World-class boxer Manny Pacquiao can't sing to save his life -- but then, he wouldn't have to, would he? The cantatory low point of the Filipino superstar's appearance at Hollywood's Nike Sportswear at The Montalban on Saturday, a week before his Vegas fight with Miguel Cotto, was his duet with singer Melissa R., a onetime Pussycat Dolls contender.
Vocal talent aside, there's no denying Pacquiao's impact on LA's Filipinos: They pack the space wherever he appears, going wild and shouting his name when he takes the stage. When he sings the refrain of his song -- with its repeated chant of "Filipino" -- you don't have to be from the Philippines to feel the pride.
MTV VJ Quddus was the host for Saturday's event, Under the Hood With Manny Pacquiao. Quddus fielded audience questions while a coy Pacquiao, flanked by trainers Freddie Roach, Buboy Fernandez and Alex Ariza, slided his responses between audience howls.
"If you could fight any past or present fighter, who would it be?," Quddus asked.
"Mayweather!" "Floyd!" "Tyson!," the crowd called out. Nothing yet from Pacquiao. The crowd again: "Mayweather!" "Jesus!" "Tyson!" "Tyson!" In the darkness of the Montalban's back row, you wondered whether Pacquiao's hesitation is a product of compromised brain function, or just the thoughtful response of an icon who understands his influence. (Pacquiao's trainer and former boxer, Roach, seated to his left and watching with admiration, is the one afflicted with Parkinson's.)
"Miguel Cotto," Pacquiao answered with boyish diplomacy. If Pacquiao beats Puerto Rican WBO welterweight champ Cotto on November 14, he will have won a record-breaking seven boxing titles in seven separate weight classes.
"I'm hearing a lot of Tyson," Quddus said.
"Who?" Pacquiao replied, in what was either understated humor or just plain difficulty hearing.
"Tyson," Quddus repeated. Pacquiao laughed. The humility was real; at that moment, you liked him even more.
Well, would he fight Tyson?
"Maybe in the game," he said, the crowd laughing with him.
You could imagine Tyson and Pacquiao going out for pizza and having lots to say, but not saying very much.
"What's your inspiration?" Quddus asked next.
"My family, and my fans," Pacquiao responded thoughtfully, not giving too much away. The crowd went wild. Again.
Plastic blowup baseball bats bearing the phrase UNDER THE HOOD bounced against each other all night, a sea of silhouettes that rose and fell with the action. The bats added to the challenge for the back-row photographers, who were not allowed to venture more than halfway down the Montalban's aisle for closer shots of Pacquiao, and then only with a designated chaperone.
There were toddlers in the crowd, little Filipinos who might grow up remembering this evening of adoration and yelling, and who surely are familiar with the name Pacquiao whether or not they've been allowed to see him fight. He's a good role model: He rose from poverty in the Philippines to the pinnacle of sports success; Filipino leaders nervous over the swine-flu can only concede when the god-loving ex-Time cover hero comes home.
Mark Wahlberg said it nicely in the opening big-screen tribute: "... you love God, and you love the people, and that's why the people love you."
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Also in attendance was Pacquiao's "shortest, biggest fan," Erick Esteban, a young (and not so short) Filipino actor who created the Web character Minny Pacquiao. Esteban, from Chicago and living in L.A., said he's found a Filipino he can emulate and get behind: "I grew up watching sports with my dad. We watched Pacquiao beat De La Hoya last year. I saw the proud look on my father's face -- it was different."
Afterwards, fans lined up in the foyer to buy PAC MAN boxer shorts and tees. On Vine Street, mothers, babies and grown men posed for photos in front of a huge image of Pacquiao's face on the side of one of his tour buses. The back of the bus teased the Pacquiao-Cotto bout with giant images of both. Esteban predicts a sixth-round victory -- Pacquiao's of course.