Manny Pacquiao hangs up boxing gloves, says he has heard the ‘final bell’

Manny Pacquiao was widely regarded as one of the top offensive fighters in the sport's history.
Manny Pacquiao was widely regarded as one of the top offensive fighters in the sport's history.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - Manny Pacquiao is finally hanging up his gloves, capping a phenomenal two-decade career that swept him from being a hardscrabble, odd-job worker at a poor coastal town in war-torn Mindanao to a superstar boxer known all over the world and, possibly, to becoming the Philippines’ next president.

“It is difficult for me to accept that my time as a boxer is over. Today, I am announcing my retirement. I never thought that this day would come… Goodbye, boxing… I just heard the final bell,” he said in a 14-minute video released on his Facebook page on Wednesday (Sept 29).

Now 42, he finishes his 26-year, 72-fight career with 62 wins, eight losses and two draws. He won 12 world titles and is the only fighter in history to win titles in eight different weight classes.

“I’m amazed at what I’ve done,” he said.

What he has done is rise from being a fishmonger moonlighting as a boxer so he can earn an extra peso to buy a sack of rice for his mother, to a boxing demigod who can rake in US$100 million (S$135.8 million) for a day’s work.

“He is the ideal aspirational model for ordinary Filipinos, the underdog who, through perseverance, manages to make it to the different portals of power: cultural, political, economic,” said pop culture expert Rolando Tolentino, of the University of the Philippines.

Pacquiao was born in 1978 in Kibawe town, in the southern province of Bukidnon.

He grew up dirt poor.

He once recalled sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes stacked together just high enough to provide some cushion from the hard floor.

He said he was always in rags, and his mother’s shack was the only one in his village that did not have a television.

He had to quit school when he was 10, after his father, who was never around, left for good.

He flitted from one odd job to another, hawking bread or helping unload tuna at a wharf, to help his mother make ends meet.

Yet, there was seldom enough money for a bag of rice. He and his sister and two brothers had to settle for root vegetables.

At the age of 12, he began boxing for money. He said he joined street bouts that drew him in because “even when you lose, you have money”.

He remembered using a bag full of dirty laundry and the cardboard boxes that also served as his bed as his first punching bags.

When he was 14, he stowed away on a ship destined for the capital, Manila. There, he lived on the streets and did construction jobs to earn money that he sent to his mother.

Boxing was never on the cards, he once said. What he wanted to be was a basketball player.

He tried his hand at hustling for money by playing pick-up games in some makeshift basketball courts.

But he soon realised his real talent lay in his speed and savagery in the ring.

At 16 and weighing 48 kilograms, he became a professional boxer.

He won his first major title on Dec 4, 1998, knocking out Thailand’s Chatchai Sasakul to capture the World Boxing Council flyweight title.

The lightning-quick southpaw would eventually take his talent to the United States for the first time in 2001 when, after joining forces with Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach, he upset Lehlo Ledwaba to take the International Boxing Federation junior featherweight title as a late replacement in Las Vegas.

But it was not until Nov 15, 2003, after he knocked out Mexico’s Marco Antonio Barrera, when the world took notice.

From there, he defeated a string of future Hall of Famers, even as he climbed in weight.

He wove a quartet of thrilling fights with his greatest rival, Juan Manuel Marquez, and a spectacular trilogy with Erik Morales.

But the match that made him a global superstar was his 2008 thrashing of Oscar de la Hoya.

He had by then reached his prime. He gave De la Hoya a hellish beating that ended in the eighth round. De la Hoya retired from boxing after that.

Pacquiao followed that up with knockout wins over Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto.

In 2015, after on-and-off talks that spanned six years, Pacquiao finally squared off with Floyd Mayweather for the title of the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter.

With a total take of US$600 million, it was the richest fight of all time. Mayweather won by a decision in what boxing fans and critics panned as a lacklustre match between two ageing prizefighters.

None of Pacquiao’s fights after that would be as sensational, even when at 40 he won the welterweight title from Keith Thurman.

The years eventually caught up with Pacquiao.

Last month, he lost by decision to unheralded fighter Yordenis Ugas. At 42, the power and speed that once made him unstoppable was no longer there.

Now, Pacquiao is pivoting towards politics, where his record is far less stellar.

He is running to become Philippines president in 2022.

A poll released on Wednesday (Sept 29) showed him trailing far behind President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter and mayor of Davao City, Ms Sara Duterte, putting him in fourth place behind two other more popular candidates.

Pundits say his performance in the poll shows that while Filipinos worship him as a boxer, they are less than impressed with him as a politician.

He began his life in politics with a failed congressional run in 2007. He won a seat in the Lower House of Congress in 2010.

In 2016, he was elected to a six-year term as senator.

That year, he had to apologise after he called people in gay relationships “worse than animals” during an interview with a local broadcaster, setting off a torrent of criticism.

His work ethic as a lawmaker has also been scrutinised.

In 2014, he showed up for work as the Congressional representative of the southern province of Sarangani for only four days.

Pacquiao has been trying to improve on that. But he is still dogged by the most absences of all senators.

In a scathing essay, former senator and sports columnist Rene Saguisag said of Pacquiao: “If he had focused and stuck to boxing, I may have said nothing and left him alone, adored by millions because he has billions and, therefore, in our crassly materialistic society, a man of respect. But to me, he has disgraced (Congress).”

Pacquiao has also placed himself in Mr Duterte’s crosshairs by refusing to give way to Ms Duterte, creating another political liability.

Mr Duterte has disparaged Pacquiao, a high school dropout, for his “shallow” foreign policy knowledge, telling him he should “study first” before weighing in on issues involving the South China Sea.

He has also said that Pacquiao “knows nothing”, and was just being a pawn manipulated by other politicians.

Pacquiao and Mr Duterte have since been fighting for control of the country’s ruling political party.

Now that he has retired from boxing, he is seen focusing his efforts into wresting control of his party from Mr Duterte, shoring up his support among voters and catching up to Ms Duterte.

In accepting the nomination of the faction he leads, Pacquiao said: “I am a fighter, and I will always be a fighter inside and outside the ring.”

Outside the ring, though, his fists will not matter at all.