Monday, June 30, 2008

Pacquiao's courage and redemption

Photo taken from http://mannypacquiao-fight.blogspot.com/

This is my column today.


I have been very vocal about my objections to professional boxing as a sport, primarily because it is the only sport that showcases the most cruel of all intents—to deliberately hurt another person, bring him down crashing into the ground, maimed, bloodied and battered. It’s just a modern-day variation of what gladiators used to do in olden Roman times.

Even when the two boxers are equally matched and the bout becomes not only a clash of strength and skills but a battle of wits and courage, such as what the world saw in the Pacquiao and Diaz fight yesterday, there is still something disconcerting about watching two people mercilessly pummel each other’s bodies supposedly for glory and honor. What is even more unsettling is the fact that the boxers do it while millions of people scream for blood and encourage them to go for the kill.

Despite one’s reservations about the vicious nature of the sport, it would be hypocritical for any Filipino to deny the surge of pride that comes with a Pacquiao victory. This particular victory is exceptionally sweeter in light of the very bleak mood in the country on account of the double whammy brought about by typhoon Frank and the runaway prices of oil.

Anyone looking for a metaphor of the everyday Filipino man’s courage and determination to prevail over seemingly insurmountable odds would have found it there on that boxing ring yesterday when Pacquiao hammered away at what seemed like an invincible wall.

In the middle of the fight, I found myself wondering what it would take to bring down Diaz, who did seem bigger and impervious to the pambansang kamao’s relentless pursuit.

We all know what happened in the ninth round, of course. The image of a collapsing Diaz would be seared in the national consciousness for a long while, hopefully not just as a “great moment in sports” but more as a representation of something bigger, something loftier. The context of that image may be disconcerting given the basic premise of the boxing sport; but the triumph of the human spirit deserves recognition any day.

Pacquiao’s battles in the ring have long ceased to be just about boxing. For quite sometime now, Pacquiao’s fights have become a showcase of our social and cultural quirks.

As the commentators of the fight breathlessly and constantly reminded everyone—assuming that people listened to their running commentary given that the breathtaking action didn’t seem to require explanation—there was so much more at stake in the fight.

It was too much to saddle the pambansang kamao with the country’s many burdens and really, it takes a huge amount of literary license not to mention suspension of logic, to assume that our many troubles could be taken up on that ring. Not that our problems would magically go down with a knockout anyway. But Pacquiao himself and his handlers did package this particular fight that way and many Filipinos probably saw it that way—as some kind of proof that as the cliché goes, yes, the Filipino can.

Perhaps the most enduring social context around the Pacquiao phenomenon is the personal saga of the man himself. I will save everyone the telenovela yarn of how a poor struggling boy from General Santos City rose above the many difficulties to become a global sensation. The fact that he is now a multi-millionaire is an important part of the story, given how we equate success with monetary wealth.

But perhaps what makes the story more compelling is how Pacquiao seemed to have also overcome many human frailties that seem to indicate problems related to coping with celebrity status. For a while there, it looked like the man was struggling with some psychological problems and the bugs in the programming did come to the surface—of drunken revelries gone awry, womanizing, and innuendoes of profligacy. Reports indicate that he has since then overcome his personal demons to emerge as a more focused person determined to live up to his national status as a role model.

The fact that he has since then gone back to school to pursue a college diploma is also noteworthy, as well as his many philanthropic deeds. That embarrassing foray into politics has hopefully made him realize that it takes more than celebrity to become a leader; that a political perch is not the end-all or be-all of a person’s worth. So yes, the man’s personal redemption is something that deserves commendation.

Every time Paquiao goes into the ring, the cultural context involving his mother gets media mileage, and for good reason.

It’s difficult not to empathize with the emotional conflicts his mother endures every single time; to this day, she has not been able to watch a Paquiao fight live. What kind of mother, indeed, can stomach watching her own flesh and blood being pummeled physically? Despite the millions of dollars of booty that comes with each fight, we know that a mother’s pain is real—only a parent, probably a mother, can effectively validate this very human reality: All the money in the world does not justify the sight of one’s son enduring that kind of physical pain and torture. As my own mother would remind us, she would rather suffer the physical torture herself than watch any of her children being hurt that way.


I think that that particular sidebar story deserves the media hype if only because it reminds us that beneath all that hoopla is a very real story of a vulnerability, of how at the end of the day despite the successes and glory, we are really all just little boys under someone’s maternal watch.


Pahabol:

9:30pm, June 30, 2008


Just an interesting aside: Although a number of my friends emailed or texted me to tell me they agreed with my observations about how Manny Pacquiao's mother Dionisia exemplified the stereotyped Mater Dolorosa, one friend posed a divergent opinion. He asked with wry amusement: How come Manny's mother does not seem to show the same emotional anguish when the other Pacquiao son fights - and inevitably loses - in the boxing ring?


But then again, we really don't know because media does not cover those boxing fights as religiously as it does Manny's fights.

1 comment:

Twin-Skies said...

Bong,
Roman gladiatorial combat is a fight to the death. Fighters here enter the ring assuming that if they're not willing to kill their opponent, they themselves will die.

I don't think that's the case in pro-boxing - while plenty of injuries do occur in matches, neither fighter has genuine intent to kill their opponent. I don't a gladiator would have tried to help his opponent up after a fight.

If there was ever a fatality, its most often by an accident.

If you think that's nasty, wait till you see K-1 or UFC XD.

As a practicing martial artist myself, I can understand how you're somewhat disturbed by the images that tend to be shown on TV.

I will say this, though - for us, the martial arts are a form of expressing ourselves and of discovering the essence of who we are. Facing another fighter in the ring inspires us to think faster, to train harder, and to exceed out own personal limits. It may seem brutal, but in a way, this is how we grow and mature.

As strange as it may sound, some of the gentlest people I've read are masters in their martial art. It may be a tough, but it also teaches much about self discipline and compassion - the masters will never resort to violence unless absolutely necessary.

Ironically, it's usually some untrained, drunken slob who often starts brawls here, don't you think?

That said, I like the point you expressed with regards to Manny's background. True - he's made several mistakes like everbody else, but what I have to respect is how he managed to overcome them.