LAS VEGAS – Sunday morning began as routinely as could be expected with Manny Pacquiao. A prayer service was held in his 60th floor suite at The Hotel at Mandalay Bay, with as many as 150 mostly Filipinos cramming into the standing-room-only space to sing along to hymns of praise played by a live band.
Despite the somber mood in the room from Pacquiao supporters struggling to deal with disappointment, the messages of the songs were decidedly upbeat.
Near the end of the set, the former eight-division titleholder emerged with wife Jinkee, still sporting bruises underneath his right eye sustained in his surprising sixth-round knockout loss to arch rival Juan Manuel Marquez in their fourth bout just down the street at the MGM Grand on Saturday.
The knockout, which rendered Pacquiao unconscious for nearly two minutes after falling face-first from a Marquez counter right, was his third loss inside of the distance. Pacquiao was briefly observed at a Las Vegas hospital but was released shortly after.
Faith is a big part of Pacquiao’s life, and nightly bible studies have become a staple of his daily life and training camps. Faith seems to sustain him through the uncertainty and pressure of living as an influential celebrity in a dangerous occupation, and it has redirected his life away from the gambling, drinking and womanizing that had characterized him in the past.
The changes haven’t come without criticism however, even from those closest to “Pacman.” His mother Dionisia, who resents Pacquiao leaving the Catholic Church in favor of a non-denominational approach, told Philippine newspaper The Inquirer that she blames his religious circle for his decline in performance.
“Since the Protestant pastors came into his life, he has not focused on his boxing,” she said, despite the pastors not identifying themselves as Protestants. “They always pray, with Manny losing sleep.”
Pacquiao took a seat in the front row as Israel-born minister Amir Tsarfati began a religious monologue. Tsarfati addressed the audience in English, referring to the Bible several times before addressing the two-ton elephant in the room.
“It takes Godly character not only to win, but also to lose,” said Tsarfati. “I can also tell you that, yesterday after having finally sat with Manny, I finally understood what makes someone a great athlete. Because it’s about the acceptance of what happens, and the endurance and pushing forward with it and going forward.”
Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 knockouts), of General Santos City, Philippines, seemed to deal with the defeat with grace, offering smiles whenever Tsarfati cracked jokes. Then the 33-year-old veteran took to the microphone.
“Thank you so much for all your prayers and support. Better luck next time,” said Pacquiao with a smile. “That’s the sport of boxing. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”
“You are still our hero Manny, forever!” screamed out one female supporter.
“Sometimes there are bad things that happen in your life,” Pacquiao said. “It’s part of (the road) to becoming successful in life. Thank you so much.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMA News. He is also a member of The Ring ratings panel and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.