Mr. Pacquiao Goes To Washington

Photo by The Hill's Greg Nash
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The phenomenon that is Manny Pacquiao arrived on the Hill Tuesday morning, offering fight fans here hope our sport won’t linger on the fringes of the mainstream sports scene much longer. Even the security guards at the Capitol, by now used to witnessing all manners of celebs and foreign dignitaries traipsing through their halls, were a bit star-struck at the possibility of seeing Pacquiao

Arrived late to find the usual business entrance for the U.S. Capitol plugged with an army of traveling press and photogs that would make any lawmaker jealous. Luckily flashing my Capitol press badge allowed me to slide right through; for once, tailing politicos for a living actually proved useful in covering the fight game.

Made my way upstairs and joined the other reporters milling around in the bullpen waiting for the press conference to start. Along the way I was privileged to meet the excellent Don Steinberg on assignment for the Wall Street Journal and Greg Bishop of the New York Times, whose coverage of Pacquiao I have always admired. We exchanged pleasantries and debated whether the two would actually say anything noteworthy (consensus: no).

A few minutes after the scheduled start Top Rank CEO Bob Arum, Pacquiao advisor Michael Konz and about a dozen other members of Pacquiao’s personal entourage arrived. Arum informed us that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was taking Pacquiao on a walk across the Senate floor, which he called “a great honor.”

Finally they emerged to continuous clicks and flashes: the diminutive Filipino champ that conquered the world and the amateur boxer who slugged his way to the top seat in the Senate. Reid predictably took to the podium first and wasted no time in proclaiming Pacman one of the greatest fighters of all time.

“Everyone knows how much I admire people who enter the ring, whether boxing or political,” Reid said, adding that despite his amateur boxing pedigree he wouldn’t be able to last more than five seconds against Pacquiao in the ring.

“He has shown you can be a great athlete and still be a great person.” Reid also declined to give Pacquiao any political advice. “He’s done pretty well on his own.”

Currently on a nationwide press tour to promote his May 7 welterweight title bout against “Sugar” Shane Mosely in Las Vegas, Pacquiao was his usual humble self, calling his first trip to Washington “an unforgettable moment in my life.” He thanked the press for attending and said he’s focused on spurring development in his home nation of Philippines.

After the two lawmakers exchanged flags from their home countries and posed for the obligatory photos, Reid opened it up briefly to questions. Unsurprisingly, one of the first dealt with Pacquiao’s appearance at a Reid rally just days before the November mid-term election. Asked if Pacquiao had been the key to putting him over the top against his Tea Party-backed opponent Sharon Angle, Reid paused for a moment before delivering his deadpan answer: “Sure.”

Top Rank CEO and promoter Bob Arum was more direct about Pacquiao’s impact on Nevada voters, pointing out that before the Friday rally Reid was down by four points in the polls and ended up winning the election by five percent. He also noted Angle had invited Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to her final rally.

“I don’t know what you think about McCain, but he’s no contest for Manny Pacquiao,” Arum said.

Reid closed by announcing Pacquiao would be headed to the White House Tuesday afternoon for a meeting with President Obama. Reid said he usually doesn’t bother the president, but he did on this occasion because he felt the importance of acknowledging the enthusiasm and support Pacquiao has garnered in the U.S., particularly among Nevada’s 80,000 Filipino Americans.

Arum said Pacquiao has transcended national boundaries to become a symbol of hope for impoverished peoples worldwide.

“He symbolizes the third world,” Arum said. “For people who can rise up and establish a decent life. He’s a symbol for poor people across the globe.”

How true that statement is debatable; Pacquiao is undoubtedly an icon in Southeast Asia but has not yet reached the heights that seem possible, given his magnetic combination of skill, tenacity and personal charisma. Whether he can uplift the third world remains in doubt, but his ability to elevate the sport of boxing cannot be denied.

“He’s become the face of the sport of boxing and it comes at a fortuitous time,” Arum said, referencing CBS’ agreement to televise an upcoming reality series on the build-up to the Mosely-Pacquiao fight. “If anyone can bring boxing mainstream again, Manny Pacquiao can.”

Gautham Nagesh is the editor of Stiff Jab. Follow him on Twitter

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.