Saturday, May 2, 2009 | 3:33 a.m.
Show host Andy Samuelson discusses Saturday's megafight between Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao with Sun sports writers Jeff Haney and Brett Okamoto.
Manny Pacquiao has a power that few people, if any throughout the world, possess.
When the Filipino fights, men in the Philippines stop fighting.
“I told them that if that can be the reason the guns will be silent in my country, I can fight every day — just for them,” said Pacquiao, who has been told by high-ranking military officials that during his boxing matches hostile guerrillas and the army call a truce.
Everything in Pacquiao’s hometown of General Santos, Philippines, comes to a standstill on Saturday fight nights — which are Sundays in the Philippines, reserved as a day of rest for the predominantly Roman Catholic population.
Pacquiao says the feeling of having such a polarizing effect on people makes him extremely proud to represent a population of 90 million.
“I have sacrificed for my family and my country and I have dedicated my life to them and to boxing,” says the 30-year-old.
While a victory tonight over Ricky Hatton in their megabout at the MGM Grand would put the “Pac-Man” in rare company tied atop the record books with a world title in six different weight divisions, Pacquiao’s popularity and powerful pull transcends even the highest awards he could earn as a pugilist.
“People love Manny, they just want to be close to him,” says Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach. “Just to touch him, makes their day.
“And he’s touched by those little exchanges. Manny Pacquiao truly wants to help others, especially in his home country.”
Win or lose tonight (most Las Vegas sports books have made the reigning fighter of the year a minus-250 or higher favorite), the pound-for-pound king and people in his inner circle say Pacquiao will soon create great change in the poverty-stricken Philippines.
Pacquiao, who lost a bid for a congressional seat in a recent general election, has made a point that he will seek political office whenever he retires. Until then, he offers up other charities, spending hours at a time passing out food and money in front of his mansion to strangers he's never met.
“He is of the people," said Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum, who has made comparisons between Pacquiao and Muhammad Ali not only for the similar skills the two share in the ring, but their courage to take a stand outside of their sport.
"He came from an impoverished background. He experienced hunger and poverty on the streets of Manila so he has seen it all.
"Manny is one of the few athletes who have raised themselves up and made a success and yet not run away from the poverty but have embraced it and tried to help others. That's why he is such a compelling figure."
Pacquiao — who was joined this week by a compelling figure in his own life, his mother, Dionisia Pacquiao, who made her first-ever trip to the United States — said he has found extra inspiration to perform proudly in front of her.
"To have her here, it's going to give me more inspiration to do my best and win. It's going to be one of the best times I've had in my life,” said Pacquiao, whose wife, Jinky, is also with him in Las Vegas.
The 59-year-old Dionisia talked in amazement earlier this week about the size of the “large buildings” that line the Strip and the “bright lights” of all the casinos.
She sounded only slightly less starry-eyed when the conversation turned to her son.
“I am so very proud and happy for him,” she said. “He is an amazing son and he brings so much enjoyment to everyone.”
Well, except perhaps Hatton tonight.
But true to his character, Pacquiao is quick not to dismiss the IBO and Ring Magazine junior welterweight champ — who has an even bigger following than “Pac-Man,” as an estimated 25,000 Brits have come overseas for this fight.
“Ricky Hatton is also a warrior in the ring and a great champion,” Pacquiao said. “He’s is recognized for those traits and because of them I think it will be a war.”
Hatton, who has never lost at 140 pounds, agreed.
“Oh yeah, it’s going to be a war all right,” Hatton said.
But if that’s what it takes to make peace in the Philippines, Pacquiao’s ready to be put in a constant rotation in the ring.
Andy Samuelson can be reached at [email protected] or 702-948-7837.