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Boxing Book Club: Manny Pacquiao's "Pacman" by Gary Andrew Poole

Gary Andrew Poole's "Pacman" examines one of sport's most interesting and complex characters.
Gary Andrew Poole's "Pacman" examines one of sport's most interesting and complex characters.

Manny Pacquiao's next fight is coming on June 9, when the Filipino superstar faces Timothy Bradley on HBO pay-per-view. But the road to get to this point hasn't always been easy, and the man who's gotten here hasn't always been easy to understand. Matt Mosley returns with a look at Gary Andrew Poole's biography, "Pacman."

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"He hadn't a clue, but he had courage. He threw puches, like my God, from all angles. Totally out of control. But incredible courage. That was the only thing. I could never have guessed what he would be today. This country was down in the pits. No respect. No recognition. No nothing. He gave it back to us. Through his fists. And through his charisma." -- Ronnie Nathanielsz, Filipino boxing commentator

"Pacman" by Gary Andrew Poole

By now most of the world's sports fans know who Manny Pacquiao is. He has achieved that rare thing in modern day boxing by managing to transcend the sport, striking a chord with people of many races, backgrounds and nationalities. As the author notes in this book, Pacquiao has even played a big part in helping to somewhat regenerate boxing's popularity in the USA over the last decade, a country that seemed to have lost interest and whose attention to professional fighting was mostly directed toward the MMA popularity explosion.

Manny has that effect on people. An extreme force of nature who has had his original aggression, fighting spirit and will to win nurtured into something even more impressive and much more refined, mostly by the educated boxing brain of the great trainer Freddie Roach.

The qualities that attract the fans to Pacquiao almost as much as his boxing ability and his charisma are his humility and his work as a humanitarian, especially in his home country, the Phillipines and he certainly seems to be admired just as much outside the ring as inside.

Paradoxically kind by nature, yet a killer in the ring, he gives money away at an astonishing rate, to almost anyone who asks.

One guy who didn't have to ask was fellow Filipino fighter Z Gorres, who slipped into a coma after suffering a brain hemorrhage in a fight he actually won (against Luis Melendez) back in 2009. At a banquet in their home country Pacquiao privately handed Gorres a check for $22,000, a huge amount of money in the Phillipines.

Stories of Pacquiao's philanthrophy are documented regularly throughout the book, and i couldn't help but be impressed by what i read about this amazing human being.

Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao is clearly a very special person in more ways than one. According to Mr Poole, Manny has a photographic memory, learned to play the piano in one week, and often sleeps only three or four hours a night, when not in training.

The hardships and suffering he went through to get to where he is today are covered extensively by the author, and where Pacquiao grew up really is a different world from the one he currently lives in, although he does regulalry go back to live among his native people. As one Filipino fan comments: "He is like us, he is with us." Manny himself comments that if not for this dirt poor background, "I never would have been a champion".

The dangers of heading back to his homeland are ever present though, and Poole claims that Paquiao carrries a pistol when in the Phillipines and is surrounded by armed guards for fear of kidnapping by Islamic militants. People are regularly kidnapped, murdered, and even beheaded in certain parts of the country and i did sometimes fear for Manny's long term well being when reading this book. The island on which he grew up, Mindanao, is home to a city which is referred to as the murder capital of the Phillippines.

Becoming a congressman, as he has, will no doubt only make him an even bigger target, especially since he is admirably intent on cleaning up the place.

The author seems to generally give a fair appraisal of the fighter, being critical at times, but also printing the excuses that have been given by Team Pacquaio for his loss to Erik Morales and his debatable decisions with Juan Manuel Marquez (he didn't train right, he had outside influences distracting him, or whatever). No doubt at least some of the excuses do have substance to them and to be fair to Poole he does also give Morales credit for beating Pacquiao in the first fight between the two, stating that Morales was the better technician, and at the time a more complete boxer. Manny himself also pays tribute to the Mexican great.

The book is well researched by someone who was obviously allowed in close by the camp, yet who mainly manages to stay objective.

Pacquiao's darker side is covered here too, in fact a whole chapter is devoted to his (alleged) womanising. Nothing is really ever proven for certain, but interviews with his wife Jinkee are possibly more revealing than anything the tabloids might have to say. Manny also likes to associate with Filipino gangsters at times, which is something that surprised me a little.

He can certainly be a complex character, full of smiles and generosity, yet likening himself to Tony Montana from the movie "Scarface" and sometimes hanging out with guys who often tend to use bullets as a means of settling disputes. His penchants for drinking and gambling are also referred to regularly.

Poole puts across his quite dry sense of humour at times, which i liked. Some humourous notes from the book include Manny's fitness coach Alex Ariza being referred to as a "muscle bound Latino" (well, he is Latino, but hardly muscle bound), the revealing of Manny's dog's name making the Filipino national news, and Pac's mother having her own TV show in the Phillipines named "Pacmom."

Manny also has a TV show of his own called, "Show Me The Manny", which is a take on his favourite saying when being offered business contracts.

There are interesting facts and stories throughout the book, especially in the first half, when charting Manny's rise to stardom, like how he was once knocked down by a jab in a fight with Nedal Hussein and didn't rise from the canvas for eighteen seconds, or how his best friend was killed in a boxing match when he and Pac were novice pro's. That happened on the undercard of a show in which Manny was in the main event. He wasn't told about it until after his fight. Not wanting to give too much information away to those who intend to buy this book, but it's fair to say that there are some pretty crazy stories linked to Pacquiao in one way or another, as is often the case with boxers.

Coming from a country like the Philippines, where the people come across as seemingly friendly and happy all the time yet are constantly surrounded by senseless murder's, terrorism and often abject poverty, the stories are exacerbated all the more.

I liked this book, but I have to say the author does tend to write in note form, often with short sentences, and sometimes skips from one subject to another rather abruptly. It didn't bother me too much but I imagine it might do some. There are also one or two inaccuracies, mainly involving quotes from Oscar De La Hoya's autobiography, which I checked, and which are wrong.

Basically he claims that DLH had bad food poisoning before the 2003 rematch with Shane Mosley and that's why he fought badly and lost. I don't remember him fighting badly at all in that fight. I thought he won quite clearly, and Poole had gotten it mixed up with the first fight in 2000, which Oscar does mention in his book. Not a big deal, but these things should be checked, as far as Im concerned.

Poole also states that Oscar was weak and possibly weight drained for the Floyd Mayweather fight. I have to say I have never heard this before and the way Oscar fought that night he certainly didn't look weight drained, taking Floyd to a split decision. Also, the fight was at 154lbs, so it would be strange for Oscar to struggle at the higher weight.

These comments came in the chapter which covers Manny's fight with Oscar, where it is said by many that Oscar was weight drained, so the cynic in me, attempting to read between the lines, thinks that maybe Poole was possibly trying to paint Manny's victory in a more favourable light. Not that I don't think it was a good win against a bigger man who most gave Manny little to no chance of beating going in, but some of the things Poole says in this chapter just make me wonder what his motives were at times.

As well as the Marquez, Barrera, Morales and De La Hoya fights, the bouts with Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey are covered and quite a lot of attention is paid to detail in these fight reports, for the most part.

Other chapters cover the Pacman's ridiculously large entourage (half of whom he doesn't seem to know very well), the promoter's who he has worked with (mainly covering Bob Arum and a roast held in his honour), and the ludicrous two-ing and fro-ing regarding the Pacquiao-Mayweather superfight that continually fails to materialise.

Pacquiao is regularly compared to Muhammad Ali throughout the book, mainly due to his popularity and ability to transcend the sport, and is even described by the writer at one point as "a mix between Ali, Bruce Lee and Robin Hood."

This is a biography, so is told from Mr Poole's perspective. In one way this is a good thing, in that it is critical and unbiased for the main part, but the advantage to writing an autobiography, which my last review, Oscar De la Hoya's "American Son" was, is that is is told from the fighter's perspective, and that can make for more interesting reading, in my opinion. A combination of both would possibly work best, and there are quotes here and there from Manny throughout this book.

All in all an interesting read which is both informative and revealing in equal measure.

Recommended - 7.5/10

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