Argentina’s Lucas Matthysse reacts after he was knocked down by Philippines’ Manny Pacquiao during their world welterweight boxing championship bout at Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur on July 15, 2018. Mohd RASFAN / AFP
Millions of boxing fans across the Philippines erupted in cheers and tears of joy on Sunday after national icon Manny Pacquiao beat Argentine Lucas Matthysse in a world title bout.
In the run-up to the fight 39-year-old Pacquiao was trailed by whispers that he was past his prime and doubts he would be able to best the big-punching Matthysse, who is four years his junior.
But when Pacquiao’s victory was sealed in the seventh round by knockout, fans around the nation of over 100 million jumped to their feet and roared with joy.
“I was confident he could do it. It’s not about his age,” Christopher Lasala, 39, told AFP in Manila. “I was so happy when he knocked out Matthysse, I kept clapping. I said I knew Pacquiao would win.”
Flora dela Paz, a life-long boxing fan, had tears streaming down her face as she watched Pacquiao raise his arms in victory.
“I am just so happy. I got goosebumps,” the 68-year-old retired shoemaker told AFP. “He won, he won!”
Pacquiao’s rags-to-riches story, from high school dropout to millionaire world boxing champion in an unprecedented eight weight divisions, is a huge source of pride in the Philippines.
‘He can enjoy life’
In keeping with tradition, many Filipinos stopped what they were doing to watch the fight, which took place around midday Sunday in the Philippine time zone.
President Rodrigo Duterte, who attended the bout at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, flashed a thumbs up after Pacquiao’s win.
The boxer is also a lawmaker in the nation’s senate and a staunch supporter of the president, whose unprecedented crackdown on narcotics has killed thousands and drawn international condemnation.
Duterte heaped praise on Pacquiao, who has a glittering 23-year career in the ring, but also urged him to consider hanging up his gloves.
“I’d like to see my friend rest on his laurels at this time and enjoy life,” Duterte told journalists after the bout. “He has so much money already, no problem. He can enjoy life.”
Pacquiao declared a net worth of 2.946 billion pesos ($56.2 million) in 2017 and placed 20th in Forbes’ list last year of the highest-paid athletes of all time with total earnings of $510 million.
Following the fight, #PacquiaoMatthysse was the top trending topic on Twitter in the social media-obsessed Philippines, along with the hashtags “Manny” and “Fight of the Champions”.
Sports journalist Ryan Songalia tweeted: “Manny Pacquiao was always one knockout win from being the hottest property in boxing again. He reminded people why they loved him in the first place.”
However, sports columnist Recah Trinidad told AFP that fans were not fully satisfied by the bout.
“It was not the sort of fight they expected. They wanted something fiery to confirm how great Pacquiao is,” he said.
“Pacquiao deserved the praise. (But) I will be frank with you, something was lacking,” added Trinidad.