In perhaps the most thrilling bout of 2012, Juan Manuel Marquez did what he was unable to do in three previous outings against his nemesis Manny Pacquiao - he knocked him to the canvas. Twice. The second knockdown came off a perfectly timed right hand at the very end of the sixth round, and resulted in a brutal knockout that left Pacquiao briefly unconscious, and the subject of a myriad of internet memes and jokes following the fight.
While Mexican fans and Pacquiao haters alike rejoiced throughout the world for Marquez's victory, Filipino fans were left in shock seeing their hero face down in the ring. Some accepted defeat, others made excuses, and some just cried. In the past, Filipino fans have been criticized and sometimes ridiculed for their adulation of the Pac Man. They've been accused of being irrational, uneducated, and nothing more than Pacquiao groupies. While there is some truth that portions of his fans indeed are just fans of his and no one else, there is a large portion that truly are boxing fans.
What many will never understand is that this is what happens when a nation and a peoples' entire weight rests on one man's shoulders. There have been other Filipino champions in the past, such as Flash Elorde, Luisito Espinosa, and brothers Dodie Boy and Gerry Peñalosa, but none of them ever came close to possessing the talent and charisma of Pacquiao. They were good fighters, but not "once-in-a-generation" type talents as he is. Mexican boxing has had a long list of great champions. Marquez is just another great to add to the list. Many have come before, and many will follow. Mexican fans have been spoiled to have such an abundance of success. While Marquez will never be forgotten when he retires, he does not have the same stature among Mexicans that Pacquiao has with Filipinos.
I was born and raised in America, and being Filipino-American before Pacquiao's meteoric rise to stardom was different than it is now. Growing up in the 90s and early 2000s, I had no sports figures that I could relate to. I didn't have the benefit of my Asian American peers that were Chinese, Japanese, or Vietnamese. They had faces that looked like theirs on the screen to look up to. They had stars like Yao Ming, Ichiro, and Dat Nguyen, not to mention all the Asian stars in Hollywood. Who did I have? Nobody. It was this lack of a role model that forced myself and, I'm sure, many Filipinos to seek solace by immersing themselves in other cultures.
It wasn't until Pacquiao burst onto the national stage after upsetting featherweight king Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003 that some of us began to feel a little more comfortable in our own skin. That fight began his climb to the top of the sport, followed by his classic first fight with Marquez, and his subsequent trilogy with Erik Morales and rematch with Barrera. Pretty soon, it wasn't uncommon to start seeing hats and shirts with the sun and stars of the Philippine flag being sold and rocked proudly by young Filipinos.
To say the emergence of a cultural hero had nothing to do with it would be purely ignorant. In my opinion, the majority of Filipino-American youth would still be trying to adopt black or white culture as their own if it weren't for Pacquiao. Philippine pride exploded when he defeated Oscar de la Hoya. After that, Pacquiao's starpower grew to astronomical proportions, gaining famous fans like actor Mark Wahlberg, R&B diva Beyoncé, and NBA superstar Kobe Bryant. After an endorsement deal with Nike, Pac Man shirts were all over the place. After defeating Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto, Pacquiao decided to run for Congress in the Philippines in 2010. While I think he should be commended for wanting to serve his country, I think he doesn't realize that he was already doing so just by being in the ring competing. If anything, the Philippines would be better served if he put 100% of his focus on boxing, but of course, that is a moot point since he has announced he is running for re-election.
I don't feel Manny Pacquiao should retire. Before being knocked out, he looked like he was returning to old form. He fought with an intensity and fire that has been missing since he fought Cotto. I still think he has at least three good fights in him. For however much longer he fights, we should appreciate what he has left. What Manny Pacquiao has given us is more than a show. He's given us all the hope that we can come from absolutely nothing and rise to the top of the world.