Wall Street Journal on Manny Pacquiao and Tiger Woods

There have been a lot of great articles written about Manny Pacquiao after he defeated Antonio Margarito last Sunday. This piece by Jason Gay of Wall Street Journal online has to be one of the better ones.

He’s back— humbly, weirdly. This week, nearly one year after the Fender Bender that Freaked the Planet, the rehabilitating Tiger Woods emerged again as a media citizen, offering a conciliatory essay in Newsweek (a publication also amid a drastic renovation), a perky morning radio interview with ESPN, and a Twitter baptism that read like a Vulcan crashing a tailgate party. “What’s up everyone,” Mr. Woods wrote. “Finally decided to try out Twitter.”

As a reentry, it was better than Mr. Woods’s stiff round of confessionals last spring, but it still felt choreographed and soaked in self-helpy aphorisms (“I’m not the same man I was a year ago.”) It’s nice to hear Mr. Woods claim he is happier, but was anyone still needing an update? We’re fatigued by the unsolicited amends. We just want to see him play better golf.

Amid Mr. Woods’s strange anniversary celebration, we couldn’t help but think of another superstar athlete, one who appears to be everything Tiger’s fans and enablers hoped he would be, but wasn’t: Manny Pacquiao.

Like Mr. Woods, Mr. Pacquiao is bigger than his sport. Like Tiger, he is a global icon, whose influence and talents are described in hushed tones. Mr. Pacquaio is considered by many to be the dominant fighter of his generation—he’s won eight different titles in eight different weight classes, the latest coming last Saturday, when he dissected Antonio Margarito, who was five inches taller and 17 pounds heavier. Mr. Pacquiao’s only unrealized goal is a date with the undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr., a worthy rival who seems content to delay and self-destruct.

Mr. Pacquiao, like Mr. Woods, is a Nike paragon. But in the Pac-Man’s case, the largeness of the image feels earned. As he redefines his sport, Mr. Pacquiao is also serving as a Congressman in the Philippines. This job has been characterized by some as a dilettantish distraction, but those close to the fighter describe him as genuinely torn between the ring and politics. “He takes [Congress] really, really seriously,” Mr. Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, said recently. “He’s a different person there.”

As a sports personality, Mr. Pacquiao is hardly solemn. He can be a childish prankster, quick to tweak his handlers or duet alongside Will Ferrell on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” He is most comfortable in a crowd, whether he’s being mobbed in his poor hometown, at the mike of a karaoke bash or shepherding dozens of extended family and friends on a chartered 757 for a fight. While Mr. Woods inhabits a strictly-controlled bubble, Mr. Pacquiao seems happiest when his overcrowded life teeters on chaos.

This unflappability has served him well in boxing, where cheap shots are a ritual. Mr. Margarito mocks Mr. Roach’s struggle with Parkinson’s Disease? Mr. Pacquiao lets it roll right off. Floyd Mayweather attacks Mr. Pacquiao as a “yellow chump”? Rolls off. Boxer Bernard Hopkins ludicrously suggests Pac-Man is avoiding African-American fighters? Rolls off. Mr. Pacquiao—at 147 pounds —is always the bigger man.

Boxing can be a brutal sport—Mr. Margarito went to the hospital on Saturday after Mr. Pacquiao smashed his orbital bone. But the Pac Man enters a boxing match with a happy curiosity that makes a fight feel like an act of joy. When he unlocks an opponent’s weakness, you can almost see him smile, because it’s over. His gift is staggering but human, and a pleasure to behold. That’s a sensation that Tiger Woods desperately needs to recover, and he won’t find it on Twitter.

It’s really good to hear people giving Pacquiao the props that he absolutely deserves. The world is finally seeing that Pacquiao is a man and a half.

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