MANILA, Philippines – Manny Pacquiao's rise from crushing poverty to global fame and fortune has inspired a whole generation of Filipino fighters, who look up to his legend as their dream and boxing as a ticket out of harsh lives and uncertainties.
They train hard and passionately, away from their families in the countryside and for long hours. The young remain hopeful, despite the long odds, thousands of body blows and dreams of rival boxers that stand in their way. They learn from those whose fighting careers are behind them, and have gained wisdom if not riches and fame.
The Associated Press talked with three young boxers as they toil and sweat it out in a gym in suburban Paranaque city in metropolitan Manila, as well as three retired fighters who train young aspirants. All idolize Pacquiao and think he will beat Floyd Mayweather in their much-awaited fight Saturday:
JOEMARIE NOYNAY, 19, has won eight fights in the super bantamweight division:
"I sometimes think of the hardships, but I tell myself, if Pacquiao can do it, I can do it, too. ... I just need to train hard and pray to the Lord to realize my dreams and the dreams of my family."
WILLIAM DEVELOS, 58, a trainer who was the Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation super flyweight champion in 1980-1981:
"In training, you are already being made to suffer so that it will be easier for you when the time comes."
ROLLY MACASO, 21, a former laborer and baker who once scavenged garbage heaps for recyclables, and now hopes boxing leads him to a better life:
"I want to be like Manny so I could help my parents, to lift them out of poverty. ... Just one (title) belt would be enough for me. That's my dream — to be a world boxing champion. ... If I get the belt, the money will just come with it."
REXON FLORES, 33, a trainer who was the World Boxing Organization Asia Pacific flyweight champion from 2004 to 2006 and WBO Inter-Continental light flyweight title holder from 2006 to 2007.
"They all want to be champions ... but the most important thing is to not be swell-headed. If you become swell-headed, your boxing skills will suffer. You will just fool around and you will lose focus on boxing.
"Discipline is primary. If you don't have discipline, all your dreams will just flow away like water."
Flores said his largest purse came in 2006: 1 million pesos (about $20,000) for losing a fight for the WBO world flyweight title. He said he split the money with his promoter and spent his share on houses for his family and his mother. He said he decided to quit early because he did not want his body to take any more punishment.
"It's true, many fighters' bodies get destroyed, and their brains get damaged. I didn't want that to happen to me. I was able to leave without any harm to my body."
MELJUN PENAPIN, 19, a former barbecue vendor, construction laborer, bakery helper and fisherman who is training for his first fight:
"I want to be a champion like Pacquiao. ... I was thinking that maybe I will be lucky. With such a hard life, maybe I will find my way of living here."
MELVIN MAGRAMO, 44, a trainer and former WBO Inter-Continental flyweight champion who lost to Pacquiao by decision in a 10-round, non-title fight in 1997:
"The number of our (boxing) students has been increasing along with the popularity of Pacquiao. ... It was God who put him where he is now."