The boxing world is
in shock after the legendary Mexican Oscar de la Hoya was sent into
retirement by Filipino Manny Pacquiao on December 6 in Las Vegas.

Manny Pacquiao is
undoubtedly the Philippines’ most popular sports icon. He’s a
simple guy of extraordinary grit. Glorious in his bouts, he remains
humble with his feet firmly planted on the ground. In his most recent
match, which kept millions of Filipinos all over the world glued to
their radios or TV screens, he emerged as the winner against the much
touted “golden boy” Oscar de la Joya in an eight-round TKO
decision.

The good-natured
Pacquiao shows his mettle even inside the ring. Recah Trinidad, a
Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) columnist, wrote: “How
Pacquiao lent boxing a warm human touch was no coincidence. In fact,
Pacquiao would later bare that he often took pity on the helpless De
La Hoya. After cornering and shaking up De La Hoya, Pacquiao would
often stall in his offensive. Of course, this was not out of a sudden
attack of compassion and humility.”

Pacquiao’s matches
are surely a diversion to many people, not just Filipinos. His bouts
relieve the stress of a faltering economy and provide national
entertainment on a humdrum weekend. They have even led to truces
among warring camps and a drop in crime rate, even as rebels and
thieves are kept off the streets to catch a glimpse of his exciting
matches. Apparently Eid Kabalu, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front
civil-military affairs chief, has been known to say, “If Manny
fights every day, guns will always be silent.”

The 29-year-old
Pacquiao is an interesting character. In the tough world of boxing,
you see this man publicly acknowledging that among his weapons are
absolute faith in God and prayer. He hangs a rosary around his neck
just before a match, and he’s not shy about it. As soon as he steps
into the boxing ring, he kneels in deep prayer in one corner.
Meanwhile, thousands of kilometers away in General Santos City, he’s
supported by a pious mother who spends hours praying before an image
of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Santo Nino (Holy Child Jesus) for the
success of her son. After each victorious bout, an assistant
immediately hops into the ring to hang once more the same holy rosary
around Manny’s neck.

Returning to the
Philippines after his victorious dream match, he went to the popular
Black Nazarene Church in Manila. In a blog posted by Izah Morales in
the PDI, she recalled: “After priest gave his final blessings,
Pacquiao was asked to give a message to the people. During his
message, Pacquiao thanked the people and attributed his success to
God. He talked about the criticisms he got from some sportswriters
before his bout with Oscar de la Hoya. But he said he did not lose
hope as he kept his faith in God.

“Pacquiao told the
crowd, ‘Don't tell God that [you] have a big problem. [B]ut tell
your problem [that you] have a big God.’”

It said that a
boxer’s motto is “It’s better to give than to receive.” But
Pacquaio goes beyond that quip. It was reported that before his
“dream match” with de la Joya, he spent hundreds of thousands of
dollars for tickets to be distributed among his friends and
supporters. For him, it was a way of giving back. Some labeled it as
superstition. But Pacquiao has that penchant for sharing his
blessings with others. At the end of his match he was quoted saying,
“I’m just happy that I made a lot of people happy.”

Pacquiao was tempted
to venture into politics last year when he ran for a seat in
Congress. He was soundly defeated, much to the delight of his fans,
who wanted him to stay in the ring.

A recent PDI
editorial warned Pacquiao against pursuing further political
ambitions: “Pacquiao's achievements have been fully his own, as far
as boxing is concerned. His becoming a sports hero has led not only
to riches, but also has won him the incomparable affections of an
entire nation. That success and that affection are his because of how
he unites a nation otherwise divided and discouraged by politics.

“No one can doubt
that Pacquiao is looking for a career that will not just give meaning
to his life after boxing, but which will also allow him to help
others as so many have helped him rise from rags to riches through
sports. The question is not whether he can or should try to be a
force for public good, but whether the public good is served by his
entering politics.

“His dogged
determination, his dedication to his sport, his discipline and his
ability to improve himself, all the while maintaining a sunny
disposition and picking no quarrels with people outside the boxing
ring, suggest to us that the greatest good for the greatest number
lies in Pacquiao staying out of the political arena. He is a
political force by sheer force of being who he is-the man who
unites-and staying that way.”

The good-tempered,
level-headed Pacquiao is no Mike Tyson. He is unlikely to end up like
many other boxers: broke, cheated, disgraced or punch-drunk. But he
should stay out of politics. The punches thrown in political shadow
boxing are more vicious than any he will ever face in the ring.

Zen Udani is Assistant Professor
of
Management at the University of Macau.