Manny Pacquiao's real story outweighs all the hype

With Manny Pacquiao, it is hard to see the forest for the trees.

If sports have a say, he is the eighth wonder of the world. He is to boxing what Tiger Woods, pre-driveway accident, was to golf.

When he walks into a room, you expect his feet to be touching only water. After his Nov. 13 fight in Dallas against Antonio Margarito, he will either attend a news conference or feed the multitudes with five loaves and two fishes.

Anybody collecting a paycheck in the sport, from Bob Arum to the guys sweeping the floors after the fights, should be lighting candles under his picture. Boxing can't live on the die-hards and geeks alone, and Pacquiao delivers the rest of the sporting world.

Boxing, perhaps more than any other sport, needs superstars. Pacquiao became one by pummeling the incumbent on Dec. 6, 2008. They stopped that one in the eighth round and Oscar De La Hoya said the other day, "He was so fast and so good and when he had me against the ropes, I was just wishing he'd finish me, knock me out."

De La Hoya was in the twilight then, more than even he wanted to admit, he says now. He had carried the sport for years, his East-L.A.-to-Olympic dreams the kind of rags-to-riches stuff that keeps the headlines big and the TV lights bright.

If anything, Pacquiao's story is even more compelling. De La Hoya is a movie, Pacquiao a two-year TV miniseries. Much of it has been told, in bits and pieces. Step-back overviews are infrequent.

There was the young man, leaving home in General Santos City in the far south of the Philippines, because his family could no longer afford to feed him. There were nights in the big city of Manila, spent sleeping outside on mats, days spent scrounging for food, more days trying to master the art of punching people in a ring before they punch you.

From that came a young 106-pound fighter who has grown and now has won seven world titles in seven divisions and is looking for No. 8, at 150 pounds, against Margarito.

Oh, yes. He also was elected to a congressional seat in the Philippines, at age 31.

The totality of this, viewed from a vantage point that allows the entire picture to be taken in, is eye-opening.

The buzz of the sport's marketing machine and the demands of his daily world deflect that big picture. Right now, the need to sell pay-per-view buys prompts a promotional resurrection of the talents of Margarito, who, in reality, got his head handed to him by Shane Mosley in January 2009, and plodded to victory against an overmatched Roberto Garcia in Mexico in May.

We hear Margarito is five inches taller than Pacquiao, that he is in the best shape of his life, that he is determined to defend the honor of Mexican fighters, because so many have climbed in the ring with Pacquiao and left with cuts, bruises and defeats.

Pacquiao enters the Wild Card gym in Hollywood this week and walks into a sauna of reporters and groupies with press privileges. There are not as many news outlets in the world as there are cameras in trainer Freddie Roach's sweaty barn atop a strip mall. Pacquiao smiles his bemused smile and carries on.

The reporters who actually serve a public beyond are ushered into a side room that is a claustrophobic steam bath. The questions dwell on the negatives, the likely distractions of a congressional job when training for a fight, the rumors of injuries and less-than-productive training sessions in the Philippines before he came here.

Pacquiao smiles, answers some questions, tap-dances around others with pat responses about trying hard and doing good things for the people of the Philippines. He is a master at leaving the impression that his English isn't quite grasping the more complicated questions. That's probably incorrect.

He knows, perhaps better than anybody except his promoter, Arum, that these are prime weeks of selling. He understands the need to create doubt about the outcome. That's why maybe the best thing that ever happened to the sport was Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson. That allowed boxing, henceforth, to preach that you never know, that the invincible might not be.

That allows the premise that Margarito might beat Pacquiao. The more honest premise might be that he is simply a placeholder, somebody plugged into the spot meant for Floyd Mayweather Jr., so Pacquiao could get another fight this year. Boxing has mastered the art of producing great paydays from less-than-great fights.

We will know after about four rounds in Dallas. Trainer Roach, a rarity in boxing in that he is both honest and hype-proof, says, "We don't have any weaknesses in this fight. This guy is made to order for us."

When it's over in Dallas, seconds will pass before the story moves on to what is next: Pacquiao-Mayweather? Pacquiao-Margarito II?

That noise will drown out all else, including what a truly amazing story Pacquiao is.

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