The Philippines rolled out the red carpet in a rock star reception Friday for pound-for-pound king and newly crowned World Boxing Organization welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao.
High-ranking officials and fans flocked to Manila’s international airport as the 30-year-old Pacquiao flew in five days after he demolished Puerto Rican champ Miguel Cotto to become the only fighter in history to win seven titles in as many weight classes.
His right hand and ear still bandaged, the future boxing hall of famer talked briefly about his fight, dodged questions about his love life and gently poked at his potential next opponent, the brash American Floyd Mayweather.
“We are not forcing a fight with him. It is right that he is the one challenging me, because my fights score more on pay per view,” a smiling Pacquiao told reporters with his wife, Jinkee, beside him and his three young children playing with his belts.
In the background, a banner read: “Welcome home, the world’s best boxer of all time.”
He said he first wanted to relax at his mansion in the southern island of Mindanao, before taking care of business — including filing his candidacy for a congressional seat.
A convoy of 20-plus vehicles escorted by police outriders whisked him to a hotel, arriving to wild cheers and a shower of confetti and balloons. He then had breakfast while enjoying a replay of the Las Vegas fight before motoring to a Catholic church in Manila’s Quiapo district to pray.
In a break with tradition, church officials allowed Pacquiao to deliver an inspirational message during the mass attended mostly by ordinary Filipinos who had waited for hours to catch a glimpse of the boxer.
“I live my life like every day is the last. I am proud for having attained this record,” he said.
“It is because of God and your prayers that I succeeded in my fights. I believe in the power of God, one hundred percent,” he said.
Pacquiao now has seven titles ranging from 50kg to 66kg (112 to 145 pounds). He weighed just 48kg in his pro debut in 1995 and captured his first title in the 50kg flyweight division.
Doubters who had initially questioned the Filipino’s power were silenced in December last year when he forced legendary Oscar de la Hoya to retire, followed by a devastating second-round knockout of Britain’s Ricky Hatton in May.
His victory over Cotto then cemented his reputation as the best pound-for-pound fighter, a title disputed by Mayweather, who once held that distinction.
Pacquiao is considered a national treasure in the Philippines, a boxing-mad nation of 92 million people, where police say even criminals and Muslim insurgents take the day off whenever his fights are carried on television.
He has also parlayed his boxing fame into a successful showbiz career, playing starring roles in top-rating movies and a television sitcom, and making him more popular than the president. His fame though has also brought him trouble. Earlier this week, he brushed off rumors his marriage was in trouble amid reports he flew a starlet to Las Vegas to watch him win.