190926 manny pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao promises a weekend to remember for basketball-crazy Filipino community in UAE as MPBL makes its breakthrough show overseas with the Dubai Invasion 2019. Image Credit: DSC

Dubai: Accommodating. That, for sure, can sum up the life and time of Filipino boxing legend Manny Dapidran Pacquiao.

From those early years of going without food at times, the Philippines’ most-loved son has gone on to etch his name forever in the annals of sport and society. Born on December 17 to Dionesia and Rosalio, he was raised in Kibawe, located in the Bukidnon province of Mindanao.

While just a teenager, Pacquiao left his family and boarded a ship to Manila with the hope of training and launching a career as a boxer. He stepped into the ring for his debut against Edmund Ignacio in January 1995 — winning the bout in a unanimous decision.

And, Manny Pacquiao had arrived.

This aspect of being of the people and for the people was once again on display when Pacquiao visited the Dubai Sports Council’s (DSC) headquarters in the Dubai Design District, on Thursday.

He landed at 4am at the Dubai International Airport. With just a couple of hours in-between, Pacquiao was on one of the local radio stations for a live interview starting 8am. After that, he landed at the DSC headquarters in D3 on time to address waiting media.

During the course, and later, Pacquiao was mobbed by literally anyone and everyone who was present in D3’s Building No. 6. But he took everything in stride — not once even showing an inkling of impatience with any of the fans. Such is the guile of Pacquiao, be it inside or out of the ring.

“Anytime I go around here, everyone explains to me the story of Dubai. I think I want to be here more often. Who knows, maybe even buy a property here,” Pacquiao told the gathering of media.

In the ring, it is Pacquiao’s impeccable footwork, speed and quick jabs that have kept boxing fans on their feet. And then, there’s his endearing smile, charm and chiselled physique — things that have put him on a pedestal possibly like no one else before in the Philippines.

In 2003, he was voted the Philippines’ Person of the Year over President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He was also named “Fighter of the Decade” for the 2000s by the Boxing Writers Association of America, among the various other honours.

In February 2015, it was announced that Pacquiao would fight undefeated American Floyd Mayweather at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on May 2, 2015. This was billed as the “Fight of the Century,” mainly due to the long-anticipated bout between the era’s two signature boxers. Despite fighting with an injured right shoulder, Pacquiao gamely went after Mayweather but was unable to land many effective punches, finally losing a unanimous decision to drop his record to 57-6-2.

Following another loss, to Australia’s Jeff Horn in July 2017, it seemed that the former champion was nearing the end of the road of his boxing career. However, after a year off, Pacquiao scored a seventh-round knockout of Argentina’s Lucas Matthysse, showing that he remained a formidable presence in the ring.

“I can still fight and I will fight on till I can,” Pacquiao smiled when asked home many more fights he’s got left in him.

“I am here to entertain and I am here to make people happy,” he nodded.

And that’s exactly what brings Pacquiao to the UAE with his Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBA), this weekend. Established on August 29, 2017, the league is today both a regional commercial and barangay-level competition with teams on the commercial side having a home playing facility in addition to a corporate sponsor.

An avid basketball fan, Pacquiao will feature in an exhibition match at 6pm on each day at the Hamdan Sports Complex.

There will be other celebrities in action during the event including one-time PBA league MVP Jayjay Helterbrand, Filipino-American actor Gerald Anderson and Derek Ramsay, the British-born Filipino actor along with Pacquiao’s brother, Bobby.

It will be the MPBL’s first trip to the Middle East. And Pacquiao, who is boxing’s only eight-division champion and a sitting senator in his homeland, has seen his pet project grow from ten teams to an astounding 31 in a mere two years.

Other than that, three MPBL teams — inaugural champions Batangas City Athletics, Imus Bandera and Davao Occidental Tigers — will be contesting regular-season games.

“I expect some of the people to leave without attending the two main basketball matches,” a fan at the media briefing observed.

“Everyone who comes will be there to see Manny. Once he finishes, they will leave” she vouched.

That is the power of a true sportsman. That is the inspiration of one man standing tall on his own terms.