Tina Meets Manny

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.”

* * *

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 .

* * *
Bill Paxton has a passion for Harry Greb; the boxing great known as “The Pittsburgh Windmill,” who reigned as middleweight champion for three years and defeated many of the great fighters of his era.

The Fearless Harry Greb (McFarland & Company) is Paxton’s tribute to Greb. The author deserves credit for the massive amount of research that went into his work. But the book is more of a fight-by-fight report of Greb’s ring career than an integrated biography.

Since Greb fought 299 official fights between 1913 and 1926, that’s a lot of fight reports.

* * *

Belated kudos to Eric Drath, who produced one of the best documentaries to air on HBO’s Sports of the 20th Century series.

Assault in the Ring tracks the aftermath of the infamous 1983 fight between Billy Collins and Luis Resto. Resto, a journeyman with a 20-and-8 record, beat the undefeated Collins to a bloody pulp en route to a ten-round decision. Then it was discovered that, before the bout, his gloves had been illegally tampered with. Resto and his trainer, Panama Lewis, were criminally convicted, imprisoned for several years, and banned from boxing for life. Collins never fought again and died in a car crash nine months later.

Drath revisits the bout and everything that came afterward, primarily through Resto’s eyes. In the process, Resto (sympathetically) and Lewis (as the devil incarnate) are developed as characters with depth and dramatic intensity that the makers of a feature film would envy.

Assault in the Ring is a superb piece of work.

* * *

Separated at birth: HBO production coordinator Tami Cotel and Lara Croft.

* * *

Mary Travers (known throughout the world in an earlier tumultuous time as the iconic voice of Peter, Paul, and Mary) died of leukemia on September 16th.

Music was in the lifeblood of the 1960s. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and others changed the culture we live in. Travers (with Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey) contributed significantly to that change with anthems like If I had a Hammer and Blowing in the Wind.

When I began researching Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times in 1989, it seemed appropriate to talk with some of the other icons of “the sixties” regarding Ali’s impact on society. Mary Travers was one of the people I spoke with. The thoughts she shared with me follow. They reflect her spirit and are a fitting epitaph for a wonderful woman:

“War and racism are classic problems. If they were simple to resolve, they’d be gone by now. But they’re still here; they’re as old as man. As we speak, there are thirty-two wars going on, and twenty-eight of them are religious conflicts. Those of us who live in the West and read history books think of religious wars as something that belong in the Middle Ages, but they’re still around. There’s the bomb. We have holes in the ozone layer and all the other ecological problems on our incredible shrinking planet. And all any of us can do to help is the best we can until someone else picks up the torch and carries it along.”

“Muhammad Ali held the torch high. And given the structure of what surrounded him, his accomplishments were remarkable. If he’d never done anything else with his life, his refusal to go into the United States Army would still have been of monumental importance. He stood for dignity in a culture that afforded precious little dignity to black people. And he was a hero to people who’d never had a hero before.”

“To be a hero, you don’t have to be the brightest kid on the block. You don’t have to be the strongest kid on the block. You don’t have to be the most sophisticated kid on the block. What you have to be is able to recognize the profound quality of right and wrong and want to be a constructive member of society.”

“Muhammad Ali was a hero. He rejected a value system that oppressed black people, not in the intellectual arena as someone like W.E.B. DuBois would have done, but by condemning it on moral grounds. He rejected the war, not with political sophistication, but for spiritual reasons that served him well.”

“People have a tendency to be pessimistic today. The last decade had many moments of despair. The issues of the future will be issues of survival; national survival, world survival. But human beings are the inventors of hope. It’s a universal spirit that runs through the centuries. And hope is cyclical. I think of Pete Seeger’s song from the Bible. To everything, there’s a season. A time to hope, a time to mourn. You’re born and one door opens while another closes. You move from nothingness to being. Then you die and you’re wherever you are.”

“I think we’re at the beginning of another season of hope. I can remember, when I was fifteen years old, reading Jack London and Upton Sinclair and saying to myself, ‘I missed it. What an exciting time these people had, forming unions, crusading for important issues. And here I am. Eisenhower is president; Joe McCarthy is making people miserable. There will never be times like the good old days again.’ And then the 1960s came along.”

“This country needed Muhammad Ali in the 1960s, and I’m grateful for what he did. But the whole world needs people like him now. Being a hero isn’t a permanent job. No one makes you sign up for life. But with his spirit and what he represents, he can be a force for good for many years to come.”

The voice of Mary Travers will be missed in many ways.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by e-mail at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book (“An Unforgiving Sport”) has just been published by the University of Arkansas Press.
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