Las Vegas Sun

September 26, 2023


Pacquiao revered by his people

Forget celebrity status, Filipinos in Las Vegas view pound-for-pound king as a saint

Pacquiao's fan base in LV

Rob Miech

This week’s Asian Journal beams about Manny Pacquiao’s ceremonial first pitch at a San Francisco Giants game.

Filipinos for Pacquiao

Efren Veando, 53, who grew up in Manila and is an ardent fan of Manny Pacquiao. Launch slideshow »

Manny Pacquiao Training Day

Manny Pacquiao trains at Freddie Roach's gym in Hollywood in preparation for May 2's Hatton fight in Las Vegas.

Manny Pacquiao's training camp

Manny Pacquiao, right, spars with Gary Young as he prepares for his fight with Ricky Hatton at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, California March 31, 2009. Pacquiao of Philippines will take on Hatton of England in a 12-round fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 2. Launch slideshow »

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Growing up in Manila, Efren Veando heard about the great Filipino flyweight champion Pancho Villa. Veando listened to super featherweight Flash Elorde’s electric fights on the radio.

Veando was 19 when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought for the third and final time, in 1975, in the epic Thrilla in Manila at Araneta Coliseum.

Friday afternoon, after the 53-year-old Veando loaded several bags of groceries in the back of his SUV in the Seafood City parking lot, he was asked about Manny Pacquiao.

“He’s a down-to-earth person,” Veando said. “He started out selling cigarettes and now he’s our great champion. He understands where he started. He gives a lot of hope to the youth of the Philippines.

“I pray for him, you know.”

The home-court edge

When Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 KOs) fights Ricky Hatton (45-1, 32 KOs) at the MGM Grand on Saturday, legions of British fans will be in Hatton’s corner.

Anywhere from 10,000 to north of 20,000 have descended upon Las Vegas in recent years to watch "The Hitman" from Manchester. “One Ricky Hatton!” sung to “Guantanamera” takes over the Strip. He’s 3-1 in Las Vegas.

However, Pacquiao always has a huge home-field advantage when he fights in Southern Nevada, where he’s 7-1-1, since about 100,000 Filipinos have settled in the valley.

If late nights carousing at casinos, cockfights and billiards tables, and a failed Congressional run two years ago have tainted Pacquiao’s saintly status among his people, his admirers in Las Vegas didn’t show it.

Over cheese rolls and banana bread at Goldilocks bakery on Maryland Parkway, and moonfish and catfish heads at Manila Seafood on Sahara, Pacquiao had been the talk of the Filipino community.

At Gimik da Lounge on Flamingo, a promoter rang the other day. If Pacquiao wins, he might make an appearance, posing for photographs and signing autographs, at the karaoke saloon.

“He’s an icon,” said Gimik bartender Barbara Phay. “He comes from a poor family, so he’s a rags-to-riches story. He gives a lot of people hope. A lot of people look up to him.”

According to the 34-year-old Phay, many Filipinos buy Pacquiao’s pay-per-view bouts and watch at home with family and friends. Filipino bars and restaurants are quiet, until after the fights.

The San Miguel flows until 6 a.m. at Gimik da Lounge.

“After Manny beat Oscar De La Hoya in December, we got flooded,” Phay said. “Hopefully, Manny wins again and they all come here. He’s our pride and joy.”

A rich tradition

Francisco Guilledo, a flyweight who fought as Pancho Villa and went 92-8-4, was the first international boxing sensation from the Philippines.

He suffocated to death from anesthesia, two weeks before his 24th birthday in 1925, during an operation. His widow claimed a gambling syndicate conspired to kill him after he lost a fight as a heavy favorite.

Gabriel “Flash” Elorde was the next Filipino world champion. The 5-foot-5 1/2 southpaw was 88-27-2 and ruled the super featherweight division from 1960 to 1967.

The chain smoker was 49 when he died from lung cancer in 1985. He was shy and humble. He was revered because he built orphanages and churches, he was a devoted family man and he never caroused.

Elorde is widely considered the greatest Filipino boxer. His San Miguel commercial, in which he asks for “one plate of peanuts,” was voted as the top television ad of all time in the Philippines.

Veando was 15 when Elorde stepped into the ring for the last time, in 1971.

“Our great champion,” Veando said.

Rolando “Bad Boy from Dadiangas” Navarrete (54-15-3) was on his way to greatness when he lost the second defense of his super featherweight title to Rafael “Bazooka” Limon at the Aladdin in 1982.

“He got beat,” Veando said of the Bad Boy, “and couldn’t get it back.”

Navarrete fought for nine more years, losing five of his last six bouts.

Veando had just left Seafood City, which might be the Little Manila of Las Vegas. Under its roof is the city’s tightest concentration of Filipino restaurants and goods, including a bank and a Philippine Airlines office.

In the entryway, 10 large stacks of the weekly Asian Journal newspaper showed Pacquiao throwing a ceremonial first pitch at a San Francisco Giants game. Pac Man is above the fold on the front page.

“Ricky Hatton is a slugger,” Veando said. “I don’t think Manny wants to slug it out. He won’t force it. He’ll be very careful. He’ll be strategic. He’ll wait.

“Manny is very smart. He’s like the Roberto Duran of the Philippines. He’s stylish, like Roberto Duran. But he’s smart. He’s very aware of danger. And he’s very technical, like Muhammad Ali.”

Saint Manny?

Verna Tabladillo grew up watching boxing in Hawaii with her Filipino grandfather, who participated in the sweet science and fought in World War II and Korea.

She favors the D.J. Bibingkahan buffet on Maryland Parkway.

Beryl Cahapay was born in Manila and arrived in the U.S. with family in 1995. She’s partial to the sisig (a spicy combination of hog cheeks, nose and ears over rice) at Café Moda on Jones.

Both are wild about Pacquiao.

“He’s looked at like a savior,” said Tabladillo, a 38-year-old health-care professional. “All the Filipinos in the community look up to him and respect him. We’re so proud of him for what he’s accomplished and what he does with his winnings. He gives back to the community.”

Cahapay, a 34-year-old designer at the public relations and advertising agency R&R Partners, watches Pacquiao’s fights with family at her brother Beltran’s home. Her mother gets especially animated.

“He’s like a national hero in the Philippines,” she said. “He’s the pride of the Philippines. We’re not known for being an athletic people, so Manny is just a really good representative of a lot of people.

“Many are behind him because of that.”

Cahapay’s sister, Belden, lives in Southern California and has watched Pacquiao’s sparring sessions. She had a picture taken with him and he signed a boxing glove for her.

“He’s a very big deal,” Cahapay said. “A celebrity.”

Tabladillo has friends who have met Pacquiao and she tried to imagine that experience.

“It would be like touching a God,” Tabladillo said, “you know?”

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