Home Boxing News Next Round for Manny Pacquiao Is Part Oprah, Part ‘Idol’

Next Round for Manny Pacquiao Is Part Oprah, Part ‘Idol’

MANILA—Many people are accustomed to seeing Manny Pacquiao behaving a little unusually for a boxing champ.

There are the regular appearances on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night talk show and his musical duets with comedian Will Ferrell. (His fans range from rapper Jay-Z to Hillary Clinton.) And there are the commercials Mr. Pacquiao films for his vegetable business—”pound for pound the best produce in the world,” he says—to supplement his day job in the ring.

Life Outside the Ring

Regarded by many boxing aficionados as one of the sport’s greatest-ever talents, Mr. Pacquiao, currently the World Boxing Organization welterweight champion, has been eyeing a career out of the ring for some time. He says he expects to have two or three more fights before he retires, starting with Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas on June 9 and then, perhaps, his longtime rival, Floyd Mayweather Jr., if the two men can ever agree on financial terms for potentially the biggest payday in boxing history. Boxing industry insiders say a Pacquiao-Mayweather matchup could generate more than $100 million in total revenue, including the purse, tickets, advertising and TV rights, adding to the tens of millions Mr. Pacquiao already has earned.

Back home in the Philippines, boxing is almost an afterthought as the impish, 33-year-old Mr. Pacquiao fine-tunes a hit weekly TV game show and plans for a larger-than-life role outside the ring.

Pitched somewhere between “Wheel of Fortune” and “American Idol,” the prime-time show “Manny Many Prizes” might help him get elected president of the Philippines someday, his advisers predict. The boxer himself has even higher hopes. He says it could turn him into a leading Christian evangelist after a religious reawakening, much as NFL quarterback Tim Tebow has done by exhibiting his faith to football fans and doing a little preaching on the side.

“I just want this show to give people a chance, to encourage them, especially the poor people who need the word of God and the love of God,” Mr. Pacquiao said as he prepared to host a fresh episode of his show recently.

“Manny Many Prizes” is a heady and, to the outsider, often disorienting, blend of Bible readings, thigh-slapping song-and-dance routines and trivia contests. During a recent taping, the 5-foot-6-inch dynamo known as “The National Fist” rose up through the stage, fists clenched amid billowing clouds of dry ice, before doling out thick wads of peso bank notes to star-struck contestants, sometimes supplied by the show’s producers, and often topped up from Mr. Pacquiao’s own pocket.

The key to the show is how it casts the soft-spoken, rags-to-riches winner of eight world boxing titles as a father figure for the nation.

Throughout “Manny Many Prizes,” Mr. Pacquiao invites members of the audience to tell their tales of poverty, loss and perseverance. Many of their stories echo the boxer’s own grim upbringing among the squalid bamboo hovels surrounding General Santos City in the war-racked islands of the southern Philippines. Mr. Pacquiao often rewards them with gifts and sings a few songs. Members of the audience wave and shout “Ninong! Ninong!” the Filipino word for godfather.

“He’s our idol, our inspiration,” said 67-year-old Annabelle Siao, yelling over her shoulder as Mr. Pacquiao (pronounced Pac-yao) waves back to the crowd. “This is my 10th time here.”

Actual Filipino godparents send birthday cards to their godchildren, sometimes help out with medical or education fees and often lend a hand teaching youngsters about the Bible in this devoutly Christian country. Becoming a godparent is also an important way of cementing social ties and alliances.

Successful Filipinos can expect to have scores, if not hundreds, of actual godchildren. Former President Joseph Estrada, a former movie star, has more than 5,000 who, in turn, have joined one another to support his political campaigns and do good deeds for other, less fortunate Filipinos.

Mr. Pacquiao with a participant on ‘Manny Many Prizes.

Mr. Pacquiao’s game show ratchets that up, and it has helped advance his political ambitions.

He was elected to the Philippine Congress in 2010. Next year, he says, he will run for the post of governor of his home province. Beyond that, Mr. Pacquiao will be over 40 and thus old enough to run for president in 2022. Many analysts think he may well throw his hat into the ring.

“Whatever God has given to me, it’s not my will. Let His will be done,” Mr. Pacquiao says.

So far, some of his ventures outside boxing haven’t been as successful as his exploits on the canvas.

“Wapakman,” a Philippine movie in which Mr. Pacquiao starred as a red-caped Filipino superhero, was a box-office bomb. The boxer also was thumped in some of his attempts to cut it as a recording artist.

Mr. Pacquiao has tax troubles, too. Philippine revenue authorities recently filed a criminal complaint against Mr. Pacquiao for failing to submit tax documents for 2010 in a timely fashion. The boxer and his lawyers deny that. Mr. Pacquiao describes the allegations as harassment.

“Manny Many Prizes,” then, is a fresh start. Mon Roco, a creative manager at GMA Network, which broadcasts the show, says people were surprised when it approached Mr. Pacquiao to host a game show, thinking he was a bit rough around edges.

“He might not be the most polished host, but his sincerity shines through, and this is what people respond to,” Mr. Roco says. The show has dominated its early evening time slot for months.

Ramon Casiple, a political commentator and director of the Institute of Political and Economic Reform in Manila, says the game-show role also fits popular perceptions of Mr. Pacquiao as a kind of Robin Hood-figure who earns millions of dollars in Las Vegas ballrooms to hand out to the poor back home, as well as to support his entourage of Merry Men—a gaggle of hometown cronies and hangers-on who travel with the champ wherever he goes.

“Manny likes to have many people around him, and he wants to give back,” says Boy Buan, Mr. Pacquiao’s personal pastor and a frequent guest on his TV show. He reckons the game show, combined with Mr. Pacquiao’s new calling as a missionary and his political ambitions, can help him make an even bigger splash in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Mr. Pacquiao’s audience is lapping up his new approach. They hang on his every word as this married father of four abandons raucous hip-hop tunes for praise songs or describes giving up liquor, women and cockfighting.

The Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines likes it, too. Its bishops have asked Mr. Pacquiao to serve as a Bible ambassador.

“It all works together, hand in hand,” Mr. Buan says with a smile as music begins to pound and Mr. Pacquiao prepares for the evening’s big entrance.


Pacquiao (54-3-2, 38 KOs), boxing’s only eight-division world champion and the lone congressional representative from the Sarangani province in the Philippines, will begin his four-week U.S. training camp, on Monday, May 7, at Roach’s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif. Pacman will be defending his World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight championship crown against undefeated WBO junior welterweight champion Timothy Bradley (28-0, 12 KOs), of Palm Springs, Calif.


The Pacquiao vs. Bradley welterweight championship collision will take place Saturday, June 9, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, in Las Vegas, Nev., and will be produced and distributed Live by HBO Pay-Per-View®, beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.


Promoted by Top Rank, in association with MP Promotions, Tecate, AT&T and MGM Grand, remaining tickets to Pacquiao vs. Bradley are priced at $1,200, $900, $600, $400, and $200. Ticket sales at $1,200, $900, $600 and $400 are limited to 10 per person and ticket sales at $200 are limited to two (2) per person. To charge by phone with a major credit card, call Ticketmaster (800) 745-3000. Tickets also will be available for purchase at www.mgmgrand.com or www.ticketmaster.com.


For Pacquiao-Bradley fight week updates, log on to www.toprank.com and www.hbo.com


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