MANILA, Philippines - It’s not everyday an international sports megastar sits down with you to talk about life – no pretensions, no lights, no cameras rolling, no flimsy facade or passé soundbites designed to make you feel good – just good old fashioned talk.
Like he’s actually concerned about what’s on your mind.
I’d like to think that Manny Pacquiao, when you strip away the accolades - 10-time world champion in 8 different weight divisions, the lethal lefty from General Santos City, and public servant in Sarangani – is someone who genuinely wants to help uplift people’s spirits, whether part of his private circle or not.
I’ve covered Manny Pacquiao 3 or 4 years leading up to that moment. I was a fan before, cheering myself hoarse for the Man in The Flaming Trunks that decimated stars and retired legends. I had the best seat in the house as a TV reporter, covering the activities of the Pound-for-Pound Best Fighter in the World and Representative of the lone district of Sarangani.
I saw how he lived. I was in awe at how he trained. He danced around the ring like no other, moved smoothly like water, and made the Sweet Science look better, creating fistic images like an artist with the MGM Grand Garden Arena as his canvas. He was strong. He was fast. The fire in the man’s eyes overwhelmed any who stood in his way.
Who would believe a living boxing legend would take a moment, remove his gloves, wipe sweat from his brow, and just sit next to a boy to talk?
It was my last time covering Manny Pacquiao in a small gym in Makati City. He was preparing for his third fight against Juan Manuel Marquez. He ran through Marquez’ films with trainer Buboy Fernandez. He cracked mitts round after round. He gamely played with the camera after training and even did his own stand-up spiels.
After my cameras stopped rolling, I told him this might be the last time I was going to see him. I told him I’m chasing after my dreams, just like he did all those years ago when he climbed into the ring for the very first time in Manila. I told him this is always what I’ve wanted.
But he saw underneath my bravado. He felt the anxiety in my chest. What happened next is a moment etched in memory.
He put his hand on my shoulder, that same right hand that developed into a fearsome weapon with a stinging jab, and told me to be brave. To trust myself. To pray. To believe.
“Dapat laging maging matapang. Habulin mo mga pangarap mo, ang passion mo. Ang tapang, ang puso, hindi naituturo.”
For the first time in years, Manny, I might have to slightly disagree. While I agree that courage is inate, it takes special moments to inspire the human heart to be brave. It takes something special to show a person how to be brave.
In all those moments you stepped in the ring, threw punches with the force of an entire country behind your fists, bled and endured pain for the honor of the Philippines, and raised your hands in victory with a million voices across the seas roaring in celebration – those moments of the best of Manny Pacquiao – you taught me, and an entire nation how to be brave. - Rappler.com
James Velasquez is a sports anchor for the NCAA on AKTV and writes for SLAM Philippines. He was a former TV news reporter for GMA News who covered Manny Pacquiao’s training camps and activities. Follow him on Twitter here.