Boxing fans in the Philippines cried foul and groaned in bitter disappointment on Sunday as national hero Manny Pacquiao lost to American rival Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the “Fight of the Century.”
Filipinos filled gymnasiums, cinemas and bars as the Southeast Asian nation of 100 million people stopped for Pacquiao’s battle with Mayweather in Las Vegas, which he lost in a unanimous points decision.
A devastated Pacquiao said immediately afterward that he thought he had won, and many at home agreed with him as they lashed out at the judges while heaping praise on their inspiration.
“Pacquiao was cheated. Mayweather didn’t land a single solid punch,” cable television technician Romeo Rivera, 41, told Agence France-Presse.
Rivera was among thousands of mostly poor people who had gathered in the main public square of Manila’s Marikina City suburb to watch the battle on a giant screen mounted on the back of a flat-bed truck.
In the southern port city of Zamboanga, loud boos echoed inside an Army gymnasium where thousands of soldiers and their relatives watched Pacquiao given just the sixth defeat of his career.
“The decision was unfair. From the start, the commentators were for Manny. Everyone is disappointed,” Lt. Col. Noel Precioso said as others nearby expressed similar sentiments.
Even the nation’s military chief, General Gregorio Catapang, weighed in with emotional comments immediately afterward.
“I think the decision was not fair. Like Manny said, he thought he was ahead [on]points. Both fought carefully but Manny was more aggressive. He was hitting Floyd,” Catapang said.
On social media, popular television host and swimsuit model Georgina Wilson expressed outrage to her 2.76 million Twitter followers: “Mayweather did nothing !!!!!!!!!!!!! Such a joke!!!!!!!!!!!!!”.
Pacquiao, 36, is a unifying figure in a country beset by grinding poverty, natural calamities and corruption.
His rags-to-riches story, from high school dropout to millionaire world boxing champion in an unprecedented eight weight divisions, is a huge source of hope and pride in the Philippines.
His fights throughout his career have caused the nation to grind to a halt, with nearly everyone stopping to watch them.
Famously, even crime has dropped to nearly nothing during Pacquiao fights.
President Benigno Aquino 3rd said before the Mayweather clash that Pacquiao, who has recorded 57 victories and two draws in his career, was an “inspiration for every Filipino.”
His spokesman Edwin Lacierda said immediately after the loss that it had not diminished Pacquiao’s standing.
“Pacquiao is truly the People’s Champ. He fought for respect, not points. He won the hearts of the world,” Lacierda noted in a statement.
Echoing the sentiments of many, Vice President Jejomar Binay said Pacquiao would still return home a hero.
“Manny’s life story lifts the spirit of every Filipino who struggle daily to rise from adversity. His humility and faith is an inspiration to all of us,” he also noted.
Pacquiao leveraged his boxing popularity to get elected as congressman in 2010 and he has said he may run for President of the Philippines in the future.
He is also a coveted endorser of international and local brands, making him currently the highest taxpayer in the Philippines.
And with the fight against Mayweather widely believed to be the most lucrative in boxing history with revenues of $400 million, Pacquiao is set to return home with far deeper pockets despite having been vanquished.
Many of Pacquiao’s colleagues in Congress expressed disappointment after his loss to Mayweather.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. commented, “It was a close fight. Manny did very well but without a KO or even knockdown, the decision usually goes to the local guy.”
For Marikina City (Metro Manila) Rep. Romero Quimbo, it was a very disappointing fight not only because Pacquiao lost but also because “Mayweather failed to fulfill his obligation to the boxing world with his running away-coward style [of boxing].”
But Pacquiao “remains the champion in our hearts,” Rep. Elidio Barzaga said.
Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab said, “I am sad with the judges decision. In my heart, it’s Manny Pacquiao who won the match!”
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone agreed, “Manny should have won.
He landed more good shoots. I think he was robbed of his victory.”
Manila Rep. Amado Bagatsing also believed that Pacquiao won, “No power punch from Floyd landed on Manny.”
Rep. Francisco Ashley Acedillo of Magdalo party-list said, “Manny gave all boxing fans a good fight. Although it was a unanimous decision, I don’t agree with how lopsidedly the judges scored it in favor of Mayweather.”
But while he felt that it should have been a draw or at least a split decision, Acedillo added that Pacquiao has again brought pride to the country when all is said and done.
Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento also shared the belief that Pacquiao won the fight but pointed out, “This is sports and we all have to accept the judges’ decision. Despite his loss, he remains our hero. He is still the pride of our nation.”
Rep. Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption (Cibac) said, “For Manny, even if he lost to Mayweather, we are proud of him because he unites our country and makes our country proud.”
Citing a quote attributed to Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who is considered the father of the modern Olympics, Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan said, “ ‘What really matters is not the triumph but the struggle.’ Manny struggled hard even in preparing for the fight so even if he did not emerge victorious, people’s champ still he is!”
a single game…Mayweather may [have]won the fight. But Manny has won the heart of the world,” he said.
“Whatever comes after this, may Manny continue his good work inside and outside the ring, as there is so much more he can do, with his whole life still ahead of him,” Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles of Davao City’s 1st district said.
AFP WITH REINA TOLENTINO