It goes without saying that the sport of boxing loves an underdog tale, and you get served up a pretty damn good one in the life of Filipino pugilist (and congressman) Manny Pacquiao. Thursday's documentary about his life, MANNY may be verging on the hagiographic, but you can’t deny the pull of his extraordinary tale – and that perennially beatific smile.
The only boxer in history to win championships across an amazing eight weight classes, Pacquiao is most definitely a legend in his own lifetime, and one of my own personal favourite boxers ever. His perfect combination of speed, dedication, strength and straight up cojones has seen him take down men picked to annihilate him, and with style and grace.
As a film MANNY is largely chronological, with interviews and archival footage/photos used to introduce us first of all to the fighter’s early life growing up in poverty in rural Bukidnon. It follows him as he proceeds to kick off his career boxing for ridiculously small purses to help his family get ahead, and then on his road to life as a superstar in the sport after coming to the United States. We see him at the age of 14, when he moved to Manila behind his single mother’s back and lived for a time on the streets. There he started boxing for real and made the Philippine national amateur boxing team so his room and board were paid for by the government. In 1995, the death of a young aspiring boxer and close friend, Eugene Barutag, spurred the young Pacquiao to pursue a professional boxing career, which officially began when he was just 16 years old, stood at 4'11'' and weighed 98 pounds (7 pounds under the minimum weight division). He later admitted before American media that he put weights in his pockets to make the 105-pound weight limit.
A man who overcame insurmountable odds to become one of the most loved and respected athletes of all time, he is revered in the Philippines, where he sits in Congress. Despite massive US and worldwide successes he is devoted to his home country and still lives in General Santos City, South Cotabato. Tonight’s film MANNY delves into his political career somewhat, but I would have loved to know more about his policies and rumoured amazing achievements.
This isn’t the only area where I wished MANNY had given me more. Apart from the aforementioned vintage film and some pretty dazzling fight footage, it just skims over many topics seemingly ripe for deeper exploration. These include the clash between Manny's devout Christianity and his gambling and womanising ways; his promoter Bob Arum's purported role in blocking a bout against Floyd Mayweather; his brief career as an action hero; his rumoured steroid use and more. The film has been called “fawning” but I wouldn’t take it that far – just a little more detail would have made for a well-rounded tale.
What I did love however, were the little insights into Manny’s extra curricular activities (outside of clearly, gambling and cheating on his long-suffering wife), such as the pure joy he finds in singing. I loved the scene where Jimmy Kimmel recalls the time Pacquiao sang a duet with Will Ferrell on his TV show, and the associated footage is pure gold!
So in conclusion, despite a few passed over details and a terrifyingly banal, monotonous narration by Liam Neeson (why, oh why?!), MANNY is a great watch, especially if you’re a fan of the Pacman. It's nothing groundbreaking as a sports doc, but Pacquiao's warm personality and amazing story make it well worth your time on the couch.
MANNY premieres Thursday 8th September at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel