Boxing

Pacquiao's show mixes faith, gags, music

NewsCore The Wall Street Journal
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MANILA

Many people are accustomed to seeing Manny Pacquiao behaving a little unusually for a boxing champ.

There are the regular appearances on Jimmy Kimmel's late-night talk show and his musical duets with comedian Will Ferrell.

And there are the commercials Pacquiao films for his vegetable business — "pound for pound the best produce in the world," he says — to supplement his day job in the ring.

Regarded by many boxing aficionados as one of the sport's greatest-ever talents, Pacquiao, currently the World Boxing Organization welterweight champion, has been eying a career out of the ring for some time.

He says he expects to have two or three more fights before he retires, starting with Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas on June 9 and then, perhaps, his longtime rival, Floyd Mayweather Jr., if the two men can ever agree on financial terms for potentially the biggest payday in boxing history.

But back home in the Philippines, boxing is almost an afterthought as the impish, 33-year-old fine-tunes a hit weekly TV game show and plans for a larger-than-life role outside the ring.

Pitched somewhere between "Wheel of Fortune" and "American Idol," the prime-time show "Manny Many Prizes" might help him get elected president of the Philippines someday, his advisers predict.

The boxer himself has even higher hopes. He says it could turn him into a leading Christian evangelist after a religious reawakening, much as NFL quarterback Tim Tebow has done by exhibiting his faith to football fans and doing a little preaching on the side.

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"I just want this show to give people a chance, to encourage them, especially the poor people who need the word of God and the love of God," Pacquiao said as he prepared to host a fresh episode of his show recently.

"Manny Many Prizes" is a heady and, to the outsider, often disorienting, blend of Bible readings, thigh-slapping song-and-dance routines and trivia contests.

The key to the show is how it casts the soft-spoken, rags-to-riches winner of eight world boxing titles as a father figure for the nation.

Throughout "Manny Many Prizes," Pacquiao invites members of the audience to tell their tales of poverty, loss and perseverance. Many of their stories echo the boxer's own grim upbringing among the squalid bamboo hovels surrounding General Santos City in the war-racked islands of the southern Philippines.

Pacquiao often rewards them with gifts and sings a few songs. Members of the audience wave and shout "Ninong! Ninong!" the Filipino word for godfather.

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