— Photo Credit : Chris Farina
Millions of words have been written about the adoration that the Filipino people feel for Manny Pacquiao. Five years ago, I put a face on that adoration in the person of Tina Cruz.
Tina was born in the Philippines in Santiago Isabela province. Her parents were rice farmers. In 1983, she came to the United States. Five days a week, Tina rose at four o’clock in the morning and went to the design company in New York where she worked in cleaning maintenance. With Top Rank’s permission, I brought her to Yankee Stadium to meet Manny at the kick-off press conference for his 2009 fight against Miguel Cotto.
Tina was ushered into a stadium restaurant that was closed to the outside world to meet Pacquiao before the proceedings began. They were introduced. Then the image she’d seen on television for years was talking with her. They spoke in Tagalog; about his children and hers, life in the Philippines, and her joy in meeting him. After the press conference, Manny posed for a photo with her and gave her autographs for several family members.
“Omigod!” Tina says, looking back on that day. “After that article about me and Manny [http://www.secondsout.com/columns/thomas-hauser/tina-meets-manny], I got so many calls. Some of them were from people I hadn’t seen for years. They were all asking, ‘Did you really meet Manny?’ I told them, ‘Yes! And he was so nice. He really talked to me.’”
Tina turned 75 on September 4 of this year. That was the same day a press conference (the last stop on a six-city 27,273-mile media tour) was held at the Liberty Theatre in New York to promote the November 22 fight in Macau between Pacquiao and Chris Algieri. To celebrate Tina’s birthday, once again I brought her to meet Manny.
In 1948, reflecting back on all that had happened to him as a consequence of boxing, Joe Louis observed, “I couldn’t dream that big.” The same might be said of Pacquiao.
Manny rose to iconic status after beating Oscar De La Hoya in 2008, one year before he and Tina met. A lot has happened since then.
After devastating Cotto, Pacquiao scored back-to-back triumphs at Cowboys Stadium over Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito. Victories over Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez followed. Then Manny lost a controversial decision to Tim Bradley and suffered a one-punch knockout loss at the hands of Marquez. Decision wins over Brandon Rios and Bradley were next on his ring ledger.
An entire generation of boxing writers can now spell “Pacquiao”. Political commentators have learned the name too. In 2010, Manny was elected to the Filipino Congress as a representative from Sarangani province. One can argue that Vitali Klitschko (now mayor of Kiev and leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform) is a genuine political leader whereas Pacquiao is not. But Manny is a powerful symbol and takes his responsibilities seriously. “Politics is different than sports,” he says. “Politics is about the nation and the people. There is no way to compare politics to boxing.”
On September 4, Tina arrived at the Liberty Theatre at 10:00AM and was brought to a room on the second floor where Pacquiao was seated with a small group of reporters in advance of the press conference.
Manny was casually dressed, wearing neatly-pressed slacks and a sport jacket over a polo shirt. Tina took a seat five feet away from him. “To be this close to Manny again. I’m so excited,” she said.
When the group interview ended, Tina and Manny were reintroduced and he was told that it was her seventy-fifth birthday.
“We met five years ago,” Tina said. “I’m very happy that I get to see you again.”
“I’m happy to see you too,” Manny told her. “Happy birthday.”
Several photographers took photographs of them together. Then everyone moved downstairs and the press conference began.
Pacquiao is a 10-to-1 betting favorite over Algieri. He’s the faster, stronger, more experienced fighter and hits harder. Chris has a good chin. But as Manny’s trainer, Freddie Roach, notes, “It’s great to have a good chin, but you can’t rely on that. Good punchers outlast good chins.”
Also, in Macau, Pacquiao will be the house fighter. The crowd can’t fight. But the crowd (with its cheers, oohs, and aahs when the favorite lands) can influence the judges’ perception of what they see in the ring.
That said; it’s never easy at the elite level in boxing. Algieri showed his mettle when he came back from two first-round knockdowns to decision Ruslan Provodnikov (the only opponent to put him on the canvas) despite fighting the final eleven rounds with an eye that looked like something out of a Halloween horror movie.
There was a nice buzz in the Liberty Theatre. The press conference dragged on a bit too long (as they are wont to do). But it ended on an upbeat note with Pacquiao, speaking in Tagalog, giving “a hug to Filipinos all over the world.”
Tina shook hands with Algieri and told him, “My heart is with Manny. But good luck to both of you.”
“Thank you,” Chris responded. Then he added, “If I was from the Philippines, my heart would be with Manny too.”
In recent years, there has been some slippage in Pacquiao’s ring performances. Algieri is peaking. It’s a prizefight. Anything can happen.
“You know how Filipino people pray,” Tina told me as we left the Liberty Theatre. “When Manny fights, we all pray for him. We will pray for him this time too.”
Her face took on a pensive look.
“I hope the end is happy for Manny. Not the end of this fight but the end when he is done with boxing. But this is life, so who knows.”
Then Tina smiled.
“For a long time, I was not liking that I’m going to be seventy-five. And now, to see Manny again on my birthday, I love that today I’m seventy-five.”
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (Reflections: Conversations, Essays, and Other Writings) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.