The most surprising thing about the story that revealed how Manny Pacquiao had literally saved a woman’s life with his words, was that it was not even that surprising.
It went that the 36-year-old Filipino congressman was deeply disturbed by the news that his compatriot, Mary Jane Veloso, was part of a group of nine people convicted of drug trafficking having been caught carrying 2.6kg of heroin at an Indonesian airport in April 2010 and was subsequently sentenced to death.
She was due to face the firing squad this past week after appeal upon appeal had been rejected. That was until some divine intervention from a 5ft 6in man who makes a living beating people up with his shirt off.
Pacquiao, from his training camp in Los Angeles, appeared via satellite link on Phillipines TV and appealed directly to Indonesian President Joko Widodo to spare young Mary Jane’s life. That took place on Monday.
By Wednesday, her eight co-defendants were dead, finished by a firing squad on the indonesian island of Nusa Kambangan. Veloso, meanwhile is still alive.
We do not know what will happen to her next, but she will still be breathing when the man who somehow secured her a stay of execution takes part in the richest fight in the history of sport, a behemoth of an event which has been maturing for the past five or six years.
Pacquiao carries the hopes of a nation upon his shoulders whenever he takes to the ring, now he apparently carries the power of God on his tongue. Mayweather, some argue, carries the hopes and dreams of boxing as we know it, upon his.
They say that once he goes, after the fight which will follow this, the sport will be devoid of any real superstar. But it is difficult to imagine that boxing will ever struggle again given the way it has trickled like water into every corner of this Nevada resort in the past few weeks.
You cannot walk 10 feet down this famous strip without being confronted by the grimacing face of the two men, topless and moody, staring down at you from billboards, signs and banners. The pair, who will bank more than Ireland’s 2014 Gross Domestic Product between them early tomorrow morning, look like the least funny comedy duo of all time.
Even the blackjack tables here in the MGM Grand carry their faces, and people’s hard-earned money pass over their steely glares for 24 hours a day. They have become almost God-like on the Strip, keeping watch over the place with Orwellian viguor.
It is, of course, hugely rare in boxing for two icons to compete in the same weight class in the same era. History will not look upon either of these as the greatest of all time – in fact both men would struggle to break into the top 10 – but it is their crossing in this 140-character generation which has catapulted the contest onto another level.
However there is a very real danger of this fight falling flat.
Mayweather possesses a strange ability to suck the drama out of an occasion. There will be an almighty crescendo in this place tonight when everyone leaves the ring besides the two combatants and the referee. But within a minute, it could be as flat as Mayweather wants it to be, if he can slide through the gears with his usual ease. It will be up to Pacquiao to save the day for the good of boxing.
Mayweather’s father and trainer Floyd Snr, for instance, cannot see what all the fuss is about: “To be honest, I don’t think it’s going to be much of a fight. The fight is already won. Trust me. They keep talking ‘bout how scared Floyd is, but they’re scared. We’re not scared of Pacquiao or Freddie Roach. Floyd would whup Manny any day, any time, anywhere. Simple.”
It remains to be seen whether or not his confidence is misplaced but his opposite number, Freddie Roach, says Pacquiao’s victory has been five years in the making. In the legendary trainer’s final opportunity to speak before fight night, he said: “I’ve been training Manny for this for five years, I’ve been studying Floyd for five years – I know a lot about him. We’ve covered all bases and have a winning formula.”
In fact, if Roach is to be believed, Veloso’s was not the first life Pacquiao has saved this year. The 55-year-old, who suffers with Parkinson’s, feels like the exhaustive training routines he lays out for his No.1 fighter, have actively slowed the disease. More emphatic, however, was his revelation that he sweeps away the suicidal thoughts which are a side effect of his medication when he trains Pacquiao and his other fighters at the Wild Card Gym.
Roach was a professional lightweight boxer known as The Choir Boy during the late 70s and early 80s but the link between professional boxing and the onset of Parkinson’s is a tenuous one. Roach, for his part, believes his career in combat did have something to do with it.
During this gargantuan fight week, which has snowballed into an unparalleled promotion, Mayweather has spoken about his relief that his position as boxing’s No.1 defensive fighter has got him to the age of 38 without even the faintest of slur in his words.
“People have criticised me for being a defensive fighter,” he said this week. “But last night when I was at home sitting with my mother and my daughter, I thought to myself ‘I’m proud of myself.’ “To be in a sport for 19 years, the main thing is I’m going to get out of boxing and still have a sharp mind.”
It is that mind which has helped propel him to the top of the sport. It has been a calculated route to the pinnacle since splitting from Top Rank and his promoter Bob Arum in 2006 to go it alone and form Mayweather Promotions.
That’s not to say that his ‘Money’ moniker is completely fake, but Mayweather knows as well as anyone that skills inside the ring can only get you so far and that people buying a pay-per-view in the hope of seeing you lose, pay the same as those who are hoping you win.
“I’m glad I was flashy and outspoken when I was younger,” he added. “But I’m close to the big 4-0. I don’t have to bash anyone. I know what I can do.
“One fight doesn’t define my career. The great thing about my career is that I’m a smart businessman. A 19-year career with no punishment on the body, that’s what we should talk about.”
But in his way this time is the opponent who, more so than any of the 47 that have come before him, is capable of inflicting the most amount of punishment upon him.
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