“Manny Pacquiao is a storm!” – HBO Commentator Jim Lampley
Since first hitting U.S. airwaves, Manny Pacquiao has been shocking and exciting boxing fans. His transformation from obscure little man fighter to global icon and boxing legend is one of the greatest stories in the annals of boxing, if not all sports history.
Capturing such a life in any self-contained documentary seems like a Sisyphean task – something destined only for criticism because of the inherent impossibility of the goal. If anyone could be up to the task, however, it would be the same man who brought sports fans, “When We Were Kings,” a documentary about Muhammad Ali’s legendary triumph over the Chronos-esque destroyer George Foreman. Leon Gast was the director of that Oscar-winning work about one of the most written about and discussed moments in boxing. If he could do that, then maybe he could also piece together a story that would be sufficiently wide in scope to capture the breathtaking accomplishments of Pacquiao while at the same time delving deep enough to resonate the emotions Pacquiao inspired and history he created.
Gast definitely delivers. One of the greatest accomplishments of the documentary is its ability to shed light on Pacquiao’s early years. Not those days and months after he got off a plane for the first time in the U.S. to fight on short notice for his first world title, but about the years that shaped the legend. In many ways the storm that Pacquiao would become resembled his turbulent youth and the chaos of the country surrounding him. The documentary brings viewers into the political turmoil in which Pacquiao was raised.
Pacquiao was born into war — a war against his family’s poverty and a bloody war between the federal army and armed rebels. At only five years old, Pacquiao witnessed his first slaughter. Rebels stopped by his hut, asking his mother where they could find water so high up on the mountain. She showed them. Only 30 minutes later, federal troops marched down the same path, asking if anyone had seen rebels in the area. Pacquiao’s mom denied having seen anything like that. The troops had not even walked 500 meters before they were gunned down in a cloud of gunfire. Once the gunfire had stopped, Pacquiao remembers seeing a rebel walk toward the thicket of bullet-ridden bodies, where the rebel cut the head off of a fallen soldier.
From there, the documentary follows Pacquiao to his first amateur fight to his move to Manila, where he lived in a gym, sleeping inside a ring and lying to local officials in order to get his boxing license at only 16. Gast takes viewers on an epic ride from Pacquiao’s unbelievable first fight against Lehlo Ledwaba to wars against Mexican champions and all-time greats.
Once at the more developed stage of Pacquiao’s career, the film does not shy away from touching on the more controversial figures in Pacquiao’s life, including the polarizing role and actions of Michael Koncz. Time is also given to detractors who feel that Pacquiao’s fame bought him a seat in the Filipino congress that he doesn’t deserve nor serves adequately.
No documentary about Pacquiao would be complete without: (1) going through the botched negotiations that have denied fans a matchup against Floyd Mayweather and (2) dissecting the long history between Pacquiao and his ring foil, Juan Manuel Marquez. Both are covered with a fairly even hand. The presentation of the Mayweather ordeal leaves you as satisfied as a missed opportunity can, and the discussion of Marquez is sealed by perhaps the greatest right hand counter ever delivered against a legend.
Overall, the documentary is satisfying in a way that stories about all-time greats seldom are. For any serious boxing fan, or a casual sports enthusiast who can’t understand how this small Filipino became the most beloved athlete of a generation, “Manny” is a documentary not to be missed.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.