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‘Manny’ rolls with the punches

By: - Entertainment Editor
/ 12:14 AM March 15, 2014

PACQUIAO. His biopic is as insightful and entertaining as it is cautionary.

Why does Manny Pacquiao fight? The question is raised by narrator Liam Neeson in “Manny,” Leon Gast and Ryan Moore’s hard-hitting, Hollywood-produced documentary about the Philippines’ eight-division world boxing legend. The contrasting answers don’t always paint a pretty portrait, but they are nonetheless as insightful and entertaining as they’re cautionary.

Notice the wistful weariness in the voice of Alex Ariza, Pacman’s former conditioning coach who ended up shoving and kicking ally-turned-enemy Freddie Roach when he found himself on the opposite side of the ring during Manny’s triumphant WBO Welterweight world title match against Brandon Rios last year. He says he doesn’t see Manny as his “next meal ticket as the others,” but he has since estranged himself from the Pinoy boxer’s team.

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Some years ago, when Manny’s multitasking career began to take its toll on his performance in the boxing ring, we shared our opinion on Facebook that, perhaps, it was wise for the boxing champion to “quit while you’re ahead”—not unreasonable advice by any measure. But, we were rapped by a friend for saying what we honestly thought was a dignified thing for any celebrated athlete to do.

After all, there are limits to any man’s physical strength and endurance, regardless of how gifted he thinks he is—something’s gotta give!

Manny began fighting at age 12, and he’s been slugging it out for 23 years! Nadia Comaneci, John McEnroe and Michael Jordan knew it, and even legendary actress Greta Garbo thought it wise to leave the glare of the klieg lights gracefully. (Manny’s wife, Jinkee, discloses that her hubby wants to cap off his storied boxing career with a convincing win against his trash-talking arch-nemesis, Floyd Mayweather Jr.)

The Comeback Kid

Manny has become the accessible Comeback Kid that everybody can root for, but he’s also turned into a polarizing figure who galvanizes his naysayers and admirers alike, as well as observers like us who don’t care much about the bloody sport that Neeson describes as “ruthless and cruel.” Somehow, quoting biblical verses as you “reconfigure” your foe’s facial features just doesn’t add up!

The docu is a flattering and inspiring piece of biography that rolls with the punches. It begins with Pacquiao’s humiliating knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in 2011, just before it linearly chronicles Manny’s rise from zero to hero, astutely detailing his strengths and indiscretions—womanizing, gambling, etc.

Unknown to many, Pacquiao and his siblings were raised by his mother, Dionisia, in the shadow of war—the 5-year-old kid had to leave behind his poverty-stricken life in the hills of Sarangani after a bloody skirmish between NPA rebels and military men during martial law.

He dropped out of school in sixth grade to feed his family, honed his first punches with the help of his uncle, Sardo Mejia, and hopped on a boat to Manila at 13 to train as a boxer in Malabon. At 16, he lied about his age to be able to fight professionally and begin his ascent to superstardom. Boxing was his way out of abject poverty. The rest is history!

The docu features cameos from Mark Wahlberg, Jeremy Piven, Jimmy Kimmel, Will Ferrell, Imelda Marcos, sports analysts and the always spot-on Winnie Monsod, who pointedly talks about Manny’s distracting forays into acting (“Wapakman,” “Anak ng Kumander”), hosting, politics and singing. And, where there’s huge money involved, can opportunists and fair-weather “friends” be far behind?

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The film works because of its relaxed sense of humor. It doesn’t just praise its subject’s achievements—it points out that part of what makes Pacquiao click are his imperfections: Manny’s recording session with Dan Hill (for their duet, “Sometimes When We Touch”) is particularly hilarious—Hill’s facial reaction is priceless when Pacquiao chooses to end the tune with a birit, because it’s contradictory to the high praise he heaps on his singing partner!

Manny Pacquiao really has a hard time knowing when to quit—which is probably why he’s so successful. After all, he isn’t the Philippines’ most relentless fighter for nothing!

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TAGS: Boxing, Documentary, Liam Neeson, Manny Paquiao, sports
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