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The prayerful pugilist
Manny Pacquiao delivers a blow to an opponent.
February 17th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

The prayerful pugilist

By Eric Marrapodi, Co-Editor CNN Belief Blog

Manny Pacquiao punches people in the face for a living.

He is pound for pound the greatest boxer in the world. An eight-time world champion, the 147-pound Filipino fighter has obliterated his way through weight classes on his way to becoming a national hero in the Philippines and an international superstar.

The southpaw has crushing punching power, and his team has worked hard to develop a right as devastating as his left. But Pacquiao is packing a secret weapon when he walks into the ring - a deep abiding faith.

"The most important thing is to believe in God," Pacquiao said during a recent train trip to Washington, D.C. With his wife by his side and his team taking up the entire private train car, Pacquiao spoke to CNN about his faith, politics and his upcoming fight.

He was heading to Washington to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Last fall, Reid was down in the polls in a tough re-election fight, so he called in Pacquiao for a last-minute rally. On Tuesday in Washington, Reid said it was Pacquiao who helped put his campaign over the top.  (Watch CNN's Carol Costello's report on the trip here.)

Pacquiao is cagey but diplomatic when talking politics but lights up when asked about his faith. It is a big part of his life as a boxer.

When the 32-year-old Catholic bounded into the ring before his latest pay-per-view match, a silver rosary bounced on his chest as he hopped in place getting ready for the fight. He looked skyward and crossed himself.

It's a familiar scene to those closest to him. "He crosses himself before each round," longtime Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said. "After every workout we end it with a prayer. He's very dedicated to his faith."

Pacquiao, left, receives communion during a Thanksgiving Mass at the Quiapo Church in Manila, Philippines, on November 20, 2010.

His publicist Fred Sternburg said while they are on the road Pacquiao always tries to duck quietly into Catholic churches for Mass. Sternburg said the quiet part doesn't always happen. One Sunday afternoon during a trip to San Francisco in 2009, Pacquiao tried to sneak into Mass on the way to the airport. He told the driver to pull over. Sternburg said he waited in the car and when he looked up a crowd of fans was chasing Pacquiao out of the church seeking autographs.

Pacquiao prays during a church service in Manila.

"Pacquiao lived on the streets in Manila in a paper shack and fought his way up on the streets. His story is a Cinderella story," said Bob Arum, his promoter at Top Rank.

And his story in the ring is one for the history books. His trainer thinks he may not just be the best pound-for-pound fighter today but the best pound-for-pound fighter ever.

"Eight world titles will never be duplicated. That makes him the best," Roach said. "That achievement will never be touched again, the caliber of fighters he's fighting, and his competition is great. And he's defeated all of them."

Pacquiao celebrates after defending his title.

Pacquiao is much shyer about his talents than his trainer. "I don't want to say I'm the best boxer in the world. I would say I'm a boxer who can fight a good fight against any fighter in the world. All my talent it all comes from God," he said.

Those talents have propelled him to be the face of boxing, not only in the U.S. but also around the world, according to Arum.

"His story has resonated because he's been able to fight his way out and become the person he is, and instead of turning his back on all that growing up, he embraces that," Arum said.

Pacquiao has taken home millions upon millions for his bouts. By some estimates, he has amassed more than $70 million from his boxing alone. That amount does not include his other business ventures or endorsements.

"(Pacquiao) gives so much money to charity and is such a caring person. And he does so many good works, most of which is not publicized so you don't even know about it," Arum said.

For Arum, that charity is a tangible example of Pacquiao's faith. "He's constantly calling me on the advances, on the upfront of his purse and so forth, because he spending the money on good things."

For Pacquaio it is clear he believes his success comes from God. "Everything that I have done, that is possible in my mind, He has made possible."

Arum and Roach both say Pacquiao's faith in God is as helpful to him in the ring as his lighting-fast fists and quick feet. Arum said Pacquiao sees himself as part of God's plan, laid out in front of him so nearly nothing bothers him.

"When he lost to (Erik) Morales he said he knew it was God's decision," Roach said. "He accepts it well." That was the last fight Pacquiao lost, in 2005. He went on to beat him two more times after that.

And that ability to move on quickly has paid big dividends.

As he looks ahead to his May 7 fight in Las Vegas against Sugar Shane Mosley, the expected boxing bravado and trash talk is noticeably absent from Pacquiao.

"I'm not going to say I'm going to win yet because the fight isn't done yet. I just need to train hard and believe in God," he said.

CNN's Carol Costello and Jeremy Harlan contributed to this report

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Celebrity • Charity • Christianity • Mass • Sports

soundoff (506 Responses)
  1. Maya

    I wonder if Jesus prayed before he punched people in the face, too.

    Christians are hilarious.

    February 17, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  2. Sitting here laughing...

    ...at all the non believers trying their hardestestestesterest to keep on trolling.

    Pure sillykins.

    February 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Bob

      It's not trolling. I genuinely enjoy intellectually smashing these lightweights and having them retreat to "you get an F on knowledge of Jesus' truth" when all their arguments have been destroyed.

      Something satisfying about that. It's like, they might be less forward with their mythology to others, thereby infecting less minds. I'm really helping people if you think about it that way.

      February 17, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  3. Hiawa23

    I don't think it's impossible at all to explain faith to those who don't believe. I grew up in a highly religious home, was forced to go to church every Sunday when I was child. The first thing I did when I graduated from College back in 1997 was thank God, although I seriously doubt, the man if there is one cared whether I graduated or not, & what made me so special as there were many who did not graduate. I am sure they said their prayers to. I have nothing against religion, I just think alot of people are hypocrites. It gets to me religious folks say it's impossible to explain faith to non believers. I don't think it's impossible at, many just have a different opinion or view. There are alot of homeless believers standing under the bridge with no home, no food, I pass everyday on my trek to & from work everyday. If you think prayer makes your life better, great, I just think your life would be the same whether you prayed or not for better or worse, cause things happen cause they are supposed to happen. If there is some all powerful force out there it would be nice for him to wave his magic wand, fix the economy, end hunger, sickness, & end the the wars. Many would jump on the badwagon if that happened.

    February 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Archie

      @ Hiawa23
      I agree with you in that it's IMPOSSIBLE to explain faith to people who don't believe. Faith is a personal decision and majority of the people who do believe in God experienced "something" that caused them to believe in it.

      February 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Jab

      My argument was not explaining it to those who do not believe, it was more like, explaining pure faith to those who find happiness in material things. There are those who believe in God, go to church, but at the same time adorn themselves with so much material things, which when they lose, it' like they've lost their lives. That, is sad.

      February 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Hiawa23, you may have grown up in a home where your parents read, comprehended and applied His truth to your lives.

      You benefited from your folks learning His wisdom, comprehending His teachings and applying His truth in your lives.

      Now that your studies are over, maybe you'll pick up your Bible and read His truth for yourself. After all, you know the basics of His wisdom from your folks, now you can learn ALL that He teaches.

      Amen.

      February 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  4. AlmightyScience

    Absence of proof, is no proof of absence. Every scientific pusuit always begins purely based on hypothesis of observed phenomena and a general theoretical conjecture on what could be a possible reason based on past experience – only after a prolonged application of an individual or team effort with lot of faith on one's method of research it turns out to be a repeatable process that we all can touch, feel, see and exclaim as science. The twist in the case of God is that repeatability experience is outside the normally accepted ways and is not guaranteed. It is a purely random event and the probability or certainty is not one. Some scientists can accept and live with that possibility, others cannot. It is that simple.

    February 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "It is a purely random event "
      Random or not, to what event, in the case of God, do you refer?

      February 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      AlmightyScience, it's not our fault that you refuse to learn His wisdom, comprehend what He teaches, and apply His truth to your life. Jesus' asks all of us to read His truth (the Bible).

      Amen.

      February 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Bob

      Heavensent doesn't even know that almighty is on his side. ROFL.

      The reality AlmightyScience is science has never said for sure about anything. However, given that there have been so many religions, it's clear that God, if it exists, does not wish to reveal himself. And an unknowable God might as well be a non-existent God.

      Heaven will say "Oh, but Jesus this and Jesus that". Just like in the past you'd hear his ancient family members going "Zeus this and Zeus that" or "Ra this and Ra that".

      He's just another fanatic who is not interested in any sort of intellectual debate, just wants to go in, try and win an argument and make people believe the same nonsense he does. Problem for him is that he does this very poorly. In a way not unlike a kid trying to cram a square peg into a round hole.

      February 17, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
  5. RAS Dakarai

    Mayweather can't handle leftys.

    February 17, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  6. Jab

    What most of these comments fail to address is the reason why he's praying.

    The ability to fight in the ring, the same with the ability to climb a mountain will purely depend on the individual. You don't pray before fighting or climbing a mountain so God will miraculously take you to the top and send his angels to block the punches.

    The reason for praying will be different with each individual. MP, for all we know is praying for his safety and the safety of his opponent, or strength that he would not give up, or praying for his family that they may stay strong...

    He may also be praying and thanking God that he has brought him there, has brought his team and family where they are at and is thanking God for the talent and gifts that he has received. He may also be praying, telling God that he will use his talent and gifts to help other people, to better his life and the life of others.

    What most people who don't pray, do not understand is that prayer is not purely man asking God for something material. If you really know the reason for prayer, then you would know that God does not grant wishes like a Genie...

    It's impossible to explain faith to people who only thrive in the things that they can touch and see.... And that's the ironic part.

    February 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Archie

      Well said Jab. In an interview I watched, the reported asked exactly this exact question, "what are you praying about in the ring?"

      MPs answer was that he was not asking to win, he's asking for safety for himself and his opponent. He accepts whether he wins or loose, it's that it's God's plan and that he has no control over it. All he knows is that he prepares himself to the best of his ability and use the talent that was given to him. God's plan is already laid out and he accepts what ever direction that plan takes him to.

      February 17, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Magic

      So, it's like: "Oh please, please, please, God, do what you are going to do anyway... please, please, please."

      February 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Something

      I was taught by the church folks who raised me that if God stopping thinking about me for even one millisecond, I would cease to exist. So I needed to constantly remind him, so he wouldn't forget. Can you imagine the terror that caused in a kid's mind 😦

      February 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Jab, because he learned, comprehends and applies Jesus' truth to his life.

      That's why.

      February 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Bob

      > What most people who don't pray, do not understand is that prayer is not purely man asking God for something material. If you really know the reason for prayer, then you would know that God does not grant wishes like a Genie...

      Of course not, then we'd have evidence that God existed. We can however measure prayer and it has shown to be not statistically any different than the placebo effect.

      😀

      February 17, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  7. Jim P.

    "from literally nothing to becoming one of the most prolific athletes in recent history"

    You saying he has a lot of children? Not sure how that is relevant.

    Prolific – producing offspring, young, fruit, etc., abundantly; highly fruitful: a prolific pear tree.

    February 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  8. derp

    MP – "God, please help me beat the crap out of this guy"

    God – "Are you serious?"

    February 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  9. Hiawa23

    Someone said Obama's God is allah. Really, so what if he is, what does that really matter? Does it matter what you call the invisible force in the sky?

    February 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  10. Hiawa23

    If there is a God, I seriously doubt he cares who puches the other guys face in the most. What happens when the other guy also prays, does the invisible man, say ine mine moe, & just picks who win? I am not a believer, as I really don;t believe in things I can't see, hear, breathe, smell, touch, but to hear many tie God to everything good then when something bad happens, who gets that credit. I like Manny, Mayweather seems to be the one running from him. The whole religion thing to me seems someone made up to make a few bucks or to keep people in line as you can make alot of money from alot of folks if you get them to believe there is some promise land out there if they pay 10% & do what the good book says.

    February 17, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Hiawa23, that would be satan.

      February 17, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Bob

      > If there is a God, I seriously doubt he cares who puches the other guys face in the most.

      I mean, he can't find time to care about starving children in Africa. I mean, boxing would have to be lower then that right? Right?

      Oh, I forgot, Superbowls he helps out the team he favours. That's his day off.

      February 17, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  11. Bill Angresano

    I have followed this young man for quite awhile now and of course he is the "real thing" Sincere devout and truly Catholic, what a tremendous influence on the world. Continued Blessings!

    February 17, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  12. Gnarles

    poop

    February 17, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  13. chieatfetus

    steroids.

    February 17, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • booneeTX

      I was thinking the same thing! Still a cloud over him, whether or not people acknowledge it or not!

      February 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  14. keith

    From Obama to Manny all the greatest people in history and in the world affirm their creator.

    February 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Obama's God is Allah

      Obama affirming his religion??? What planet are you from?

      February 17, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Anyone that wishes to get elected on a national stage generally better do so.

      February 17, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • Godless

      Please. Do you honestly believe that all of these politicians believe in god? They'll never admit it, but I wouldn't be surprised if many of them SAY they do because they know that they won't get elected otherwise because there are too many brainwashed people out there who wouldn't vote for someone unless that person believed in the same sky fairy as they do. The argument of whether Obama is a Christian or a Muslim is stupid – the question really should be, does Obama actually believe in a god? My guess would be no, but he puts on a good front.

      February 17, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Skegee

      Do you read CNN that often? There was a whole article about how Obama says he believes in Jesus Christ and relies on God to make him a better man and a good president. Kind of hard to claim Allah when you acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God.

      Now, as to his sincerity that remains to be seen. I recall George Bush claiming to be a Christian only to come out later in an interview on prime time television saying that he believe Jews, Muslims, and Christians all worship the same God. That's not a logical belief if you're a Christian.

      February 17, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      I would rather vote for someone who knows Jesus' wisdom, comprehends it, and applies His truth to their life than someone who believes in their own ego (erasing God out) and lives the lie.

      Amen.

      February 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Bob

      Bill Gates is an atheist and has given more to charity then Obama, Pacman or any other single person.

      Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

      February 17, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      HS just confirmed the reason why any serious politician will claim to believe.

      February 17, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  15. Phil

    Five years from now, we will remember Pacquiao as the classiest P4P boxer to grace the ring.

    Mayweather will be a boxing footnote, marked by bankruptcy, underachievement, squandered talent, and talk of what was supposed to have been.

    February 17, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Colin

      I tend to agree. They guy is all class. And I am an atheist. Sadly, I also agree about Mayweather (at least the bankruptcy).

      February 17, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  16. Grace

    Manny is the best boxer in the world and yet he is incredibly humble. He's managed to stay down to earth and uses his wealth and celebrity status to help those in need. I wish more athletes would follow suit. Manny is an example of a true champion, inside and out.

    February 17, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  17. jay

    mayweather is the best fighter

    February 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @jay

      I would sure like to see him prove it. Hopefully, the fight between MP and Mayweather will happen at some point.

      Peace...

      February 17, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • juanito

      IN WICH WORLD JEJEJEJEJE

      February 17, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  18. liza

    Wow ,this is are very very interesting arguments and comments about religion. Some are Funny, silly, intelligent, insulting, ignorant and evevything else.
    Everyone has its own opinion and respect that. even if you don't agree.

    February 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  19. Ed

    People have been invoking one god or another prior to going into battle for 5000 years. It's just a tool to comfort or consol prior to a dangerous occurrence. What does the god do when both sides start rattling on their prayers? Flip a coin to see who is favored? In this case, Manny has emerged as a tremendously skilled pugilist and let’s face it, it really doesn’t have anything to do with a deity assuming one actually does exist. Oh, when Floyd Sinclair faces Manny on May 7th he will have to reveal the performance of his life to survive. IMO, just going the distance with MP would be an accomplishment.

    February 17, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Ed

      You Said: "Oh, when (Floyd Sinclair) faces Manny on May 7th he will have to reveal the performance of his life to survive. IMO, just going the distance with MP would be an accomplishment."

      Floyd Sinclair...? MP is facing 'Sugar Shane Mosley' on May 7th. Sugar's real name is 'Shane Donte Mosley.'

      Did I miss something, or mistake on your part...?

      Peace...

      February 17, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Benny

      Ed, stick to WWF....!

      February 17, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • God loves you Ed

      ATHEIST in the house, ya'll

      February 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • ed

      Prove it.

      February 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • God loves you Ed

      Which one, that your and Atheist or God loves you?

      February 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Ed, Ed, Ed ... He learned and comprehended Jesus' wisdom and he applied His truth to his life.

      And you? Have you learned His wisdom yet to comprehend His truth to be able to apply it to your life?

      Amen.

      February 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  20. Phil

    Hear that sound? That's Floyd Mayweather praying to God that Manny Pacquiao just retires and goes away to devote his life entirely to politics so that Mayweather can re-surface and can continue to claim an undefeated record.

    February 17, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @Phil

      LOL. !!!

      Peace...

      February 17, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • Benny

      Mayweather Jr. is nothing but a artist that understands what he can and cannot do. Always in great shape, and knows what tree to climb. Pacqiao on the other hand is the BEST boxer in history that has never backed down from a fight. Pacquiao would embarass Mayweather and that is solely the reason why it has not occured.

      February 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Jameister

      Mayweather will remain undefeated alright: in the prison boxing league.

      February 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.