World Agenda

Last updated: 25 november, 2010 - 15:07 GMT

Meeting Manny Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao meets BBC boxing correspondent Mike Costello

Manny Pacquiao meets BBC boxing correspondent Mike Costello

The BBC’s boxing correspondent Mike Costello describes his adventurous trip to the Philippines to secure a rare interview with national boxing and now political icon Manny Pacquiao.

Manny Pacquiao’s training camps are chaotic. He thrives on mayhem.

But, just as when he’s in the ring, he appears to see situations much more clearly than anyone else.

The promises made regarding how much time we could spend with him are getting lost in the bedlam. He is due to be best man at a friend’s wedding later that day, we are told, and he will have to dash off immediately after training.

We are in danger of missing out on the interview that would make or break our whole project.

Universal appeal

We had seen Pacquiao at work, throwing punches faster than the eye can see and the fingers can count, and now he was revealing what was under the shell.

BBC boxing correspondent Mike Costello

Our mission to interview Pacquiao began in the capital of the Philippines, Manila. Everywhere people were milling around, wanting to talk – and shout – about Manny Pacquiao.

At one point we were dragged into a police station close to a marketplace in the city. Were we causing a disturbance or perhaps not have permission to record here?

It turned out that even the officer on duty at the station front desk wanted to have his say on Pacquiao.

He endorses what all Filipinos have told us – that the country comes to a standstill when the man is fighting. And he confirms suggestion that, as Pacquiao trades punches, the crime rate in the Philippines drops. He appeals to everyone.

Multi-talented

In the history of sport, rarely has one man had such an effect on his country.

Now 31, “Pac-Man” has won world titles (or the equivalent) in eight weight divisions – a feat never before attempted, never mind achieved.

Mike Costello recording outside a church in Manila, Philippines

Mike Costello recording outside a church in Manila, Philippines

Earlier this year he became a Congressman, winning control of his local province of Sarangani.

There were fears among his closest aides – in boxing and politics – that he was spreading himself too thinly.

And yet, earlier this month, he produced one of the finest performances of his career to beat the much bigger Mexican boxer Antonio Margarito. The deification of Pacquiao multiplied.

Super typhoon

Pacquiao is a difficult man to pin down, especially in the build-up to a big fight. He could agree to conduct endless interviews throughout the day and still not meet the demand for his time and thoughts.

We arrived in Manila in late October, as his preparations for the fight against Margarito were reaching maximum intensity. And our arrival in Manila coincided with the onset of super typhoon Juan.

His training camp was set up in Baguio City, a five-hour drive high up in the mountains outside Manila – which was forecast to be in the typhoon’s path.

We began to worry whether we could get to him before, or even after, the storm.

Time pressure

Mike Costello battled through floods caused by typhoon Juan when travelling to interview Manny Pacquiao

Mike Costello battled through floods caused by typhoon Juan when travelling to interview Manny Pacquiao

As it happened, Pacquiao was trapped in Baguio City when Juan hit and, just as he couldn’t get out, we couldn’t get in.

Taking advice, the Red Cross told us not to travel, especially at night, while Billy, the Irish chef at our hotel maintained it was “only a few drops of rain”.

If we didn’t go, we didn’t get Pacquiao. The dilemma was, go too soon and we risked getting caught in the storm, delay too long and we ran out of time and budget.

Thankfully, fortune favoured us, we beat the weather and got to the training camp.

Personal journey

With the time pressure on and the training session coming to an end we decided, as Pacquiao left the ring, that it was time to pounce.

Expecting to be ushered away by his advisers, I stood at the foot of the stairs leading down from the ring and, as Pacquiao wiped streams of sweat from his brow, face and shoulders, I explained that we had travelled to interview him, based on promises from his team management.

At that point I thought he could have brushed me aside, his working day was done.

But instead he sat and spoke for 20 minutes about his personal journey, his faith and his country.

He told the others in the gym to be quiet. He was doing an interview and he would make sure it was done properly and respectfully.

Lives transformed

Manny Pacquiao in training

Manny Pacquiao in training

We had seen Pacquiao at work, throwing punches faster than the eye can see and the fingers can count, and now he was revealing what was under the shell.

He and his closest friend told us how, as kids, they slept in cardboard boxes. Now their beds stand on marble floors.

So much in their lives has changed and yet somehow Pacquiao hasn’t.

Memories of hardship still serve as the fuel that drives his boxing and his politics, and he wants to transform the lives of others too.

At times like this, I’ll admit it’s hard to separate the fan from the reporter.

All photographs by Sunshine De Leon

You can hear Mike's interview with Manny Pacquiao in this week's Friday documentary on BBC World Service or by clicking click here

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