Freddie Roach could meet a boxer for the first time, shake his hand, peer into his eyes, and see the future.
In Manny Pacquiao, the renowned trainer saw the makings of a world champion, a glittering gem from an uncut, unpolished stone.
But something else escaped Roach’s ring clairvoyance: A crowning beyond the alphabet titles nobody foresaw.
“I didn’t see this coming,” said Roach, recalling the first time he worked the mitts with the boxing icon early in 2001 at the Wild Card gym in Los Angeles. “I never thought he’ll be this great.”
Roach was in the same boat as everyone else.
In typical Pacquiao fashion, the former bread vendor and construction worker turned boxing superstar defied the odds, stunning the boxing world with a sixth round technical knockout of fearsome South African Lehlo Ledwaba to win the International Boxing Federation (IBF) super-bantamweight title, his first.
The win began Pacquiao’s meteoric rise to the top. The world would later recognize him as the top pound-for-pound boxer, considered one of the best – if not the best – southpaw fighters in prizefighting history.
Pacquiao is the first and only boxer to win seven world titles in seven different weight classes (flyweight, super-bantamweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, lightweight, junior welterweight, and welterweight), and among the few who made a lasting imprint in a sport teeming with stars and heroes.
Pacquiao, indeed, has come a long way from a struggling, skinny teenager who first fought as a pro in the mid-90s, to the electrifying sports icon who has become the face of boxing today.
The Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) is not one to deny Pacquiao his achievements, and will confer on him Athlete of the Decade honors during its traditional annual Awards Night set March 1 at the historic landmark, Manila Hotel.
Having been elevated by the country’s oldest media organization to the Hall of Fame last year, Pacquiao is no longer eligible for the coveted Athlete of the Year award, but remains a major part of the year’s top achievers’ list on account of his Hall of Fame exploits in the first 10 years of the new century. He was named Athlete of the Year five times – in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2008.
During that span, Philippine sports saw Jennifer Rosales and Dorothy Delasin score breakthrough wins in the LPGA Tour, CJ Suarez ruling bowling’s World Cup, Team Philippines winning a historic first overall championship in the Southeast Asian Games, Miguel Molina emerging as the Best Male Athlete in the SEAG for his four gold medals in swimming and Ronnie Alcano reigning as a double world champion in billiards.