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Pacquiao's Fans Are Confident His Hard Work Will Pay Off Against Mayweather


Let's go next to a park in Los Angeles. That's where boxer Manny Pacquiao was training the other day for what's being called the fight of the century. Sure, it's only 2015, but give him a break. Pacquiao's preparing for Saturday's title bout against the undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr. Klein Buen was one of the hundred-plus fans watching him train.

KLEIN BUEN: With boxing, you've got to have a villain and a hero.

INSKEEP: And in this case, he says, Mayweather is the villain. Pacquiao is the hero. NPR's Nathan Rott spent a day with the Pacquiao faithful.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: To say that Manny Pacquiao has fans is an understatement. He has worshipers.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The fighting pride in the Philippines, from Sarangani Province...


MAN #1: ...Manny PacMan.


UNIDENTIFIED FANS: (Chanting) Manny, Manny, Manny, Manny, Manny...

ROTT: They wore Manny-for-president T-shirts. They coo at his pudgy Jack Russell Terrier - aptly named PacMan. And one guy even has a hand-painted picture of Pacquiao as an angel, complete with halo and wings. Fan Tina Caballes, who drove six hours from Phoenix just to be here, takes a photo.

So you think that painting's pretty accurate, Manny the angel?

TINA CABALLES: Yeah. I think so because he's an angel - wings behind him.

ROTT: Why? Caballes is happy to explain.

CABALLES: He helped the Filipinos, especially the poor.

ROTT: That would be Pacquiao's well-documented generosity, from when he was a kid, buying candies for friends with the 100 pesos - or about $3.50 cents - he would earn in winned fights, to the hospitals he helps build now, at 36, as a celebrity and a two-term Filipino congressman.

CABALLES: He started from the bottom, so he knows how it is. He inspired a lot of us.

ROTT: To many of the people here - to her, Caballes says - Pacquiao is not only proof that hard work and dedication can pay off, he's proof that it will pay off.

CABALLES: He's really, like, setting the standard for an athlete, you know? Because a lot of them they get, you know, high up there. But for him, he still stay the same.

ROTT: Caballes might as well have been talking about Pacquiao's opponent this Saturday with that last reason. Floyd Money Mayweather is the Pacquiao antithesis. He can be called a lot of things, but humble is not one of them. Perhaps that's why in the buildup to this fight Pacquiao has been portrayed as the good guy to Mayweather's bad - the hero versus villain in commercials, endorsement deals, even Vegas.

One sportsbook said that for every one bet he was getting on the favored Mayweather, he was getting 10 on Pacquiao. People just want to see him win - bad. A few miles away, a crowd forms outside of the Wild Card Boxing Club, where Pacquiao is preparing to train. Ms. Philippines is here, posing for pictures with fans, and a church group provides a - let's say impassioned ambience.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: So let the Holy Spirit descend on brother Manny Pacquiao. Oh, God, let the Holy Spirit - oh, God...

ROTT: Inside the gym, Pacquiao's coach, Freddie Roach, talks about Pacquiao's likability and his change over the years from an athlete with troubles - chiefly gambling and womanizing - to where he is now, a devoted Christian.

FREDDIE ROACH: He used to be one of the best finishers of all time. And now he seems like when he hurts somebody, he'll back off a little bit. And...

ROTT: He feels bad, or what?

ROACH: In a Margarita fight, if you can lip read, you see he says are you OK? It's like - why the hell did he say that? Like...

ROTT: Don't worry, Roach says. This fight is different.

There will be no asking if you're OK.

ROACH: I don't think so in this one, no.

ROTT: In this one, Pacquiao's not trying to be just the good guy. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.