By: Yong B. Chavez
He enters a room, and immediately, loud applause and cheering break out. And that's just the press room.
As soon as Manny Pacquiao was sighted at a public appearance in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, the boxing superstar, who was looking dapper in an Amerkana, was besieged by the most tenacious sort of crowd: the autograph seekers and picture-posers.
They jostle and jockey to get his attention, shoving a piece of paper, a picture, a pair of kiddie gloves, even a guitar, in front of him. The clamoring appeared interminable.
"Manny, pa-sign! Manny. Manny! MANNY!" They yelled louder when he had to stop signing and posing to go do his previously arranged celebrity chore.
On that particular day he was accepting a plaque of recognition from no less than the mayor of the second largest city in the United States. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, possibly the next "celebrity" California governor after Arnold, has plenty of public and camera appeal. He just won his reelection without breaking a sweat, previous marriage scandal notwithstanding. Villaraigosa is just that successful and popular.
But even the shine of the mayor's star in his own city was easily eclipsed by Manny's.
It was interesting to see Villaraigosa get a bit flustered when an insistent Manny fan kept on egging his idol to sign a shirt while Villaraigosa was making a speech. Later, while addressing the crowd onstage, the mayor had to gently shush the enthusiastic cheers for Manny so that he could finish his own tribute to the boxer.
In Pac-land, that ever-growing space that Pacmanians call home, there's never a question of who the star is and how far they would go just to be near him.
Exhibit A: Pushing her way into a tight circle of reporters chronicling Pacquiao's every move, a lola was nonchalantly risking suffocation and multiple fractures just to be near the boxer.
"MANNY!" She screamed like a tween girl at a Jonas Brothers concert. It was over the top and completely normal at the same time. That's just the way it is for Manny Pacquiao and his adoring public.
And who could blame the fans' enthusiasm? Pacquiao is a bona fide megastar, and not just to Filipinos.
He is now part of American pop culture. At a recent Flashpoint episode, one of the leads in the CBS TV show mentions that he spent his weekend watching a Manny Pacquiao fight.
"It was brutal," the character said, seemingly surprised. Well, any boxing follower can tell him Pacquiao's fights always are.
But one of the things that make Pacman so darn likable to fans is that he keeps his brutal moves inside the boxing ring. In person, he gives off a completely non-threatening, friendly and polite vibe.
Exhibit B: At the same event, I sort of winced when a too-excited guy tapped Manny's shoulders with a little more force than he probably (I hope) intended to get Manny's attention. Dude, the man has beaten up boxing legends, what were you thinking?
But Manny just looked over his shoulders and shook the man's proffered hand. All in a day's work.
He's funny, too. After seeing what must have been a lengthy prepared speech, he said with his mic on, "Sasabihin ko ba ito lahat?"
When his audience laughed, he added that public speaking makes him much more nervous than boxing for his life during his bloody fights.
To see him interact with his fans – signing and shaking hands and smiling likes there's no tomorrow – is to understand why he is so idolized. He never seems to intentionally ignore anyone, a wicked trick found in some douche-y celebs' goodie bag. And when he connects, there's a sincerity that looks as if it naturally oozes out of him. It must be his humble roots or the God-fearing way he was raised by his nanay. Or maybe he's just a really decent guy.
Others can say that, sometimes, he can be detached and unengaged, and they might be correct, too. He is human, after all.
But one thing he isn't is a trash-talker. For us reporters always looking for good sound bites, that isn't exactly good news. But it is a refreshing celebrity attitude.
Told that his upcoming fight opponent Ricky Hatton downplayed his victory over boxing legend Oscar dela Hoya, Pacquiao's famously mustached lip just curled up into a smile.
"Hatton said that he's better than dela Hoya," a reporter presses, "do you agree that he is better than dela Hoya?"
"Totoo naman na magaling s'ya at hindi pwedeng i-underestimate. Pero pareho rin siguro. Boxer din s'ya, at may dalawa rin lang kamay," is all a still smiling Pacquiao would say about Hatton. The two are slated to go mano-a-mano on May 2 at the MGM Grand garden arena in Las Vegas.
Well, here's hoping Hatton doesn't think the same way and treat Pacquiao like "another boxer with two hands" because that would be a bloody mistake. I don't think the British bruiser will do that, as all evidence point to him as being a savvy fighter.
But apart from Pacquiao's might, he should also be prepared to face a tough crowd of Pacmanians come fight night. They will be there, autograph paraphernalia and unceasing devotion on hand.
Monday, March 16, 2009
FANNING PACQUIAO'S FLAME
When it comes to Manny Pacquiao,
fans are just knockout-passionate
By: Yong B. Chavez