It was not quite fight day yet, but Chelsea Pier’s The Lighthouse on February 23 was throbbing with energy.
Hordes of Filipino fans were there for a glimpse of Congressman Manny Pacquiao who was promoting the Pacquiao-Bradley bout of June 9 in Las Vegas.
When the boxing icon emerged on stage, the crowd went wild with chants of “Manny, Manny, Manny!”
For Tim Bradley, Manny’s opponent, the sight was astonishing. “He has the support of his whole country,” he told me. The undefeated Bradley said “fighting with a superstar like Manny Pacquiao is worth the risk.”
Although the fight was against Bradley, all the questions lobbed at Pacquiao were about Floyd Mayweather. Pacquiao was prepared for all of them. From people around him like trainer Freddie Roach, Manny’s wife Jinkee and other close-in aides, it appeared like there could be a fight. November is the month they were looking at.
“My 11-year-old son told me, ‘Daddy I want you to retire after you defeat Mayweather,’” Pacquiao told select members of the media. This was the closest he would come to confirming he was ready to face ‘Money’ Mayweather. Can a father disappoint his son?
Pacquiao quickly corrected a reporter who asked if Bradley bout going to be his last ring foe. “No this is not my last fight, two fights more and that’s it,” he said.
Exhausted from answering all Mayweather-related questions, Pacquiao recounted his last conversation with the other side.
“Last month he called, spoke with my people and with me. I told him, ‘Let’s make this fight happen, no problem with blood test and all.’” He left it at that and left us to wonder how Mayweather reacted. (Press reports suggest the only sticking point was money and that Mayweather was asking for a share of the pay-per-view purse.)
Freddie Roach himself hinted at a Mayweather matchup.
“Mayweather is on the horizon and after that fight we can call it a day,” he said.
For this event, Pacquiao’s wife Jinkee came along. They flew in from a private jet. This is her second time in New York, she told me.
This fight is going to be a “little challenging” considering Bradley’s sterling boxing record, said Jinkee. “Prayer is our only defense.”
But her confidence in her husband remained at an all-time high. “This fight is no different from other fights, he’s going to concentrate 100 percent on the training.”
Speaking in Tagalog, Jinkee said, “Sabi ko sa kanya, huwag mag-isip ng kahit anong problema. The two of us have to be strong in all the trials that will come along our way. Basta prayers and communication lang talaga.”
The press preview was both unusual and meaningful because Pacquiao used the occasion to introduce his new talent, Kirby Asunto. The teen singer from New Jersey has signed a contract putting her professional career under Pacquiao’s management company. Pacquiao had big plans for her, and there were murmurs about Kirby being “the next Charice.”
“I am deeply honored and I can’t wait to start working with him,” Kirby told me.
Kirby so impressed the Pacquiaos during her performance in the post-Marquez fight last year in Las Vegas. She is the couple’s only talent in the U.S.
“We are committed to help Kirby reach greater heights in her career,” Jinkee said. “We don’t expect much in return. Happy kami that we have the opportunity to help her.” Jinkee said managing young talents could be a post-boxing option for her husband. She said they are also handling some young boxers.
Kirby will sing the Philippine national anthem on June 9.
Top Rank’s Bob Arum waxed nostalgic recalling Pacquiao’s own humble beginnings. He confessed that in his 47 years in business, he’s “never ever thought” of seeing an electronic billboard of HBO on Times Square.
“That means that millions and millions of people visiting New York will see Manny Pacquiao and the inspirational story of his life because it was and is really inspirational. And that’s when you chase your dream,” Arum, a native New Yorker, told the crowd.
“Imagine a poor kid from the southern part of the Philippines. Coming to Manila, living in cardboard shack in the street. Fighting with all these other Filipino kids who want to use boxing to rise to prominence. Making it out of that milieu and winning world championships one right after another. And with all of that not turning his back with all the millions he’s made by his people. But he’s given back his people,” Arum seemed to pontificate.
Pacquiao sheepishly acknowledged Arum’s kind words, saying simply “Without God, I am nothing.”
He urged the crowd to “please read the Bible because that’s the commandment of God.”
Later, at the couple’s 21st floor penthouse in Manhattan, I caught a glimpse of their elegant lifestyle. A piano was an imposing presence in the airy living room with wood flooring. The gourmet kitchen with thick carpets and closets at every possible space caught my eye.
Yes, the Pacman punches the keyboard, and actually played the piano while Kirby serenaded the small coterie that included her mother Shirley, restaurateur Rena Avendula of Payag, business executive Grace Hufano Labaguis and myself.
All’s well in Pacquiao’s world with prayers and communication always present, stressed Jinkee.
And a little music to keep the romance simmering.