By Ezra Salkin on June 21, 2012

If there’s one conclusion that we’ve always been able to draw about the dynamic Filipino slugger—it’s that status quo bores him…

John Chapter 15:20
Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…

In an Elie Seckbach YouTube video shot two days after Pacquiao-Bradley, Seckbach took audiences inside the LA mansion of Manny Pacquaio. (In 2010, Freddie Roach had banned the Israeli-born street-style interviewer from the Wild Card gym after Antonio Margarito—along with Brandon Rios and trainer Robert Garcia—mocked Roach’s Parkinson’s symptoms in a video on Seckbach’s channel.) Now within the Pacquiao vestibule, Seckbach, the resilient “embedded correspondent,” had infiltrated an even more multi-faceted sphere of Pacquiao’s life.

The video opens with Seckbach whispering into his camcorder amid singing and soft piano music. It’s the scene of one of Pacquiao’s highly publicized nightly bible studies. The session is being led by Pastor Jeric Soriano. Soriano, who had been introduced to viewers as Pacquiao’s reforming spiritual guide during the 24/7 buildup, stands before a monitor that reads in white letters on a red banner, “God is always right.” He points to a painting on his right of a younger Pacquiao garbed in a red robe and headband, pre-Justin Beiber hair-styling days, his gloved fist raised in victory.

“The decision last Saturday was wrong. That was wrong! Review the tapes,” Soriano says to his rapt audience, a wide-eyed, child-like Manny right and center. He flings a hand back in the monitor’s direction. “No, no, no—God is always right! There’s a better plan…”

Soriano concludes his sermon with a group prayer where, with a bowed head, he soliloquizes that through the fight’s result “the enemy” has revealed his tactics…“to get us into offense.”

With events that came to light starting immediately after Pacquiao’s third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez last November, carrying through the verdict in his bout with Tim Bradley, both Pacquiao’s character and skills have been brought to judgment. Like other idolized personalities, from Mother Theresa to Tiger Woods, under continued scrutiny Pacquiao has become more three-dimensional, his story arc riding as many angles as his punches.

Prior to his “spiritual awakening,” I think most of us thought we knew Manny Pacquiao. With the exception of those who think he’s on steroids, it seemed long ago decided that the Filipino icon—the person, the fighter, the global phenomenon—was of ascendant caliber, worthy of veneration.

For years Pacquiao had been portrayed as a saintly figure, a foil to Mayweather bravado. It was very hard not to like “little” Manny with his “aw shucks” smile to accompany his all-action style. The fact that when he first hit U.S. shores he didn’t speak a lick of English and fight fans had the pleasure of watching his English develop alongside his ever-growing craft under trainer Freddie Roach—barreling through division after division—only made him more endearing.

Pacquiao, who seemed devout in his Roman Catholicism, was a hero to the faithful who’d witnessed the spectacle of his fervent prayer, dropping to his knees as soon as he entered the ring, appearing to go somewhere else and forgetting the thousands of adoring people around him. He always crossed himself at the beginning and end of a round, and even when the ref temporarily broke the action. It didn’t matter whether he was looking lost against Marquez or whether he was battering the golden goose Oscar De La Hoya; this gesture never failed to materialize. It even became easy for me, a secular Jew, to temporarily forget I wasn’t joined to his flock, getting inspired, before I remembered. It’s been stated over and over again on the HBO broadcast that Pacquiao, through some kind of supernatural good will, manages, no less, to halt crime in the Philippines when he fights.

Even Floyd Mayweather at one point was a Pac fan. During Pacquiao’s seesaw knockout victory over Erik Morales in their second bout in 2006, Mayweather can be spotted in the crowd, often on his feet. This of course was before he—or anyone else—could conceive the notion that Pacquiao, the future public servant, would one day rise all the way up to a division where he could challenge him for pound-for-pound supremacy.

During his reign as boxing’s hero, Pacquiao starred in movies and was named “Fighter of the Decade” by the Boxing Writers Association of America. In 2009, he was hailed as one of the world’s most influential people by Time magazine and was included in Forbes’ annual Celebrity 100.

In 2010, Pacquiao was elected to the House of Representatives in the 15th Congress of the Philippines. The same year, he campaigned for Nevada Senator Harry Reid in his reelection bid against Sharron Angle, and in April 2011, he met President Obama while preparing for his bout with Sugar Shane Mosley. Mosley, as hardworking a red, white, and blue-collar fighter as the sport’s ever produced, to his credit tried to mask his own befuddlement and look positively at his Filipino opponent’s luck in earning the honor of a sit-down with the President. (Or was the honor Obama’s?) Then in May 2011, already a multi-platinum artist in the Philippines, he put out a single with Dan Hill, a remake of Hill’s 1977, “Sometimes When We Touch.”

All the while, winning 12 straight fights during that span, Pacquiao never seemed to “lose his humble spirit,” as another pastor said of him in still another Seckbach video. I guess the line is hazy between humility and hubris when you schedule a concert performance directly following a mega-million dollar bout against a future Hall of Famer, as Pacquiao did after his fight with Shane Mosley.

Nevertheless, before his next fight, his third with Marquez, Pacquiao showed grandiose generosity when he bought sparring partner David Rodela a house after Rodela tied his nuptial vow. The house features an autographed poster of Pacquiao in a dark smoky room, donned in a suit and red tie, his eyes hidden in shadow, a slow-burning cigar in hand. The scribbled autograph reads “Pacman, Ninnong,” with the Tagalog translating to “Godfather.”

Finally the controversial third fight with Marquez took place, and what happened there doesn’t need to be revisited. In spite of being awarded the victory, Pacquiao heard something startlingly unfamiliar to his ears: booing.  By his expression, the old sticks and stones adage seemed proven false.

Back in his dressing room, the consummate prayer-uttering Pacquiao experienced something else out of his auditory norm. For the first time in his life, God actually spoke back to him—in a dream. As purportedly witnessed by the innumerable family and entourage surrounding him, the impact of that conversation left Pacquiao supine and wide-eyed, reciting the Ten Commandments…over and over again. Later, Pacquiao would say he was certain if he had died in the last two years he would’ve “gone straight to hell.”

Purportedly in the dream, which parallels if not exactly mirrors a similar encounter of different imagery that took place in George Foreman’s dressing room after he was out-pointed by Jimmy Young in 1974, Pacquiao was walking though a dense forest.  He heard the same booming voice that also purportedly greeted Moses through the undying body of a bush aflame. The voice said to Pacquiao, to paraphrase, “Why are you walking away from me, son?” The talk concluded with the Lord of Hosts telling Pacquiao he should think about retiring soon because “this (boxing) is harmful. You’re famous enough.”

So with some help from the counterpunching prowess of Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao met God, and since then a pilot light has been lit under him. With it have come many revelations regarding Pacquiao’s not-so-Godly personal conduct over the years leading up to the third Marquez fight. More or less, Pacquaio confessed to being a pool playing, gambling, drinking carouser. Of all the deadly sins that those “vices” invoke—all of which, Pacquiao claims to have quit—the most damaging was the one which ironically threatened his own nuptial bond with Jinkee, who was reported to have handed him divorce papers the eve of the Marquez fight, not long after he paid a down payment for his sparring partner’s new home.

In my mind, the most shocking revelation about the “old” Manny Pacquiao was that during all that time he wasn’t actually happy.

2 Corinthians 5:17
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!

Now in the wake of the hotbed of controversy that was Pacquiao-Bradley, as Floyd Mayweather sits in jail, what do we know about this “born-again” version of Pacquiao? First, do we even know if that is indeed what he is? Could he still be Catholic, as he continues to routinely cross himself but is now often seen rolling with Pastor Soriano? (He even participated in a brief bible study with Pastor Rick Warren, the celebrity cleric who delivered the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration, in the days leading up to this recent fight.) I’d imagine that, as much as Pacquiao’s near divorce from Jinkee, if he had given up his Catholicism, it would have damaged his future presidential prospects, as the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic nation. But watching him run around that shooting range in a red polo on 24/7 with the “old 1940s gun,” as he called it on Jimmy Kimmel, made it seem like he was doing a pretty good wasp imitation.

We know that he’s given away his cockfighting farm, along with his casino and nightclub. He gave up basketball, but that was more about his calves than amorality. He now also hosts a game show in the Philippines called “Manny, Many Prizes” and in spite of supposedly giving up drinking, he starred in a Hennessy commercial.

When President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, Pacquiao, not yet far removed from his privileged meeting with the-leader-of-the-free-world, rebuked him; and then in the promotional lead-up to the fight, Bob Arum said he sometimes feels like he’s “promoting Rick Santorum.”

But Lady Gaga still loves him, tweeting after the Bradley fight, “I only watch boxing because of Manny Pacquiao and#MannyPacquiaoIsStillTheBestBoxer!” (Meanwhile, a Filipino Catholic Archbishop as well as Filipino evangelical groups advocated boycotting a Gaga concert that took place there May 21, calling her music “the work of Satan.”)

I’d say we think we know what we pretty much thought we knew before. Manny Pacquiao is a fervently religious, small—but bigger than he used to be—hell of a fighter. His broad smile continues to captivate millions in spite of his being a bit more incendiary outside of the ring than he sometimes is inside as of late. Also, like before, he seems happy.

I’m not sure exactly what happened Saturday June 9th (other than Pacquiao winning the fight) but he did seem more at peace in losing that bizarre decision than he did winning in November. Perhaps that has to do with an added sense of humility to accompany his injection of the Holy Spirit or Ghost—depending on whether or not he is still in fact Catholic.

But then again, that whole aura of humility he embodies is put into question again with his decidedly less than humble behavior of refusing to finish warming up until the end of game seven of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Playoffs, or at least that was what we were led to believe was going on behind closed doors in the less than pure world of boxing.

Maybe he was penitent for November’s decision or maybe there was something refreshing about losing without actually losing, after a nearly unending win streak, transforming him into a boxing martyr. Maybe he envied a certain kind of romance that he projected onto Marquez, watching his Mexican rival carried around the ring a hero after the decision was announced, while Manny just won like he always does. If there’s one conclusion that we’ve always been able to draw about the dynamic Filipino slugger—from the way he fights, his eclectic interests, and personal undoing—it’s that status quo bores him.

Beyond the Bob Arum and Floyd Mayweather conspiracies after the Bradley fight, that toppled message boards like each was its own Tower of Babel, all kinds of other interesting observations have been made around the perplexing decision.

ESPN’s Skip Bayless mentioned the Boston Celtic’s theory, that the judges were maybe miffed at Pacquiao for his unbecoming holdup of events when there were paying customers who had dished out a heavy pay-per-view fee, with Stephen A. Smith contending the possibility of age influencing the judges, one of whom was 74 and another 71.That is, the older judges might have had an ingrained belief about professional decorum and the lack of manners in regard to younger generations and may have taken it out on Pacquiao. I know my 76-year-old dad was sure pissed as the night grew late and all we were left to watch while waiting a chagrined Max Kellerman trying to make light of the situation.

The following week on the Chavez-Lee telecast, Larry Merchant opined with his characteristic twinkle that Pacquiao “gave up gambling for religion. How do you think that sat with the gods of Las Vegas?”

Later, during Jim Lampley’s “The Fight Game,” Kellerman suggested a “statistical anomaly” in the way those three judges happened to view and interpret the fight, stating that statistical anomalies happen all the time: people winning the lottery or getting hit by lightning—both apt analogies for a prizefight—while the “Dean of Las Vegas judges” and one of the three scoring the fight, Duane Ford, said Bradley was scoring very well to the body in the later rounds and that the “old” Manny would’ve finished Bradley off when he had hurt him early. Bradley said he won the fight.

In the end, only God knows—at least as far as the fans are concerned. But I will say one thing. For a guy who was the beneficiary of a controversial razor-sharp decision in his previous fight, Pacquiao seemed a little cavalier with Bradley, seeming to treat the fight as an exhibition at times, sometimes letting rounds slip by where he mounted his offense only in the final minute, as if he took the decision for granted. What happened to the Pacquiao who didn’t waste a second in his destruction of everyone from the great Marco Antonio Barrera through Miguel Cotto?

If Pastor Jeric Soriano is right about “the enemy” and his “tactics” it may be incumbent on Pacquiao in the rematch, if nothing else, to listen carefully to his spiritual mentor and then do the exact opposite.

“Did you learn something tonight?” Soriano says enthusiastically at the end of the Seckbach video. “I sure did…”

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