Now Manny Pacquiao goes for his toughest fight yet

As the Philippines gears up for presidential and local elections next month, a boxing champion star keeps his fans guessing over his future.

Philippine boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao (L) waves to his fans during a victory motorcade in Manila on March 22, 2010. Pacquiao flew home to a hero's welcome after defending his world title and immediately began a political fight he said was aimed at helping the nation's poor masses.   AFP PHOTO/NOEL CELIS *** Local Caption ***  138048-01-08.jpg *** Local Caption ***  138048-01-08.jpg
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MANILA // Manny Pacquiao, the Filipino world boxing champion in seven weight divisions, arrived in Manila this week pondering his future in boxing and a new career in politics. Accompanied by his wife, Jinkee, and the usual host of hangers-on, he was greeted at Manila's airport early on Monday by hundreds of adoring fans who had waited overnight.

His children, Jimuel, Michael and Princess, also welcomed their father while his youngest, Queen Elizabeth, waited back in his home- town of General Santos City with her nanny. During a brief press conference Pacquiao said he would make an announcement soon about his boxing career and whether he would fight the American boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. Pacquiao is said to be under a lot of pressure, particularly from his family, to hang his gloves up.

His mother, Dionisia, is understood to have begged her son's promoter, Bob Arum, and trainer, Freddie Roach, to help convince him to call it a day, according to a report carried by GMANews.TV. The Pacquiao matriarch wanted the world's top pound-for-pound boxer to retire after his bloody bout with Miguel Cotto last November. However her plea went unanswered and the Filipino boxing icon went on to fight African boxer Joshua Clottey in Dallas, Texas, last week. The megabuck duel with Mayweather is still being considered but Pacquiao said "I'm in no hurry."

"The fighter in him longs for that multi-million gig and battle for bragging rights with Mayweather but the son in him makes him seriously consider giving in to Mum's wish," GMANews.TV said. His wife also wants him to quit boxing. She said recently: "He has been boxing for 15 years - he has achieved everything he has ever set out to achieve. It's time Manny thinks about the future." Pacquiao said his future boxing plans are "still up in the air".

"I will sit down with my family and discuss everything later," he said without elaborating. Asked when he will fight Mayweather, Pacquiao said: "I came this far in my boxing career without Mayweather. He needs me to bolster his career more than I need him." In keeping with tradition, Pacquiao drove to a packed Catholic church in downtown Manila for a mass after breakfast with close friends and supporters.

He then briefly met President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who gave him a three-layered chocolate cake topped with a replica of his WBO belt. Mrs Arroyo is known to be one of his biggest fans, but not big enough for him to join her party for the elections on May 10. "It is refreshing to see Manny Pacquiao start his political career with the same energy and dedication he shows in the boxing ring," Mrs Arroyo's spokesman, Gary Olivar, said.

Later this week Pacquiao will fly to General Santos City where he will spend some time with his children before embarking on his next fight, this time outside the ring and on the campaign trail as he runs for a congressional seat in Sarangani province for the Nacionalista Party of the presidential contender Manny Villar. Campaigning in the local and congressional elections begins on Friday and for Pacquiao this could be his toughest fight yet.

In the midterm elections in 2007 he was hammered by a woman, Darlene Antonino-Custodio, in the fight for a congressional seat in the first district of South Cotabato, losing 139,061 votes to 75,908. At the time many of his supporters and fans urged him not to run, saying he did more for the Philippines in the ring than if he gave it all up for the dark side of national politics. Apart from running for his own seat Pacquiao is also campaigning for Mr Villar, the richest politician in the country.

"What we need now is a man who rose from poverty, who understands the call of the poor like myself," Pacquiao said in an obvious reference to Mr Villar. Mr Villar, a son of a fish dealer who rose to become one of the country's most powerful men, has made poverty alleviation his principal platform. Pacquiao, who lifted himself out of deep poverty to become one of the world's richest sportsmen, has said helping the poor is also his main motivation in running for Congress.

According to a report by ABS-CBN on its web site, Pacquiao earned US$27.5 million (Dh100m) over the last two years even before his fight with Clottey last week not including pay-per-view earnings. In his fight against Cotto in November, Pacquiao reportedly got a $10m share from the 1.25 million pay-per-view buys the fight generated, ABS-CBN said.