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MANILA, Philippines — “The People’s Champ” is grinning from ear-to-ear.
He walks into a Chinese restaurant in the famous Maxim’s Hotel at Resort’s World, only to be greeted by a slew of reporters and a number of his colleagues in the Congress.
Everyone is here tonight for one reason. All in attendance have come to celebrate him and his latest victory, in a close bout against Mexican fighter Juan Manuel Marquez.
Everyone is here for Manny Pacquiao.
In a black suit over a checkered polo and a pinkish-red tie, Pacquiao looks every inch a Congressman. He has just come from the House of Representatives after all, where he delivered a privilege speech to his peers.
After a barrage of photographers and video cameras invade the famous boxer, and after signing a young boy’s pair of boxing gloves, he finally goes on stage to deliver a shortened version of what he had said earlier to Congress.
“Alam ko na lahat ay hindi masaya doon sa fight (I know that not everyone is happy about the fight),” he says.
He is interrupted by a yell from the crowd, “Ok lang yun, Manny (It’s okay, Manny)!”
Pacquiao smiles and continues.
“Dapat magpasalamat parin tayo (We should still be grateful),” he says. “Thank you sa walang pagsawang suporta. Sana’y lagi niyo akong suportahan at huwag po sana kayong magsawa sa akin. Hopefully, the next fight, Mayweather na. (Thank you for your constant support. I hope you will not tire of supporting me. Hopefully the next fight will be against Mayweather).”
The crowd cheers in agreement. Indeed, tonight, there is no trace of the disappointment Pacquiao refers to, the disappointment many expressed after his controversial win over Marquez, his longtime rival, whom he barely defeated by majority decision a few weeks earlier.
Night of celebration
Every person in the room is visibly happy to be here, especially the Congressman himself. And why would he not be? This surprise victory party was thrown for him.
“Masayang masaya ako (I am very happy)!,” he tells reporters.
The event organizers, Resort’s World Manila, shows a slideshow of Pacquiao in his recent fights, a presentation punctuated with constant reminders that he is the “undisputed world champion” and “the real winner” in big, bold letters.
A pile of food is served to every table. Media men, public officials, friends — all feast on the spread shared with them in celebration of the champion athlete.
Alongside the meal, there are singers, dancers, a band, all of whom entertain the crowd, the guest of honor. Then Pacquiao indulges his fans by walking on stage a second time, this time to serenade the crowd with his now popular rendition of “Sometimes When We Touch.”
The audience applauds, and screams, “More!” after he is done.
World-renowned comedian Rex Navarrette is in the room too, and he performs a special skit for Pacquiao, who laughs heartily at his jokes. Navarrette imitates the champ and mimics his accent. The fighter is a good sport throughout.
And then the program ends, and it is time to go home. But not without more photos first. The cameras flash, the video cameras roll, and finally, finally, everyone is satisfied with their photo next to one of the world’s most famous fighters.
Slowly, the crowd thins. A beaming Pacquiao is escorted out by twenty people as he waves to his adoring fans. Everyone goes home one by one, pleased. Content.
All leave, reassured.
Pacquiao departs knowing that despite initial uproar over his less than stellar performance in the recent Marquez fight, his countrymen continue to support him with joy and pride.
His guests too go home with a smile, and will sleep peacefully tonight. They have forgiven Pacquiao for not convincingly beating his opponent in the last bout. All they know is they adore him, and will root for him if the boxing gods take pity and grant them the much-anticipated fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
A stark contrast from the reactions after the final bell rang in Pacquiao’s last fight, all go home confident. All go home fully believing that this victory party, is not the last one for Manny Pacquiao.