Pac-mania sweeps the Philippines as Manny Pacquiao’s showdown with Floyd Mayweather edges closer

Manny Pacquiao will enter the ring for boxing's "fight of the century" with an entire country in his corner as the Philippines grinds to a halt to dementedly cheer on its favourite son against Floyd Mayweather.

Manny Pacquiao is revered as a national hero in the Philippines and the entire nation will watch him fight Floyd Mayweather. Bullit Marquez / AP Photo
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Manny Pacquiao will enter the ring for boxing’s ‘fight of the century’ with an entire country in his corner as the Philippines grinds to a halt to dementedly cheer on its favourite son against Floyd Mayweather.

Streets will be empty on fight day — Sunday morning local time — as the impoverished nation of 100 million cheers its “National Fist” in huge open-air screenings, cinemas, bars and homes.

Pacquiao’s image is ubiquitous, emblazoned across giant billboards lining major highways and on shirts, dolls and stamps in stores everywhere.

“The world will stop on Sunday. Everybody is excited,” 32-year-old Manila taxi driver Glenn Yago said on Friday.

“There will be mayhem in the streets after the fight,” he said, looking forward to a bumper crop of fares once the bout is over.

The rags-to-riches story of Pacquiao, along with his famously humble manner, has made him a towering national hero.

For many of his countrymen the 36-year-old, winner of an unprecedented eight world championships in different weight divisions, symbolises their hope of escaping the grinding poverty that afflicts one in four Filipinos.

Hundreds of cinema screens will show the fight from Las Vegas, displacing the Hollywood movie “Avengers: Age of Ultron”, according to screening schedules.

The country’s three biggest networks said they would air it on free television. Giant screens will be set up in covered courts, village halls and military and police camps.

On Palawan Island, the electricity utility has even urged its customers to turn off their refrigerators to avoid power shortages that could blackout TV sets.

In the southern area of Santa Catalina, still reeling from a rebel siege two years ago, hundreds will cram into several houses with pay-per-view access to the fight, said village leader Jimmy Villaflores.

And to ensure uninterrupted viewing free of blackouts, Villaflores said he had rented several generators.

Police expect villains to be just as avidly following the action broadcast from the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

“Pacquiao has a proven impact on the occurrence of crimes. The crime rate goes down because everybody is holed up watching him fight,” national police spokesman Senior Superintendent Bartolome Tobias told AFP.

The fight has taken on an epic hue, pitching the modest David of the Philippines against an American Goliath, the brash — and undefeated — Mayweather.

The ‘Pac-Man’, who started his career as a fish port worker, is now also a member of parliament, actor, basketball professional and popular singer. His supporters want him to run for the presidency.

“He put the Philippines on the world map ... I’m a huge fan. He is the best boxer in the world,” beef-stew hawker Arvel Oquendo said at his pavement stall in Manila.

“The whole country may be in disarray, but for a few hours, we will forget all our problems.”

Security guard Brando Tachado, 31, is another who sees Pacquiao as a projection of national pride for a country beset by not just poverty but also corruption and serial natural disasters.

“His victory will bring honour to our country,” Tachado said.

But in a nation wearily used to overcoming adversity, Oquendo said he would remain a devoted Pacquiao fan come what may.

The street hawker said: “It’s OK if he loses. We Filipinos know how to handle defeat. We rise from it.”