But after his loss to Juan Manuel Marquez on Saturday, the 34-year-old is facing some of the toughest questions of his 17-year career: does his future lay in boxing, politics, show business or perhaps a new challenge?
“For Pacquiao, the fame was too much to handle,” boxing analyst Ed Tolentino said. “There was just too many things on his plate other than boxing.”
Pacquiao trained for two months, compared with 4½ for Marquez.
Pacquiao began his international boxing career in the late 1990s. He became a household name by clinching eight world titles in eight weight categories. At home, he was hailed as a hero, “the people’s champ.”
As the titles and money started pouring in, so did distractions. Politicians, minor actors and an assortment of hangers-on formed his huge entourage.
He turned to crooning his own songs. His picture endorsed countless products. He’s a regular on TV and hosts his own show. He’s made a movie. Another passion is cockfighting, a traditional past time in the Philippines.
Showbiz “takes a lot of time, a lot of energy. You have to prepare for these shows,” said boxing commentator Ronnie Nathanielsz. “(Pacquiao) loses focus because he has so many things to worry about and attend to.”
Pacquiao was elected to Congress from his southern Sarangani province in 2010 and will run for re-election next year. Taking a cue from his political allies, he appears to be building a political organization, with his wife, Jinkee, running for vice governor and younger brother Rogelio, also seeking a seat in Congress.
In the meantime, he promised to clean up his act: no more gambling, drinking and womanizing, and took up preaching the Bible. Some called it a public relations stunt for a budding politician, but Pacquiao insisted it was for real.
“To those who think that way, let us leave them be. I will pray for them. Even Jesus Christ, even after he performed miracles, no one believed him, what more for a sinner like me,” he said, adding he did not want to be a pastor but share how “the Lord changed my life.”
Then came the first blow: a controversial decision awarding his June fight to Timothy Bradley. Questions arose if Pacquiao was showing the wear of 17 years in the ring, and whether the distractions catching up with him.
Saturday’s loss to Marquez, whom he had beaten twice and drawn once, only made the question more urgent, although Pacquiao made no mention of a possible retirement.
“Among boxers, they don’t have the word retirement in their dictionary. It’s so hard to admit that all of sudden it’s over, especially for Pacquiao,” Tolentino said.
“His demotion was from the penthouse to the doghouse,” he added. “I think really there has to be a lot of soul searching. … He has to consult his family, his real entourage.”