Filipinos cheer Pacquiao’s comeback win
Filipinos in cinemas, bars, restaurants and basketball courts erupted into jubilation on Sunday as they watched boxing icon Manny Pacquiao score a unanimous decision over Jessie Vargas to win the WBO welterweight title in Las Vegas.
The 37-year-old senator put on a dazzling display in his return to the ring after a brief retirement, even fighting with more intensity and energy, and dominating the 27-year-old American in the final rounds to close out an emphatic victory.
Malacañang led the nation in sending a congratulatory message to Pacquiao, though it did not say if President Duterte, Pacquiao’s political ally, watched the fight.
Courage and grit
But Malacañang did say “the courage and grit displayed by our Filipino boxers in Las Vegas are the same qualities we must demonstrate as a nation to rid society of drugs, criminality and corruption.”
“Once again, Manny’s triumph united and brought joy to our people and our nation,” Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said in a statement.
“The discipline, the determination, and the hard work of our People’s Champ are truly what make him a National Treasure in Global Sports,” he said.
During Pacquiao’s fight, some streets in the country were deserted as his legions of fans packed into cinemas, bars, restaurants and basketball courts to watch on big screens, bringing the country to a virtual standstill.
Troops in military bases also watched how Pacquiao, a Philippine Army reservist, beat the much younger Vargas.
“Army Lt. Col. Manny Pacquiao of the Reserve Force has truly been a source of inspiration, not only to our troops, but also to our organization [that] aspires to be a world-class Army by 2028,” said Col. Benjamin Hao, Philippine Army spokesperson.
Praise from Senate
It was Pacquiao’s first fight since winning a seat in the Senate in May.
He previously served as congressman and is widely regarded as the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter.
Pacquiao’s colleagues in the Senate praised him for his victory.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III congratulated Pacquiao for a “good job,” which he said was the “product of discipline, hard work and skills.”
Sen. Sonny Angara said it was “indeed a victory for the Filipino people, which we should all cherish and celebrate.”
Sen. Nancy Binay thanked Pacquiao for the honor and praise that the country had reaped from his victories.
“I have seen how Senator Manny works in the Senate, on how dedicated he is to serve our country. I believe this is the same fire that fuels him in boxing and it is very much alive,” Binay said in a statement.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police joined the public in congratulating Pacquiao.
‘Senator World Champ’
In a statement, the AFP called Pacquiao “Senator World Champ,” adding that the military “shares the jubilation of the Filipinos here and around the world for this yet another great feat in world sports history.”
In a statement, the PNP said it was “one with the Filipino nation in congratulating Pacquiao for winning another world boxing title.”
PNP Director General Ronald dela Rosa traveled to Las Vegas to watch the fight.
The National Capital Region Police Office called Pacquiao’s win “a victory for peace,” saying no crime was recorded in Metro Manila during the live airing of the fight on national television.
Some fans who had thought Pacquiao’s retirement to concentrate on legislative work had dulled his fighting skills erupted in cheers when the decision was announced.
“I thought he’d lose [because there was no knockout]. The judges had to give a decision,” said Virginia Sison of Manila, 58. “But when they announced Pacquiao’s the winner, I was elated.”
In Pangasinan province, Rep. Leopoldo Bataoil praised Pacquiao for making Filipinos proud again.
Libert Ong of Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija province, said Pacquiao’s victory made up for the defeat of Nonito Donaire in the undercard fight, which saddened fans in the city.
In Ilagan City, Isabela province, commuters had to wait until 1:30 p.m. to get a ride because jeepney and tricycle drivers stopped plying their routes to watch the fight at the community center.
“It was awesome,” resident Feliciano Gallo, 72, said. “It was as if [Pacquiao] was not 37 years old. He showed his experience over Vargas.”
In Tagum City, Davao del Norte province, barber Bert Rollon had expected Pacquiao to win by knockout, but was happy just the same when the fight ended in a decision for the Filipino champ.
“At least Pacquiao scored a knockdown,” he said, referring to the champ dropping Vargas to the canvas in the second round.
But like Pacquiao’s diminishing sting in the ring, interest in his fights is waning in the Davao provinces and in Compostela Valley, where there were few public screenings of his fight with Vargas.
In Digos City in Davao del Sur province, where Pacquiao launched his boxing career as an amateur, a shopping mall set up two television sets to attract shoppers, but fewer than a hundred people came to watch.
Rene Dongsan, a tricycle driver who said he never missed a Pacquiao fight, did not bother to watch Sunday’s bout.
“I still idolize him, but this fight did not interest me,” he said.
‘He still has it’
But there are fans who think Pacquiao still has it and should go on fighting, although not just any comer.
In Manila, Reynaldo de los Reyes said Pacquiao should go up the ring again but only if it’s against Floyd Mayweather Jr., who beat the Filipino champ in the Fight of the Century in 2015.
“It’s Mayweather or nothing,” De los Reyes said. “If not, he should just focus on his work as senator.” —REPORTS FROM MARLON RAMOS, CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO, JEROME ANING, ERIKA SAULER AND AIE BALAGTAS SEE IN MANILA; GABRIEL CARDINOZA, ARMAND GALANG, VILLAMOR VISAYA JR., FRINSTON LIM, JULIE S. ALIPALA AND ALLAN NAWAL