The first fighter to capture world titles in eight different weight classes (from 112 to 154 pounds), Pacquiao has racked up 15 straight victories since 2005, a streak that's seen him catapult from fringe curiosity to global brand.
But with the twin realities of retirement from boxing and a career as a full-time politican fastly approaching, Pacquiao is finally slowing down -- at least outside the ring.
He's publicly recommitted himself to Christianity since November's split-decision win over Juan Manuel Marquez, trading in his frenetic sleep-when-you're-dead lifestyle for daily Bible studies and early nights in with his wife Jinkee and their four children. That's meant turning his back on longtime vices like cockfighting and gambling -- even selling his shares in a Manila casino and nightclub -- to embrace his role as a goodwill ambassador for the Catholic Church.
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This was the Pacquiao on display Thursday at Manhattan's Chelsea Piers, as he heaped generous praise on his undefeated opponent while making sales pitches for corporate sponsor Hennessy and Jesus Christ with equal sincerity. "I'd like to encourage all of you to please read the Bible," Pacquiao said to the hundreds of fans and media in the gallery, before reminding them to look for the big-budget Hennessy commercial he just wrapped in the Philippines. (New Yorkers need not look far: it will soon be playing on a loop on its own electronic billboard in Times Square.)
Bob Arum, who promotes Pacquiao, acknowledged the dramatic change in his fighter's lifestyle. "It's had a profound effect," Arum said of the Filipino's spiritual reawakening. "His wife really put her foot down. He doesn't play pool anymore. He doesn't carouse anymore. He doesn't gamble. He would put in hard days training and at night go down to Commerce Casino and stay up all night playing cards."
Arum didn't offer much promise to those still pining for the much-anticipated megafight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather -- "If I said that there was hope, I would be lying," he said matter-of-factly -- directing the blame squarely on the opposition. "Whenever we come close, [Mayweather] throws a curveball," he said. "Right now we're at a point in time where the fight is impossible, because for two-and-a-half years it was a 50-50 deal, and now he tells the kid, 'I'll pay you $40 million [with no cut of the pay-per-view revenue],' and it's a 70-30 deal. Where did that come from?"
And so Pacquiao will make his fourth 147-pound title defense against Bradley, a name that might not move the needle among casual fans still disillusioned by the latest Mayweather impasse, but whose crowd-pleasing, come-ahead style could make for the Filipino's most exciting fight in recent memory.
On Thursday, Arum acknowledged the public discontent with the seniority and quality of Pacquiao's latest victims -- which is in contrast with Bradley's age (28) and record (28 wins in 28 paying fights). And while other recent Pacquiao opponents have shied away from the moment, clamming up and going into survival mode to avoid the indignity of a knockout, Bradley -- who opened as a 3-to-1 underdog according to British oddsmaker William Hill -- confirmed his intent to fight. "I'm not just here for a paycheck," he promised.
Pacquiao is expected to run unopposed for governor of Sarangani province in May 2013, an executive position that by all accounts will demand his retirement from boxing. He remains hopeful the Mayweather fight happens before then. "[My son] wants me to fight Mayweather Jr., beat Mayweather, and then retire," Pacquiao said afterward to a group of reporters. "I want the fight to happen. The problem is, he really doesn't want the fight."
For now, the focus is Bradley -- though Mayweather will remain in his thoughts.
"I'll pray for him," Pacquiao assured.