Manny Pacquiao: A World-Class Boxer Tries to Be an American Star

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Da Capo Press

Adapted from PacMan: Behind The Scenes With Manny Pacquiao—The Greatest Pound for Pound Fighter in The World (Da Capo) by Gary Andrew Poole.

It's 12:27 p.m., and the grand opening of the Manny Pacquiao Merchandise Store was supposed to start 27 minutes ago. Filipinos are gathering around the store, which is located below the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. This is Pacquiao's foray into branding himself. In the sickly looking strip mall, the store's entrance is blocked by blue, red, and green tape. Winchell Campos, beleaguered, is in the back of the place. He has handwritten a sign for everyone to come back at 4 p.m., and a rumor starts buzzing among the Filipinos that Manny Pacquiao might show up. He's not vacationing in Mexico! they whisper. Looking over the store, hardly any of the boxes unpacked, Campos, who until recently referred to himself as "Pacquiao's biographer" and is now selling Manny Pacquiao T-shirts, lamps and posters, says, "This is a way to help Manny after he retires."

Manny Pacquiao, the greatest boxer since Ali, who was named the best boxer-of-the-decade this summer and will fight Antonio Margarito on November 13 in pursuit of his eighth world title in eight weight divisions (a swing of 48 pounds), is an icon among many of the world's poor and a product of the globalization of celebrity—the subject of a 60 Minutes feature and a regular on the American television talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live. He could be a Harvard Business Review case study in counter-intuitive marketing. Unlike a neatly packaged star, like Roger Federer or even—before his fall—Tiger Woods, the PacMan's image is so ridiculously uncrafted that he stands apart from all the IMG- or Ari Fleischer-guided sports celebrity robots.

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Pacquiao's unpredictability has produced even more interest in him, say his handlers. Considering the blind loyalty of his fans, there might be something to this. They wear T-shirts emblazoned with his image or the statement "Freddie Knows" or "Buboy Knows," treating his trainer and best friend, respectively, as apostles. Any negative mention of the National Fist in an online article, and comment pages will fill up with the vitriol of his supporters. Picking up the obsession of his fans, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications, try and cover Pacquiao as much as reasonable because Web traffic spikes on stories about the PacMan. He is a cultural icon in the Philippines and when he fights the country literally stops, and for the millions of Filipinos who have departed their native land to find work, Pacquiao is a talisman. (That I have spent time with Pacquiao—eating dinner, watching him train, and traveling to the Philippines to see him—is almost incomprehensible to many of his most ardent fans.)

While essentially a subculture in the United States, Pacquiao's fan base is always there—online and off—for him. Before Pacquiao fought Miguel Cotto, a Twitter message was sent out that Pacquiao and Freddie Roach (Pacquiao's trainer) would make a public appearance and talk about the upcoming fight. The event would be held in Hollywood at the Montalban, a Nike-sponsored hipster store. One out of every four Filipino Americans make their home in Southern California, numbering more than one million. But they are not the only fans of the fighter. Hours before the event started, a line with pretty women, tough-looking fight fans, and hipsters stretched around the block, all wanting to catch a glimpse of the Filipino. He's cool.

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