"Our prayers and good wishes go with him."
Deafening silence met the announcement that Cuban WBA welterweight champion Yordenis Ugas retained his title against the fancied heavy favorite, eight division titleist and sitting senator Manny “Pacman” Pacquaio. It was a totally unexpected finish to a bout billed by his backers as the Sarangani legend's booster event as he prepares to wage battle in his other calling as a political leader dedicated to serving the people.
As fate would have it, he did not get that chance.
All along as the fight dragged on to the last round, we joined the entire nation in praying and hoping that like in the past, the "Pacman" would unleash his vaunted finishing kick and waylay his opponent to the cheers of a full packed crowd who braved the pandemic to inch their way into the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas. It was clear from the start that Pacquiao will not only showcase his boxing prowess and put on a show worthy of his standing as not only the only eight-division boxing champion but one who held on to championships in every decade of his storied career.
But Ugas turned out to be as hungry to win as Pacquiao was. Maybe even more so. A bronze medalist in the 2008 Olympics, he had decided to take up residence in the United States since and proceeded to box his way to the WBA welterweight championship in just over 26 fights. And, as fate would have it, he was chosen by the consortium that staged this fight which, by the way, included Pacquaio's very own MP Promotions, to substitute for the injured Errol Spence just two weeks before the fight.
Nobody save for some fatalists in the crowd gave the unheralded Ugas a yeoman's chance to defeat Pacman. In fact, the odds were three-to-one for the Filipino boxing icon. But as one analyst remembered in an after-the-fight commentary, Ugas took his chance just like the Pacman did when he substituted just weeks before the scheduled fight and win against the fancied Thai flyweight division champion. That win marked his entry into the tightly-knit global boxing network, allowing him to box his way to fame and fortune. Ugas acknowledged as much when he thanked our fallen hero for giving him the chance to precisely get him into the rarefied world of the boxing legends. .
In any event, as we advised those who watched with us agonize over this fight, there is a time for everything. This time around, the Pacman just was not able to carry the fight on his terms. That does not and should not detract from his being the boxing icon we can all be proud of, a living legend who has put the Philippines on the global stage. His conquests over the years have inspired a generation of Filipino boxers all of whom are now being groomed to take up the mantle he may soon be leaving behind. We have professional boxers like Donaire, Casimero and the knockout artist Mark Magsayo in the Pacquaio undercard. Of course, we have our Olympic boxing champions, Petecio, Paalam and Marcial, all of whom are gearing for Olympic gold in Paris 2024 and possibly in the professional ring after.
Sad as we are with this outcome, we can only thank our very own Senator Manny for giving his best despite the many concerns he must have had in his mind prior to entering the ring. Not the least of these was the unfinished business of infighting within the PDP Laban party and, of course, his preparations for a possible presidential run.
He will always be our hero, a legend we will always be proud of. Whether he would now think of hanging his gloves or not, he will continue to be an inspiration to a nation reeling from this pandemic and a people bravely facing up to the many challenges to their very existence. Our prayers and good wishes go with him as he now charts his future after Las Vegas.
Mabuhay. Maraming salamat, Manny!