Manny Pacquiao: A Little Flat, but Very Sharp

Mel Yiasemide

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 Ricardo Montalbán Theatre on Saturday, a week before his big Vegas fight with Miguel Cotto, is his duet with singer Melissa R.

Vocal talent aside, there’s no denying Pacquiao’s impact on L.A.’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 onetime Pussycat Dolls contender R., with its repeated chant of “Filipino,” you don’t have to be from the Philippines to feel the pride.

MTV VJ Quddus is the host for Saturday’s event: Under the Hood With Manny Pacquiao. Quddus fields audience questions while a coy Pacquiao, flanked by trainers Freddie Roach, Buboy Fernandez and Alex Ariza, slides his responses between audience howls.

Quddus: “If you could fight any past or present fighter, who would it be?”

The crowd calls out: “Mayweather!” “Floyd!” “Tyson!” Nothing yet from Pacquiao. The crowd calls out some more: “Mayweather!” “Jesus!” “Tyson!” “Tyson!”

In the darkness of the Montalbán’s back row, to which all but the most fortunate media have been relegated, you wonder whether Pacquiao’s hesitation is a product of compromised brain function, or just the thoughtful response of an icon who understands his influence. (Sadly, it’s Pacquiao’s trainer and former boxer Roach, seated to his left and watching Pacquiao with admiration, who has Parkinson’s.)

“Miguel Cotto,” Pacquiao answers with boyish diplomacy.

“I’m hearing a lot of Tyson,” Quddus says.

“Who?” Pacquiao replies, in what is either understated humor or just plain difficulty hearing.

“Tyson,” Quddus repeats. Pacquiao laughs. The humility is real; right now, you like him even more.

Well, would he box Tyson, whose fighting weight was nearly 100 pounds more than Pacquiao’s?

“Maybe in the game,” he says, and the crowd laughs with him.

You imagine Tyson and Pacquiao going out for pizza and having lots to say but not saying very much.

If Pacquiao beats Puerto Rican WBO welterweight champ Cotto on Saturday, the 30-year-old Filipino will have won a record-breaking seven boxing titles in seven separate weight classes. Pacquiao matched Oscar De La Hoya’s record of world championship titles in six weight divisions when he knocked out junior-welterweight champion Ricky Hatton at Vegas’ MGM Grand on May 2.

“What’s your inspiration?” Quddus asks next.

“My family, and my fans,” Pacquiao responds thoughtfully, not giving too much away. The crowd goes wild. Again.

The audience includes toddlers, little Filipinos who might grow up remembering this evening. Pacquiao’s a good role model: He rose from poverty in the Philippines to the pinnacle of sports success. Filipino leaders nervous over the possible spread of swine flu from the U.S. can’t stop the God-loving, ex–Time cover hero from returning home.

Actor Mark Wahlberg says it nicely in the opening big-screen tribute: “... you love God, and you love the people, and that’s why the people love you.”

In attendance is 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., says 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.”

Afterward, fans line up in the foyer to buy PAC MAN boxer shorts and tees. On Vine Street, mothers, babies and grown men have their photos taken in front of a huge image of Pacquiao’s face on the side of one of his tour buses. The back of the bus teases the Pacquiao-Cotto bout with giant images of both. Esteban predicts a sixth-round victory — Pacquiao’s, of course.


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