Dear Manny Pacquiao, the "Man in the Arena"

Dear Manny,

First, thank you for all that you have done to elevate the spirits of a nation, and to inspire boxing and sportsfans worldwide. I remember years ago when I first became aware of you and your amazing talents.  I recall thinking at the time that you very well might rise to the very top in boxing, and I wondered — could America embrace you in the way Filipinos do?  I was struck by your natural humility; your kind nature; your lack of bravado; and your admirable efforts to do your interviews in English even though that put you at a disadvantage with the interviewer and the audience. You were humble, yet proud, and you seemed to have these two polarities in perfect balance.

To my immense surprise and pleasure, as your stauture as a boxer has grown, it seems that the sports fans of America and the world have seen in you the same things that Filipinos do, and have responded similarly.  As an American with Filipino connections (I lived there 15 years; have a Filipina wife and two Fil-am daughters), I was doubly proud — as a friend of the Philippines, for what you mean to Filipinos, and as an American, proud that Americans, remarkably,  have warmed to you.

While you are by nature humble, you have been blessed with extraordinary talents which, when coupled with an equally extraordinary work ethic, have propelled you to performance heights in recent years that began to make it look easy.  It began to look as if there was no opponent who could give you a true battle.  It even seemed that Floyd Mayweather would be easy prey if he would ever find the courage to face you in the ring.

Then came November 12, 2011.

Never had you looked so focused and ready to fight.

Never had a training camp been so good; the preparation been so complete.

And there was Juan Manuel Marquez, easy prey — someone to be respected, to be sure, but there was no way, we all thought, that he could stand up to the onslaught of the bigger, stronger, faster Manny Pacquiao of 2011.  We had visions of you dominating him; ending it by the middle rounds; and settling the matter with Marquez once and for all while serving notice to Mayweather that his 12 round decision of Marquez was a weak approximation of your conquest of Marquez.  It seems clear that you, too, felt that in this fight you would be able to overwhelm Marquez.  You were respectful of him, to be sure, and never underestimated him — but deep down, you and we expected magic to happen in the ring on November 12.

Well — magic did happen, but not in the way you or we expected.

You fought well and you won the fight on the judges’ scorecards — but it wasn’t enough. Not for the fans, not for the journalists. They felt you fell short of expectations, short of what you could do, and they felt there ws an injustice in the decision of the judges.  From your perspective it must seem that the real injustice is in their conclusion.  You reversed the trend in earlier fights where he landed more punches, more power shots — this time you landed more overall, landed more power shots, and were the clear aggressor.  Why don’t they appreciate what you did?

But there is no denying: Juan Manuel Marquez was ready, and in the end you were able to convince the judges that you deserved to win — but not the journalists, not the fans — not even your fans.  Today, a day later, there are many Filipino commentators saying you lost the fight (even Ronnie Nathanielsz, who called the fight for Philippine TV and is the best known Manila analyst : I believe Pacquiao lost to Marquez), and the buzz everywhere is that you lost.

I wonder what you must be thinking.  In some ways, this is worse than losing.  If you had lost, you could be humble, say you want a rematch, and rededicate yourself to solving the riddle that is Marquez.  Your fans would be disappointed but they would rally to your support, and the rematch would be epic.   But by winning in this fashion, you cannot be that person — you have to assert that you believe you won, even if in your heart you have some doubts, and you have to listen to yourself being subjected to criticism that in truth is not directed at you (you didn’t judge the fight — you fought it), but which hurts you.   The world is upside down today for you — you won but you didn’t win;  you didn’t lose but you did lose.  How are you to handle it?  What is the correct path?

But this is not, or need not be, a bad thing.

As I watched you standing in the ring after the fight with boos raining down on you, I thought I detected something in you — in some fashion, the pain of rejection and the frustation at not having completed your mission was having an effect that in some way seemed to be transformative.  You looked, in that moment, as if you were making the transition from boy (boy wonder, perhaps, but boy) to man.   In that moment, the complexity of the real world was descending upon you, and I felt like I could see a new maturity in your eyes.  Perhaps I was projecting something that wasn’t there — but maybe not.  I saw something.

Manny, this is your moment.

This is the moment where your true character will be brought out and put on display for all to see.  Your path through this will not be easy, and it is not as if there is only one path. This is not about boxing.  This is about your character as a human being; your capacity to lead; your capacity to learn, and grow.    You have larger goals ahead of you; you have greater responsibilities that you want to undertake.  This experience is crucial to your growth as a human being.  Last night, you couldn’t “make it happen” no matter how hard you tried.  That is a new experience for you — but not for your countrymen, not for millions of Filipinos (and Americans too) whose best efforts are not good enough.  You too have come up short — what will you do with this experience?  How will you learn from it?  How will you use it to make you as better  champion not of the  boxing world, but of the people — the Filipinos who look up to you?  How will you use this moment to inspire them; to cause them to respect you a deeper, more meaningful way?

Years ago, when I was a very young man, I found a quote that resonated in my heart.   Throughout my life I have been guided by it, and it gives me strength when I feel that my toil is not appreciated, or results are not what I expected.   I never thought it would apply to you the way it does to me — but today, I feel it might have meaning for you.  The quote is from American President Theodore Roosevelt, and I offer it to you in the hope you will find truth in it:

The Man in the Arena

Exceprt from the speech “Citizenship in a Republic”, 23 April, 1910

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

Manny, you are the man in the arena.  Your toil and sweat and heart are your legacy but more than that, what you learn from experiences like this will strengthen you and improve your ability to become the leader that you want to be, not in the boxing arena, but in the larger arena of nationhood and citizenship.  Study this; learn from this; grow as a result of this.  I’m sure you will make us proud.

Sincerely,

A Boxing fan and friend of the Philippines

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