Pacquiao's big fight outside ring; Top Rank-Golden Boy feud heats up
LAS VEGAS -- Manny Pacquiao is known for his shy smile and boyish charm, a sharp -- but believable -- contrast to the raw fire and fury with which he fights in the ring. But as Pacquiao wrapped up his remarks at Wednesday's final news conference promoting his welterweight title fight against Shane Mosley, the toothy grin vanished and the world's top fighter suddenly turned somber.
"My biggest fight is not in boxing," Pacquiao said. "My biggest fight is to end poverty in my country."
Philanthropy is not uncommon among the sports world's biggest stars. But in the Philippines, Pacquiao's responsibility is more than just tossing some money at a good cause. As a Congressman in the province of Sarangani, improving the lives of his constituents is his sworn duty.
As a private citizen, Pacquiao was generous. He was a one-man stimulus package, frequently donating food, clothing and even cash to anyone who asked for it. In a country troubled by poverty and violence, Pacquiao represented hope. On days that he fights, says Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson, "there is no traffic, no crime, nothing." A well-told story is how before Pacquiao's 2008 fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, warring factions declared a seven-hour truce.
"He is very influential," Singson said. "But he is still learning how to use it."
Pacquiao is attempting to use it now in Congress, where he is one of 285 members of the Filipino legislature. Elected in 2010, Pacquiao has had a busy first term. He co-authored a bill that would grant Filipino athletes who have represented the country in international events health insurance benefits similar to those extended to senior citizens. He has been vocal supporting legislation against human trafficking. He has aggressively pursued the building of Sarangani's first hospital, with one of Pacquiao's political advisors saying they could break ground soon.
His most recent issue involves the United States. Pacquiao is a strong advocate for the Save Our Industries Act, a bill that was introduced to the U.S. Congress in 2009 that would permit Filipino apparel makers to import and use American textiles in the manufacture of certain garments, which they could then export to the U.S. tax free. The passage of this bill would allow the Philippines to compete with China and create more than 200,000 new jobs.
Pacquiao's status in boxing has opened doors for him to lobby for the bill. In February, he met with President Barack Obama. Later, he had a 30-minute meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and recruited him to support his efforts.
"He went right at Harry," said Pacquiao's promoter, Bob Arum, who was in the meeting. "He zoned in on that issue. He was a real politician. When it was over, Harry told him, 'I'm on it.' "
Passing laws in the Philippines is one thing. Implementation, however, is far more difficult. Singson says there is little discipline in the Philippines and that many laws that are passed go unenforced. As a result, Pacquiao often dips into his personal fortune to provide assistance. That doesn't sit well with his advisors or his colleagues in Congress, who privately fear that Pacquiao will someday go broke.
"I tell him all the time, 'You will lose all your money,' " Singson said. "He's really dedicated but he cannot do it alone. He needs to coordinate the businessmen, get them to help him get what he wants. They will listen to him."
For now, Pacquiao will continue his dual career. Arum says he knows the day is coming when Pacquiao will tell him he doesn't want to fight anymore. But fighting is good for his politics. More than 100 members of the Filipino Congress have traveled to Las Vegas for the fight. Pacquiao will wear yellow gloves against Mosley that he says "are a symbol of unity in the fight against poverty." He has encouraged people attending the fight to wear yellow as well.
Some will, too. On Thursday, two women walked into the MGM Grand media center wearing long yellow dresses. When a PR rep observed the color, one of the women turned and smiled.
"We know," she said. "We're doing it for Manny."
The longstanding feud between boxing's biggest promotional companies continues to escalate. The latest battle involves Nonito Donaire, a Top Rank fighter whom Golden Boy attempted to sign in March. An arbitrator later ruled that the contract was void because Donaire was under an exclusive agreement with Top Rank.
On Thursday, Arum took a jab at Golden Boy, telling reporters that Top Rank "doesn't steal fighters, honors other promoter's contracts and has integrity in the business." He later took a shot at Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, a former Swiss banker.
"When you have people who come from the outside -- and I don't care how they were trained, whether it was banking or anything else -- you [have to tell them] you don't steal fighters," Arum said. "You make co-promotion deals. Someone has to tell these people from the outside."
In a recent interview with SI.com, Schaefer said he doesn't know when this feud -- which has prevented any matchmaking of fighters between the two companies for years -- will end.
"As long as Bob Arum is behaving so childishly, I don't think it will," Schaefer said. "It's Bob's personality. Look at history. He thrives on that. He needs to have somebody to be angry at, someone who gets him going. For a long time, he had Don King. They disliked each other, didn't work together. I guess he needed to find somebody else. I think that somebody else is Golden Boy. The guy is  years old. he's never going to change. I don't understand it, I'm not like that. I don't know frankly that many other people that age that are as miserable as he is.
"I feel bad for him. His age, that's the time when I hope I am going to be able to enjoy my grandkids and everything I worked for. I just don't understand. I have to accept it, fighters have to accept it and fight fans have to accept it, that it is basically Arum's way or the highway. Do I think it's good for the sport? No. Many great fights are not happening."
HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg says it will take a huge, multimillion dollar fight to bring the two companies together.
"When financially it makes sense, they are going to have to resolve things and put [a fight] together," Greenburg said. "But now, it's not pretty. It's really gotten personal."
When Top Rank signed light heavyweight prospect Mike Lee last year, it hoped to capitalize on his image. Lee (4-0) is a Notre Dame graduate with a degree in finance who has been a big draw at small shows in the Chicago area.
Lee, however, may be evolving into something more. Working with veteran trainer Ronnie Shields, Lee has started to develop a stiff jab to go with his hard right hand.
"Ronnie really likes my right hand, but my jab has come along great," Lee said. "I never thought starting out it would be a great tool. In the beginning, I used my athleticism and my strength to bully guys. He is teaching me how to use the jab, and it's working."
Lee will have his most high-profile fight to date when he opens ESPN2's Friday Night Fights telecast at the Mandalay Bay. Lee will face Gilbert Gastelum (0-1) in a four-round fight. Lee says he has sold more than 300 tickets for the show and that many members of the Las Vegas chapter of the Notre Dame Alumni club will be there to support him. If Lee wins, he says he hopes to move up to six-round fights.
"I think I'm going to do very well in the later rounds because of my conditioning and mental capacity to read situations," Lee said. "I know I can take shots and come back from it. People have asked what kind of fighter I'm going to be. I think that is yet to be determined. I have a lot of different weapons right now. We will see down the road what kind of style I can develop."