On April 12, Manny Pacquiao defeated Timothy Bradley to recapture the WBO welterweight title. Why is the boxer-turned-politician still relevant in popular culture?
It's more than just Pacquiao's historic achievements in boxing. The Filipino is a social icon because he is teaching us (through his example) the following lessons:
1. One can lead a good life after boxing.
Manny Pacquiao's transformation into a public servant and gentleman rescues him from post-retirement hell. By his example, he is showing there is salvation for prize fighters.
For most boxers, retirement means dealing with extreme challenges such as financial and moral bankruptcy; drinking, drug, and gambling addictions; spousal abuse; and physical altercations with fans.
Think Jake Lamotta; Mike Tyson; Arturo Gatti.
Pacquiao is defying this convention by showing us that fighters can lead the good life after walking away from a violent livelihood. The new Pacquiao may not be the savage aggressor who once knocked out Ricky Hatton or pummeled Miguel Cotto.
But he's not subject to eternal damnation either.
2. Fans love the good guy.
Pacquiao is recognized as a good guy, even by his opponents and detractors. Fans like to support a hero, and that makes the protagonist permanently appealing -- even when his physical abilities have diminished.
Boxers shouldn't seek fame through sensationalist stunts, because notoriety is temporary and they are soon forgotten. Think Adrien Broner.
In Proverbs, there are a couple of poignant insights: "No one can be established through wickedness, but the righteous cannot be uprooted."
And this: "When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy."
3. It's possible to be competitive while keeping your integrity.
Excelling in a blood sport is a curse because fighters get trapped by their bestial savagery.
At the office, our competitiveness leads us to unethical actions such as sabotaging the efforts of co-workers, and smearing other people's reputations in order to climb ahead. But this is petty and pathetic; it makes us small.
Think Lance Armstrong; Alex Rodriguez; and Barry Bonds.
Manny Pacquiao may be one of the most competitive people in the world, but he has maintained his moral foothold, character, and integrity.
For some, success is only about winning. The better approach is to succeed the right way.
4. People care that you care about them.
Theodore Roosevelt said, "Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."
Even near the end of his career, Pacquiao still generates worldwide interest because we know he genuinely cares about people.
When it comes to his pay-per-view events, it's no longer just about boxing. It's about watching someone we've grown to love all these years.
5. Our integrity and faith should define us; not public perception.
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, "Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful."
When Pacquiao unfairly lost to Bradley in 2012 (he landed nearly 100 more punches), The Filipino accepted the decision and expressed continued optimism for the future. "It's part of boxing," he said.
Losses are part of athletic competition. Indeed, in life losses are inevitable (such as the death of loved ones).
We should not be so obsessed with outside perceptions of fame and success that it becomes our prison. If we constantly give our best effort, there's nothing to regret, bemoan or second-guess.