Editor's note: Ed Tolentino, a columnist for the Manila Times and for spin.ph, has been a sportswriter since 1985. He also occasionally serves as a boxing commentator for the network giant ABS-CBN. When he is not covering the world of sports, Tolentino is a lawyer for the Supreme Court of the Philippines.
Manila (CNN) -- The right punch Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez threw to knock out Filipino Manny Pacquiao in the sixth round of their non-title welterweight clash arguably registered on the Richter scale, with the aftershocks being felt from the posh MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada to the last-standing shanty in the typhoon-ravaged areas of Mindanao, the Philippines.
When Pacquiao hit the canvas with a resounding thud, Filipinos all over the world cringed and felt the impact of the debacle down to their toenails. In the Philippines, where the fight was shown in cinemas, restaurants, and makeshift arenas, some stood in silence in utter disbelief while others unabashedly shed tears. The day following the fight, the front page of all the major newspapers in the country read like the obituary page.
Pacquiao's loss could not have come at a worse time. Just days before the fight, Super Typhoon "Pablo" (international name Bopha) leveled several provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao. Downtrodden Filipinos were all counting on Pacquiao to lift their faltering spirit with another sterling performance in the ring, but the Pacman also ended up taking it flush on the chin.
That Filipinos are also treating Pacquiao's loss as a "natural disaster" is not without a reason. Pacquiao is more than a boxer in the eyes of his countrymen. From the time he burst into the world boxing stage by knocking out Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera in November 2003, Pacquiao has been looked upon as a walking icon, a symbol of everything that is positive about the Filipino: God-fearing, resilient and tough as nails. After every major win in the ring, Pacquiao, who grew up in dirt poverty, made it a point to share his astronomical paycheck among the poor. Down the road, he explored other avenues to help out: he successfully ran for a seat in Congress and started moonlighting as a game show host who indiscriminately gave out prizes to contestants.
The devastating loss to Marquez, however, sends the signal that Pacquiao is already feeling the brunt of the responsibility he has been made to assume. Before the fight, not a few noted that Pacquiao's focus on boxing had waned. He insisted that he was in control of the situation, but the observations were confirmed following the horrific knockout loss to Marquez.
To some extent, Pacquiao has become a prisoner of the suffocating image he has created. Turning 34 on December 17, Pacquiao's career as a boxer is at the crossroads. Is it time to focus solely on boxing to give his career the glorious send-off it deserves? Is walking away from the sport with his health intact the best option available? Or should he again flirt with disaster by continuing to multi-task?
Considering all that he has done for his countrymen, perhaps it is only proper for Pacquiao to finally look out for himself. Boxing is a dangerous sport and what happened in the Marquez fight is proof that even a supposedly invincible boxing champion is susceptible to a flesh wound. Then again, at a time when his countrymen are down on their knees and in dire need of a hero, it appears that Pacquiao is bent on lacing on the gloves to carry the fight anew for his people.
There is this scene in the movie The Dark Knight Rises where Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, tries to convince Batman to leave Gotham City. "You don't owe these people anymore. You've given them everything," Kyle tells Batman, to which the Dark Knight replies: "Not everything. Not yet."
You can say that the Philippines' own knight is treading the same dangerous curve. We can only hope that he will emerge from his quest in one piece as nobody wants a repeat of the Marquez ordeal.