Saturday, March 25, 2023  |



Skirting risk, Pacquiao wins at hoops on Wednesday

Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

Photo by Noel Celis/AFP


MANILA, Philippines – As the world prepares for what will be the clash that defines a generation in boxing, Manny Pacquiao’s main concern was getting his basketball team an important victory on Wednesday.

Defying calls to sit out of his Philippine Basketball Association game and avoid injury ahead of his May 2 fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr., the famous player-coach donned his KIA Carnival jersey and played six minutes against the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters.

Fans at the Smart Araneta Coliseum cringed every time Pacquiao (dwarfed by 7-foot-3 teammate PJ Ramos and 6-foot-8 Texter Ivan Johnson) came in contact with another player. The WBO welterweight titlist left the court an upset victor, a feat he hopes to replicate at the MGM Grand later this year.

“I know what I’m doing,” Pacquiao told the media afterward of the risks he’s taking. Pacquiao will roll the dice one again (and fans hope only dice get rolled) on Saturday when he takes the court one last time against the Blackwater Elite before departing for training camp in Los Angeles.

While his team’s chances in the import laden-Commissioner’s Cup are important to hardcore Philippine basketball fans, most of the international media reps in town were more interested in discussing his other career – that of an eight-division boxing champion who is seeking to hand that sport’s pound-for-pound best fighter Mayweather (47-0, 26 knockouts) his first defeat.

“Use my left and right,” Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) was quoted by Agence France-Presse of his strategy.

“If I hurt him, I expect him to run. Otherwise he might fight me toe-to-toe.”

That night at his mansion in the Forbes Park district of Makati City, Pacquiao was in a celebratory mood, hosting friends for marathon games of speed chess with various opponents.

“It’ll be just five minutes,” Pacquiao assured his adviser Michael Koncz, who looked at his watch, which read 10:30 p.m., hoping to see Pacquiao in bed by 11 to get up in time for morning roadwork.

It wasn’t unlike the evening George Foreman fought five men in a Toronto ring, though with less wrestling and more yelp-like celebrations every time he put an opponent in check.

“He’s very confident. He’s in a good mindset for the fight,” said two-time champion Gerry Penalosa, who stopped by to visit his friend of several decades.

That’s not to say hoops and chess were the only thing on his mind. Pacquiao has been filling his afternoons with training sessions at MP Tower in Sampaloc, Manila, working mitts with assistant trainer Buboy Fernandez.

The real work will begin once he wraps his hands at the Wild Card Gym under the mindful guidance of Freddie Roach. But for now, rooting for his expansion team is an enjoyable sideline before he steps onto the biggest stage of them all.

“Not just to make the playoffs,” Pacquiao said of his hopes for KIA, “but to win the championship as well.”


Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.