Fear and nervousness in Las Vegas with Manny

Two firsts for me — my first visit to Las Vegas, and my first time, too, to watch the great Manny Pacquiao fight. The latter was the cause of the former, something I am very grateful for. In many ways and in hindsight, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I did not see much of Vegas, really, but I am not complaining; the Pacman, after all, is what we really trooped there for. And he dished out enough excitement to make up for all the stops this particular trip could not accommodate. The rest of Las Vegas can wait — for another time soon, perhaps.

I have seen Manny fight a couple of times before, generally from our couch across the TV set at home, with other nervous bodies beside me. And even if the general lot were always more than just half-convinced he would make it through breezily each time, I’d still get nervous for him. I think maybe in some way we all always are and always will be, if only because we want so badly for him to make it each time. Not to say that Manny still had anything to prove before that fight, and even less to prove at this point.

After the experience I can still say — and very lightly at that — that if I only had a thousand dollars left in my bank account, I would spend all of it on a ticket. In a heartbeat. Again, I say this as a joke, but a half-serious one (the pull of practicality in this recession is what makes it not entirely serious). You have to experience the excitement of being ringside, the sheer joy of watching Pacquiao fight like a true warrior — and win — to understand why I say what I say. I’m not quite sure though if this sentiment would still hold true if the outcome hadn’t been what it was. Would it? Should it? I really don’t know. Maybe not.

At any rate, it’s like seeing a glorious photo of your favorite cake in the pages of a glossy magazine. Unless you go out and get a slice of the real thing, beholding it with your eyes and appetite is joy enough. But nothing beats actually tasting it, and all the anticipation for it makes the first and last bites all the more delicious. That’s how it was for me, and for thousands of other first-timers perhaps, on the day of the fight. Nothing beats it. It is an experience all its own, being right there, in the flesh, in the place where all the throbbing excitement happens.

The Brits were obviously prepared; they came with both band and chants ready. Few of the 20,000-plus Brits knew each other by name, yes, but they were all friends in that they were rooting for just one person, and shouting out just one name: Ricky Hatton.

True to form, the Pinoy fans were less organized. By that I mean each group had a different chant, there was no band; there was just a lone man in our area distributing paper sheets by hand, with a printed chant for Pacquiao to be sung to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down (with words that read, naturally, “Ricky Hatton’s falling down…”). But what we lacked in preparedness we more than made up for in grit, spirit and adaptability. The Pinoys graciously clapped along with the Brits, allowing them their band and their chant, but just when they are about to scream “Hatton” at the end, the Filipinos would deafeningly shout out in unison “Pacquiao!” No one told any of the Pinoys to do it; we all just sort of picked it up. Too bad for them our hero also had just two syllables to his last name. So in that light, I guess, I have to take back what I said because, in effect, we did have a chant. And a band. We simply squatted on theirs.

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The odds were all stacked in Manny’s favor but still you don’t want to take any chances. Hatton looked every inch the brawler the media made him out to be. He was off to a good, brave start, fighting hard, raging in like a stong, hard bull. He did not seem careful, he seemed fearless: two things that probably did him in. I am no expert in boxing and I have little knowledge of one technique from the next, but if you looked at Hatton, you’d be scared for Manny too. Manny smiles a lot and he always looks good-natured. Plus he is not an arrogant or glib talker. If you ask him what his chances are, he will just say he will do his best. He never says it is a sure thing. Hatton, on the other hand, was very confident, I think overly so. And he has very strong, sharp features that add to that general aura. He does not really smile as much as Manny does, though he is ripped, and sturdy, and quick. He did not seem wobbly nor did his muscles seem jiggly, the way Oscar de la Hoya’s did when Manny last met him in the ring. And he actually came out in a very star-like get-up, which I loved — sequined shorts with matching vest that would have to take someone only very secure in his masculinity (other than a rock star) to pull off. Well, no doubt about it, Ricky Hatton is obviously very male. I loved his costume, and he was quite the showman in that aspect.

Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t enough to blind and distract the great Manny Pacquiao. The fight and the suspense lasted way too short for even a nervous onlooker like me but, hey, that is how the cookie crumbled. Can’t complain, really, especially in light of the glorious result.

The feeling of all Filipinos around the world is one and the same. When Manny wins, you feel like you have won as well, even if he does not know you from Adam. That is just the magic of sports. Your idol’s victory feels like your own victory, too, and you walk out of the arena with dance in your step. It feels like your heart wants to skip out and do somersaults in front of anyone, you smile back at everything and everyone, the T-shirt vendor making a killing in sales, the posters, the trees. You don’t care, you’re just too happy. It is a priceless feeling, worth so much more than the price of premium seats to the fight.

More than being a champion, so much more than being just the great warrior we all know him to be, way over and beyond that, it is his ability to inspire that makes Manny Pacquiao larger than life. That immortalizes him. That makes him adorable. Almost as adorable as Nanay Dionisia. What can I say, you just can’t help rooting for the guy.

Our friend Clemen who, along with Richard, was able to join the Mass right before the fight said Manny was called to speak at front and pray for his intentions. Ever the humble guy, his prayer was for him to be able to do his best and for none of the fighters to be seriously hurt in any way. The priest’s prayer was different. He supplicated that every punch from heaven be like a punch from God.

Well, we all know how the fight played out ultimately. I’d really like to meet that Pinoy priest and ask him to pray for my intentions.

As for Martin, after all that has been said about his performance, I personally thought he rendered it beautifully. In the arena, while he was singing it, Pinoys were visibly moved, some even had tears in their eyes. We were all singing along and meaning every word of it. Martin held his own beside the great Tom Jones and I’m just so happy that he finally broke the supposed curse of a male singer performing the Philippine national anthem for Manny’s fight. Superstition has a way of putting stress on people who rightfully deserve none. Plus all this hoopla about the “right” or “wrong” way to sing it. I hope they just let up on Martin and move on already. He is one of the best talents we have, let’s celebrate that and be happy for the guy.

I do still look forward to visiting Las Vegas again, to watch the lovely shows and explore more of what the city has to offer, with or without the fever of a good fight. But I tell you, there couldn’t have been a better first time to be there.

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