Text, photos and videos by Ted Regencia
CHICAGO — Nobody can fire up a crowd of Filipinos in Chicago more than boxing champion Manny Pacquiao. Not even Chicago’s very own senator and presidential candidate, Barack Obama.
On his first visit to the Windy City on Wednesday, May 21, the WBC super featherweight champion sent his Filipino fans into a frenzy as they warmly welcomed their hometown hero during a chilly noontime pep rally.
Pacquiao is in a multi-city tour to promote his June 28 fight against another champion, WBC lightweight titleholder David Diaz. He is also in a chase to become the first ever Filipino and Asian to hold four titles in four divisions.
“Thank you to all Filipinos, my countrymen,” Pacquiao said, as his fans of about two hundred, interrupted him with roaring cheers. “It’s very nice to be here in Chicago. It is my first time to be here and I am surprised by your warm welcome.
Earlier, at a news conference, Pacquiao vowed to “give a good fight for the honor of our country, in the name of Jesus Christ.” He said that he is making progress with his training, adding that he currently has four sparring partners.
One of the earliest fans who greeted Pacquiao in Chicago was pharmacy technician, Rey Ramos, originally from Davao City. He wore a specially-designed “Pacman” headgear in honor of his hero.
“I had to miss work today in order to see Manny in person, and welcome him to Chicago,” Ramos said. “I’m really a huge fan. I’m from Chicago, but everytime Manny has a fight, we always go to Las Vegas.”
Another Chicagoan Steve Ravino, originally of Roxas City, could not wait for the rally to meet Pacquaio. He sneaked into the press conference held at a restaurant, and managed to have his photo taken with the boxing sensation from General Santos City.
A number of Filipino office workers in the downtown Chicago area also spent their lunch break, cheering for Pacquiao.
One of the most prominent Pacquiao fans who showed up was former North Cotabato governor, now Vice Governor Manny Pinol.
Pinol, who is in the US to visit a family member, said that he is “very proud” of Pacquiao’s achievements.
“I’m proud because Manny has this character of not forgetting the people who were able to help him in the past,” said Pinol, one of the earliest personalities who supported Pacquaio as a young boxer. “One thing I appreciate about Manny is his ability to remember people who helped him along the way. And this is a virtue that we seldom see today.”
Of his upcoming fight, Pinol said that it could reveal “a lot of unknowns” about Pacquaio as a fighter. “I would like to see him fight a lefty. I’d like to know how Manny would take the body-punching of Diaz.”
Chicago native, David Diaz was not to be outdone, bringing with him his family including his mother and father and a band of supporters some wearing specialized “Team Diaz” vests and jackets.
“It’s gonna be an all-out war between Manny and myself. Manny is a straightforward fighter as I am, and we’re both going to go at it. But the only thing that’s going to happen there is I am going to win the fight,” Diaz said. “We’re going to bring back the belt to Chicago.”
“Hopefully the Filipino people out there can forgive for that, but I can’t allow it [Pacquaio victory],” he said. “We’ve been in this situation before. This is not a strange territory for me. We’ve been the underdog, but we’ve managed to somehow, someway come out with a victory and I don’t see why we can’t do it on June 28. May the best man win, and I believe that man’s is going to be me.”
Meanwhile, boxing promoter Bob Arum lavished his praise of Pacquiao saying he is a “consummate fighter” and a “great professional” He also called Diaz “a real gentleman.”
“It’s gonna be one of the most exciting fights that we’ve seen: Two guys who do nothing, but keep punching. Manny is the faster guy. David is the bigger and stronger guy, so it’s gonna be one of the classic fights of our time.”
Last year, Diaz, 31, (34-1-1, 17 KOs), successfully defended his title by defeating another Mexican star Erik Morales, whom Pacquiao also defeated in the past.