20 years after former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine, Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao has attained the same feat. A month after several typhoons devastated the Philippines, "Pacman" is featured on the cover of TIME Magazine (Asia edition). All regions of the publication will feature a story on the pound-for-pound boxing icon this weekend.
Titled "The Great Hope" the General Santos City's appearance on the cover is historic for any sports athlete. The last Filipino featured on the cover was the late President Corazon Aquino. She was named TIME Magazine's "Woman of the Year" in 1986, for toppling the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Only nine boxers have ever been featured on the cover of TIME. Reserved for Popes, presidents, Nobel Prize winners, and societal feats, the publication decided to shine the spotlight on the Philippine hero. The tale? Clawing out of the abyss of homelessness, dropping out of elementary school to support his family, and participating in local fights for a purse of $2 - if he won. On some days, he slept on cardboard boxes and ate one meal a day consisting only of rice.
Pacquiao worked menial odd jobs. After running away to Manila as a young teenager, Pacquiao would begin to hone his pugilistic skills. His ferocious drive bludgeoned with distinct clarity the faces of his ring opponents. They represented nothing more than the extreme adversities which he long sought to overcome. On the flight back home after his demolition of Oscar de la Hoya (Manny was a 2-1 underdog going into the fight), he declared "Nothing is impossible, so long as you keep God in your heart and in your mind." That message is a rallying cry for a struggling people. Today, he makes his mark as an all-time great. He remains a gentleman outside of the ring. Out of the many legendary fighters to have fought in the last 25 years, Mike Tyson was the last boxer featured (in 1988). The likes of Oscar de la Hoya, Roy Jones, Jr., Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Julio Cesar Chavez, and Evander Holyfield were not. Prior to Tyson, Muhammad Ali was last on the cover in 1978. "What is happening to me now is the most humbling experience of my life. It is a great honor for me to be the face of my people and to let everyone know we are a small but mighty country. I have great pride for all of the Filipinos living throughout the world and it is these people that I fight for each and every time I step into the ring."
Manny Pacquiao's significance on and to Philippine society may never be overstated - or entirely understood by the West. And he is only 30. The West cuts down and cannibalizes its own role models. In the East, heroes are praised and elevated - especially upon the retention of original values and virtues. Michael Jordan, widely considered the greatest basketball player, appeared on TIME's cover once (in 1998). (Other Athletes on TIME Magazine Cover) Pacquiao's humility, generosity, and faith are qualities that resonate with his people. For the West, who also struggles under a deep economic recession, he provides an opportunity to reflect upon its mores of brashness, ego, and obsession on self-interest. In a recent interview on Philippine GMA News at a church in Los Angeles, Pacquiao said he not only prays for himself but for all of his opponents in the ring. That includes a prayer for his next opponent on November 14th. Proverbs 22:4 may aptly describe the examplar: "By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, and honour, and life."
Should the Filipino emerge triumphant in his bout with Puerto Rico's welterweight champion Miguel Cotto, he will have become the only fighter in the long history of the sport to secure seven world titles in seven different weight classes. Many expect it to be a tough fight against another larger opponent. (9 Legendary Boxers on TIME Cover) In seeking boxing immortality, Manny Pacquiao discloses the attributes of a man that on a daily basis choose large, historic challenges. He intends to permanently retire from boxing in 2010 and run for congress in the Philippines in May next year. The struggle lives on. Inspiration marches alongside.