Manny Pacquiao has been an underdog since day one

Ryan Songalia
Manny Pacquiao has been an underdog since day one
Manny Pacquiao will face Floyd Mayweather Jr with the odds against him. It's a situation he has found himself in since birth

LAS VEGAS, USA – The irony of boxing is that, regardless of what the sports book odds say, every fight is 1-1. And, in a sport where the overwhelming majority of participants come from an impoverished background, everyone is an underdog.

Manny Pacquiao had been fighting the odds long before discovering that he could put on boxing gloves and earn money to eat. Growing up in General Santos City, Philippines, he was among the millions of poverty-stricken children who lived day to day, unsure of where he’d find his next meal.

With his mother Dionisia unable to support her six children, Pacquiao sold doughnuts on the street and slept on cardboard boxes, a fate that continues to befall many youth in the Southeast Asia country.

The opportunity to make an estimated of $80 million is something he could’ve never expected during those early days when he ran away from home after his father Rosario ate his dog. And with days remaining before he fights Floyd Mayweather Jr, malice gives way to thankfulness.

“There is money but the most important for me is to let the people know there is God. He turned me from nothing into something,” said Pacquiao, 36, while sporting a new diamond bracelet with two boxing gloves dangling from them.

“Like what I told you, my life before I was living in the street with nothing. Now I cannot imagine that a boy that don’t have slippers, sleeping in the street, looking for food, starving. And now can go…around the world. It’s beyond my imagination. I cannot be thankful enough for God for these blessings.”

He was an underdog the night he traveled to Thailand as a skinny 19-year-old and knocked out Chatchai Saskul in eight rounds to win the WBC flyweight title. He was considered a no-hoper when he took a fight against IBF junior featherweight champion in 2001 on short notice in his American debut, and won by sixth-round knockout.

He was thought to be overmatched when he faced Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003 and stopped him in 11 one-sided rounds. And he was also thought to be too small against Oscar de la Hoya in 2008 before he pounded The Golden Boy into retirement.

Pacquiao has transcended sports in his country, becoming a two term congressman in the Sarangani province and an icon unparalleled by any back home.

Floyd Mayweather Jr is a -200 favorite (meaning you have to bet $200 to win $100) to remain undefeated against Pacquiao when the two clash on Saturday, May 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Mayweather hasn’t had it easy either. His father/trainer Floyd Sr a drug dealer who did prison time from 1993 to 1998 on cocaine trafficking charges, took a shotgun blast to the leg while holding his one-year-old son. His mother Deborah was addicted to crack cocaine. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich. sharing bedrooms with members of his extended family.

“At Christmas we never had a Christmas” Mayweather told the Independent in 2007.

He found salvation in the family business, following his welterweight contender father, his two-time world champion uncle Roger and his lightweight contender uncle Jeff into the boxing ring.

Mayweather has accrued a record of 47-0 (26 knockouts) while collecting world titles in five divisions. He is the standard-bearer for technical aptitude in the sport, priding himself on his ability to deliver punishment while taking much less in return.

He has broken almost all previous financial records for the sport, including gates, pay-per-view buys and revenues and purses earned.

Mayweather has earned a reported $420 million in his career, despite having virtually no sponsors. He owns a 14-seater G5 jet and has a fleet of Bugattis and other luxury cars that could rival the collection of a Saudi prince.

Pacquiao, a world champion in an unprecedented 8 divisions, has made approximately $335 million, according to Forbes, and has sponsorships with Smart Communications, Nestle Butterfinger Cups, Wonderful Pistachios, Nike and Foot Locker for this fight, with a “secret” sponsor bringing in more revenue for Pacquiao to be announced before the fight, says Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum.

Manny Pacquiao is a +170 underdog at the MGM Grand sports book for Saturday's fight. Photo by Chris Farina - Top Rank

Both fighters will make larger purses than could’ve ever been fathomed previously in the sport, with the winner earning the right to be called the greatest of this generation.

Though they both have risen from tough upbringings to become successes in the ring, Arum feels that’s where the similarities end.

“They’re totally different people in terms of their lifestyle, their outlook on life, how they comport themselves. They couldn’t be more polar opposites,” said the 83-year-old Top Rank CEO, who promoted Mayweather from his pro debut in 1996 until 2007.

Speed kills, and so does timing

Aside from his skill, Mayweather is also the larger of the two. He has done well in the 154-pound division against opponents that outweigh him by close to 20 pounds. And at age 5-foot-8, he’s an inch and a half taller than Pacquiao. At Wednesday’s final press conference, he towered over Pacquiao.

Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach feels his fighter’s speed is his main advantage and will be the key to handing Mayweather his first loss. He expects the 38-year-old Mayweather to try and exchange punches with Pacquiao and to impose his physical strength.

“I think we have more speed, more power and I think we’re 100 percent ready for what he brings to the table,” said Roach. 

“We’ll put more pressure on [Mayweather] too. “The thing is Manny likes to exchange and I think we’re a little faster with the hand speed and I think it’ll be in our favor.”

While Roach feels speed – and not size – wins fights, Mayweather Jr offers a different perspective.

“It’s not all about speed, it’s about timing also,” said Mayweather. “It’s not just about throwing a lot of punches. Everyone’s game plan is to throw a lot of punches and keep a lot of pressure. It hasn’t worked before. Forty-seven fighters had the same game plan. My game plan is to just take my time and do what I do best.”

Roach, a seven-time Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year, said their game plan remains secret, despite allowing Sports Illustrated pick his mind for a piece in this week’s magazine. 

“I don’t know what it said, I didn’t read it, but I probably wasn’t telling the truth,” Roach said. 

Roach said there were eight total sparring partners Pacquiao worked with, two of whom he dismissed for different reasons. One was sent home because he felt Pacquiao had grown too friendly with him and wanted to maintain Pacquiao’s edge, and the other because his trainer Don House trains fighters out of the Mayweather Boxing Club.

The fighter is believed to be Keandre Gibson, a 12-0-1 (5 KOs) fighter from St. Louis, Missouri.

Pacquiao, despite not having knocked an opponent out since 2009, says he has reawakened his violent streak after years of criticism that he had lost his desire to do the task that remains at the sport’s core, which is to cause physical harm to your adversary.

“I’m so happy because the killer instinct, the focus that I had years ago, it’s back,” Pacquiao said. “In previous fights I never felt like this but now it’s different. Nothing to worry about. 100% I’m relaxed and confident so it’s good.”

Pacquiao’s five defeats, which include three knockouts, are a major reason why Pacquiao is +170 (meaning you win $170 with a $100 bet) at the sports book.

Pacquiao is reckless at times, with his eagerness to attack leaving him susceptible to counter-punchers, just as he was when Juan Manuel Marquez knocked him cold at the MGM Grand in 2012.

Roach isn’t concerned about Pacquiao’s defeats or over-awed by Mayweather’s undefeated mark. He thinks his fighter’s hard-earned lessons will be an asset when the bell sounds.

“I’m not really impressed with people that are undefeated,” said Roach. 

“I think losses make you a better person and a better fighter. You learn much more from a loss than you do from a win.”

A Nike billboard on the side of the Tropicana Hotel across from MGM bares Pacquiao’s face with the words “Do what they say you can’t” across his eager eyes. Pacquiao knows the circumstances he’s up against and feels comfortable nonetheless.

“My feeling, I can express that my feelings are more relaxed,” Pacquiao said.

Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.

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