by Kieran Mulvaney
There is enough pressure from different sources on the shoulders of a professional prizefighter even at the best of times: maximizing his own physical and mental condition, making weight, dealing with the press, figuring out how best to neutralize an opponent's strengths and capitalize on his weaknesses. As Manny Pacquiao prepares for his pay-per-view clash with Brandon Rios this weekend, however, at least part of his thoughts are back in the Philippines, where his countrymen are just beginning their recovery from the devastating impact of typhoon Haiyan.
The congressman from Sarangani province could be forgiven for feeling distracted by the events back home; instead, he insists that he is more determined to succeed than ever.
"I'm more motivated for this fight, to win this fight because of what happened in the Philippines," he said this week. "My countrymen, I want to make them happy. To bring honor to my country."
While he may well wish he could have been there now to provide assistance to the storm's victims, he plans to plunge directly into relief efforts when the fight is over. In the meantime, he has directed his team to work on his behalf.
Though he's currently unable to provide assistance to the storm's victims in person, he has directed his team to work on his behalf. And when the fight is over, he plans to plunge directly into relief efforts himself.
"Even if the fight is not yet done, I've already sent my people there to give them relief goods," he explained. "They are now in the area giving relief goods. But my plan is to visit them personally and bring more help."
It's not just his country that Pacquiao is fighting for; he is also arguably fighting for his professional life as well. Following two defeats in his last two outings – one, a points loss to Timothy Bradley in June 2012, highly disputed; the other, a knockout defeat to Juan Manuel Marquez in December, shockingly emphatic – another loss could bring down the curtain on a historic career.
Rios has said as much himself, but when Pacquiao was asked what he thought about his opponent's intent to retire him, Pacquiao was uncharacteristically barbed in his response.
"That's his opinion," he said. "He's not greater than God. Only God can tell me to retire."
It was a retort that only hinted at the simmering tensions between the two camps, tensions that spilled over with Wednesday's altercation between trainers in the gym. It is to Pacquiao's credit that, even after everyone else involved seemed interested only in ratcheting up the stakes at the final prefight press conference, he appealed for calm.
"No trash talk before the fight," he pleaded, even if that particular horse had long since bolted. "It's not a good example for those who follow boxing."
After all, one result of a tragedy such as Haiyan is that it can bring a sense of perspective: a realization that there are some fights worth having and others worth letting go, that in the grand scheme of things, some conflicts aren't as important as they seem, and that energies can be better saved for what really matters.