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  • 12/28/11: N.Y. Times Manny Pacquaio Article

    Mon, January 02, 2012 9:51 am MDT

    The Champion Drops His Mask

    On his rise to boxing stardom, Manny Pacquiao often seemed invincible. He acted in movies, released albums filled with tender ballads and became a congressman in his native Philippines. Inside the ring, he bloodied larger men, knocked others out cold, even shattered the orbital bone in one opponent’s face.

    Ever the master multitasker, Pacquiao has proven he can do anything — except record a definitive victory over Juan Manuel Marquez.

    After their third fight, in November, Pacquiao retreated inside Locker Room No. 2 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. On that night, even as Pacquiao captured a controversial majority decision, his larger-than-life aura had been stripped. As he lay on a wooden table, he looked vulnerable, puzzled, sore and, ultimately, human. He called for his wife, Jinkee, and wrapped her arm in a vise grip.

    His blue T-shirt screamed UNDISPUTED CHAMPION. His face provided the contradiction.

    In boxing, there are no teammates, no timeouts, no substitutions. Just two men, one ring, one goal: to put fists to face. For Pacquiao to strut inside that ring in typical fashion, without fear, he must transform from the jovial prankster who sings “Sometimes When We Touch” into a dangerous man in a dark place.

    Inside his locker room in November, Pacquiao transformed back. That was the snapshot that lingered later. Pacquiao, deathly afraid of needles, cringing as Dr. Jeffrey Roth sewed 28 stitches to close the gash that ran diagonally through the champion’s right eyebrow. Pacquiao, absent the usual small-city-size entourage, reciting the Ten Commandments. Pacquiao, his face bruised like an overripe tomato, speaking to his wife in their native tongue, pleading almost.

    “I like this Manny better,” his wife’s friend whispered as Pacquiao, eyes closed, blood dripping from his bottom lip into his mouth, nodded.

    “Born again,” the friend added. “Nice Manny.”

    For a few minutes, Pacquiao entered a state of Zen. He spoke like a philosopher about life and marriage, about family, about faith. He didn’t mention boxing as reporters waited upstairs for his news conference, for an explanation of what happened.

    The minute Pacquiao rose, he began to change again, as if putting back on his public face. He donned a fedora and a dress shirt and sang in front of a mirror. He made jokes in a British accent. He shadowboxed.

    “You look as good as you did before, champ,” his adviser, Michael Koncz, said.

    With that, the moment of vulnerability passed. Pacquiao became the champion again. He walked with a swagger up the stairs, into the news conference. He acted as confident as ever.

    “It’s very clear I won the fight,” he said.

    — Greg Bishop

    Read the Memories From the Year in Sports article that mentions Las Vegas's own boxing plastic surgeon Dr. Roth!

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