; and it will be there for the rest of her life.
That night, Tina called to thank me.
“I keep thinking about today,” she said. “And it keeps getting better. Manny Pacquiao is the king. He’s the most famous person in my country. I’m nobody to him, and he was so nice. He really talked to me.”
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SecondsOut has a new sponsor. That raises a question: Why would Azad watches be interested in a boxing website? The answer is that Babak Ermankhah (Azad’s founder and creative director) has an ambitious plan.
Ermankhah has been in the watch business since 1993. He founded Azad in 2005. Its debut collection was launched last year.
Ermankhah is also a boxing fan. Under his guidance, Azad has developed relationships with Paulie Malignaggi, Jermain Taylor, Andre Berto, Steve Cunningham, Chris Byrd, Joshua Clottey, Emmanuel Clottey, John Duddy, and Kendall Holt.
Now Ermankhah has embarked on an ambitious project. He has taken note of the championship rings and Tiffany trophies bestowed upon champions in other sports and designed a championship watch for boxing.
“The championship watches won’t be available to the public,” Ermankhah says. “They will be available only to boxing champions. Each one will be custom designed. My hope is that, like championship belts, our watches will become a symbol of excellence in boxing. The difference is that an Azad watch can be worn anywhere anytime.”
Azad will launch its line of championship watches in 2010. To learn more about Azad, visit its website at www.AzadWatch.com
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