On Dec. 17, 1978, Mexico’s Pipino Cuevas was in his third year as the WBA welterweight champion, a belt he’d won in 1976 from Puerto Rican Angel Espada.
On that same day in the Philippines, unnoticed by the world, a baby was born who would go on to make a mark on the division that the hard-hitting Cuevas then ruled.
Since then, 29 different men have held that belt, including legends like Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Shane Mosley and Floyd Mayweather Jr.
That baby is now one of the most iconic athletes of the 21st century, a highly regarded philanthropist, a beloved politician and on Dec. 17, 2020, at 42 years old, still the WBA welterweight champion.
What Manny Pacquiao has accomplished in his life is extraordinary and by now, extremely well documented.
It boggles the mind that Pacquiao at 42 years old remains a champion in one of boxing’s finest divisions, one that includes luminaries such as Terence Crawford, Errol Spence Jr., Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Mikey Garcia and Danny Garcia and up-and-comers like Vergil Ortiz, Jaron Ennis and Rashidi Ellis.
Crawford, regarded by many as boxing’s pound-for-pound best, wants to fight him next. So, too, does Errol Spence Jr., an unbeaten 2012 Olympian who is also among the sport’s pound-for-pound elite.
They want him because they know his prominence will bring them their biggest payday with what they perceive to be a lesser risk than if they’d fought each other.
Let’s be honest here: If you take personalities out of it and you didn’t consider promoters or TV deals or anything other than pure fighting, Crawford versus Spence is clearly the fight to make.
Those two super talented individuals are following in Pacquiao’s footsteps inside the ring, though neither of them will ever come close to his matching his accomplishments.
He’s the only boxer to win the lineal championship in five weight classes. He’s won titles in a mind-boggling eight classes. And he’s won titles in four of the original eight weight classes.
He not only never ducked a challenge, he went out of his way to seek them out. Six of his former opponents have already been elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame — Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales — and it seems likely that other ex-opponents such as Miguel Cotto, Timothy Bradley and Ricky Hatton will make it eventually.
He debuted in 1995 at 16 years old and and, nearly 26 years later, he’s still competing at the highest level of his sport.
He’s interested in fighting Spence, even though Spence looks like a light heavyweight when standing next to him.
Spence and Crawford should be taking their cues from Pacquiao. They’ll make more money in the long run and leave more significant legacies for themselves if they choose to fight each other.
Pacquiao fought ferociously inside the ring and battled passionately outside of it in a bid to improve the lot of his countrymen. He’s given tens of millions of his in-ring earnings to Filipinos in need.
He hasn’t been perfect and owned up to mistakes he made that threatened his marriage to his wife, Jinkee.
Despite all his success and the worldwide adulation he receives, he’s remained a humble and quiet man who doesn’t disparage others and who always looks to do what is right. That he didn’t always achieve those high standards proves only that he is human.
He has a cult-like following among his countrymen. His home is filled with people, many of whom he only knows in passing. It’s difficult to walk around in his locker room after fights as so many people crowd into it to say they were near him. Dozens of people sleep in his hotel suites at his major fights, including in the closet, on the floor and under his bed.
It shows the reverence he’s earned with a lifetime of accomplishment.
He’ll be back at least twice more and while the world no longer stands still when he fights, it sure does at least take notice.
Manny Pacquiao’s contributions to boxing are vast, but they’re dwarfed by his contributions to society at large.
On his 42nd birthday, it’s a good time to thank him and wish that more of his peers had that competitive spirit that drove him day after day for all these years.
Happy Birthday, Sen. Manny. Can’t wait to see you in action yet again.
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