This story on No. 19 athlete Manny Pacquiao appears in the 20th anniversary issue of ESPN The Magazine. Subscribe today!
The particulars that will constitute the legend of Manny Pacquiao the boxer are already clear and indelible: professional debut as a junior flyweight in 1995, weighing 106 pounds.
Professional apogee in 2010 at a catchweight of 150 pounds. A bout in which he became the first fighter to win a world title in eight weight divisions, with five being lineal titles (another first). It is a feat with no real analogy and hardly any precedent.
Add the living memories that shape any athlete's legacy: his tetralogy with Juan Manuel Marquez, the way he made legends Oscar de la Hoya, Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto wilt under his arrhythmic, hurricane assault. The way he shuffle-bounced and punched himself into and out of range. Those can't be diminished, not by a lifeless defeat to his foil, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and not by Pacquiao's intention, against the counsel of those close to him, to keep fighting.
A born-again Christian, Pacquiao said in 2012 on Manila's DZMM radio that in a divine vision, God urged him to retire. "I will not stay long in boxing because he said: 'You have done enough ... this is harmful.'" Since then, he has a 5-4 record.
Still, whether the image of the fighter can survive the facts of the man is a proposition Pacquiao will spend his life testing. In 2016, Pacquiao, a casual homophobe, compared gay people to animals. His entry into politics is no less disconcerting. A Philippine senator, he has aligned with President Rodrigo Duterte, a strongman whom Human Rights Watch accuses of killing more than 12,000 people in his ongoing anti-drug war. Duterte has taken on Pacquiao as a sort of political heir, or useful mascot, dubbing him the "president-to-be."
The sinew of Pacquiao's life, its unifying burden, is the deprivation of his youth. His boxing career has been an attempt to redeem the memory of that poverty, his political career a grotesque revenge upon it.
Dotun Akintoye, an associate editor with The Mag, writes about the NFL, boxing and other hard-hitting topics. He was formerly an editor at O Magazine.