Life lessons I learned from Pacquiao

Boxing champ Manny Pacquiao in his early years in GenSan

I don’t usually do sports blogs about popular athletes although I do enjoy watching sports. I felt compelled to write this article following Filipino boxing great Manny Pacquiao’s triumph over future Hall of Famer Sugar Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas yesterday because I thought there was a lot in Manny’s journey that many people can learn from — not just Filipinos, but for anyone around the world.

It’s been a while since I admired Manny Pacquiao. I first saw him many years ago in a Blow by Blow match as I was channel surfing and stopped when I saw how he knocked out his opponent. He was very cocky back then and he was jumping all over the ring and raising his arms and egging on the crowd even before the referee declared him the winner. I thought he was a raw talent and really quite funny. The next time I saw Manny, he was scheduled to fight El Terible Erik Morales at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. I was quite scared for him because I was thinking of the first fight I saw him in and became impressed by the way he has matured as a fighter. I was really glad to see veteran boxing trainer Freddie Roach on his corner. As we all know, the first fight went to Morales but the rest is history. From then on, he has worked hard and fought the best boxers in the industry and came out with explosive fights every time.

TRY AND TRY. Manny, who grew up dirt poor in General Santos City, had to drop out of school at the age of 14 to help his mother earn for the rest of the family. He experienced living in the streets and took on odd jobs before landing a spot in the Philippine Amateur Boxing Team where he fought over 60 amateur fights before turning professional. A lot of people look at Manny and think about how lucky he is in living the good life and earning truckloads of money from his fights. However, athletes like Manny train for hours and months on end, enduring physical hardships and sometimes injuries to get in shape for their fights. Luck probably accounts for 10 percent of Manny’s success. Manny trains hard to ensure that he is 110 percent prepared for his fights to give the fans what they paid for — an entertaining match.

Pacman exerts a lot of hard work in training for each fight. (Reuters)

Many of us sometimes look at other people’s success and feel cheated because we don’t get the same breaks as the people we compare ourselves to. Some keep praying for good things to come their way but don’t really do something to get ahead and move forward. But let’s figure out how Manny excels at the things he is successful at and we will find that he exerted a lot of effort and hard work to get where he is today. Blood, sweat and tears, y’all. That’s the price he paid for fame.

Thinking back, Manny wasn’t always so successful. He suffered through a lot of tough breaks before he met Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Gym in the USA. Manny didn’t win in his first attempt to run for congress. Manny lost to Erik Morales in their first match and didn’t win his first match against Juan Antonio Marquez the first time because of dollar store socks. He wins a lot but he fails just like the rest of us, but the difference is how he gets back on his horse after his tush gets a beating. When Manny lost his Cuban coach, he went to the US on a prayer and met with Freddie with only his skills to back him up. When he lost to Erik Morales, he listened to Freddie Roach and trained harder. When he lost his congressional bid, he studied. When he ended the fight on a draw with Marquez, he bought nice socks and got an advertisement deal with Darlington for better socks. We, as regular folk suffer setbacks in our lives on a daily basis. But we lack the same drive that pushed Manny to take all of those chances. He staked his reputation and livelihood on the line to go for the big time and it returned to him tenfold.

All smiles at the weigh in with Margarito. (Reuters)

NICE GUYS DON’T FINISH LAST. I once read an article online from a sports writers, extolling Manny for his virtues, but at the same time complaining about Manny’s boringness outside of the ring. The sports writer claimed that Manny was a bit too good to be true, an explosive fighter who doesn’t have a bad word to say to anybody, which is usually how promoters sell the match. But with a track record like the Pacman’s, he doesn’t need trash talk to sell tickets. People know that when they pay good money for a Pacman fight, they get their money’s worth. Manny makes friends with his opponents and gives them the respect they deserve. For those who don’t give him the same, he lets his fists do the talking in the ring, and eventually earns their respect after the beating. Check out the great boxers defeated by the Pacman throughout the years…. Erik Morales even came to the Philippines to shoot a beer ad in Manila after his loss to Manny. Miguel Cotto described him as the greatest fighter he (Cotto) ever fought, and the rest pretty much agreed.

So, its really true that nice guys don’t finish last. If people are nasty to you in school or at work, if they diss you and make you feel bad, remember that only you can demean yourself. Show them up by being the best person that you can be, being the best professional, being the best worker and pretty soon, you’ll have them eating your dust when you get promoted or get a better job and they get stuck with their low paying 9-5 job.

WITH GOD’S GRACE. Manny is a very religious person. I hear he prays the rosary everyday and leads his team to do so as well. In every fight, he never fails to thank God for his victory, and makes it a point that he kneels down to pray before every match. For the Mosley fight, he must have done the sign of the cross five times in the opening of the rounds not because he was afraid of getting hurt but because he was seeking God’s guidance.

Not all people are Catholic like Manny. There are many types of religion but one must admit that the idea of surrendering one’s fate to a higher power, having the faith in the unseen is amazing and admirable. Faith gives us direction and we often forget to call on God when we don’t need him. It might be nice to give him praise for keeping us safe everyday, for keeping our families and loved ones out of danger and generally for all the blessings that He bestows on us, no matter how small, from time to time.

photo grab from liquor ad. Manny and Mommy Dionesia

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE. Manny’s team has been with him from the beginning. Most of his entourage, although it has been growing of late, is composed of people whom he has known since he was young, and of course, there are his trainers. Freddie Roach once said in an interview that “Manny is like a son to me,” and this is a good indication that he always has Manny’s best interest at heart. Freddie knows when to allow Manny to call the shots but he also knows when he needs to put his foot down. He is exactly the type of person Manny should have in his life, someone to call his bullsh*t but still help him overcome his rough patches. In the face of fame, there are surely a lot of moochers who want to ride Manny’s coattails (read: politicians), but I’m pretty glad that Manny’s family and friends still keep him grounded. I like that he honors his mother and still considers her advice even if he is already a big shot.

As we grow up, there are times we begin to question the wisdom of our parents. There may be times we will meet different people who may seem cool and we find ourselves gravitating towards them in order to be a part of the clique. They may influence us to be mean, or sometimes do things that goes against our grain as a person. It is up to us to make sure that we do not lose sight of what is important and what is right.

IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO REINVENT YOURSELF. Manny got his high school equivalency in 2007, decades after he was forced to quit school. He decided to go for another shot at the congressional seat of Sarangani and won in the 2010 polls. In preparation for his role as a lawmaker, he enrolled in the Certificate Course in Development, Legislation, and Governance at the Development Academy of the Philippines – Graduate School of Public and Development Management (DAP-GSPDM). In much as the same way he trains for his fights, he also does not want to shortchange the constituents who voted for him. In doing so, he is continuing to evolve and prepare for the next chapter of his life, if and when he decides to retire.

For most of us, once we reach a certain age, we become afraid of trying something new, something different from the things that we know that we are good at. In doing so, we cheat ourselves by limiting ourselves to only certain opportunities. Pacquiao didn’t finish school. He wasn’t even good at English but charged forward and put himself out there, in spite of being ridiculed and discouraged. Look at him now, he was invited to the White House to meet the President of the USA, without having to beg for an audience. Hollywood stars visit him while in training and those who ridiculed him are the ones praising him now.

I’m not saying that Manny is a perfect role model. Nor am I saying that he is a paragon of virtue. He has his faults, just like the rest of us. But in watching his career, as he grows as a fighter and as a legislator, I believe that a lot can be gleaned from his journey. And his success is a living testament to that. So let his story inspire us to become better, to challenge ourselves, and lose our fear of failure. After all, we cannot move forward until we take that first step.