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Manny Pacquiao hits the UK

Saturday 2nd May 2009 will be a big day, the two most popular and most supported fighters in boxing today will be fighting in Las Vegas. In case you didn’t know, Ricky ‘Hitman’ Hatton and Manny ‘Pacman’ Pacquiao will be fighting in a bout billed as ‘East meets West’. As with all boxing match-ups, promotional tours are important ways of drumming up interest, excitement and more importantly revenue! With the fight originally planned for Wembley, London, the decision was made to stage the fight in Las Vegas, the entertainment capital of the World.

As part of the tour, Pacquiao came to London and it was his first visit to Europe! The plan was to have a press conference in Hatton’s hometown of Manchester, before the bigger press conference in London. This was before the Filipino community got involved! Many people, groups and organisations lobbied hard for Pacquiao to meet his people, PG included. It was only two days before Sunday 1st March that it was finally confirmed that Pacquiao would meet his kababayans here in London at the Grosvenor Hotel, Victoria.

Pacquiao arrived in London on Friday 27th February and his first taste of the UK came at the Trafford Centre, Manchester on Saturday 28th February. This leg of the tour was supposed to give Hatton a chance to intimidate Pacquiao in front of Hatton’s die hard supporters and hometown crowd. Unfortunately, they had no idea just how many Filipinos are here in the UK! There were hundreds of Filipinos, waving flags, chanting “Manny, Manny, Manny!” and “We will, We will Pac you!” the open event meant people could witness the whole episode unfold. It was clear that Pacquiao could at least match Hatton in fan-power.

On Sunday 1st March, Pacquiao attended mass at Westminster Cathedral, Victoria, where he was once again joined by hundreds of Filipinos. They followed him to the Grosvenor Hotel where he was set to meet his people, sign autographs and pose for photos. What followed was anarchic. It resembled a scene from CNN, it was like he was giving out bread or medicine. If you have ever seen or experienced the Black Nazarene Festival in Quiapo, then you will know what I am talking about. The unfortunate thing was the security and protocol was set and in place prior to Pacquiao’s arrival. Gen Ashley, editor of One Philippines and Nigel Carlos trustee of PG had worked closely with Tess Lazaro of the Philippine Embassy and Yusri Othman, Filipino section manager of the Grosvenor Hotel to even make this event possible. Once he had arrived, the scene was relatively calm, The structure put in place by Gen, Nigel, Vincent, Adrian and Yusri and his team meant that there was up to 200 inside the hall, with a clear lobby and a further up to 100 outside the hotel waiting to get in.

In between, Pacquiao, arriving and his move from the bar to the hall a member of the security team put in place had let everyone waiting outside into the hall. That coupled with another member of the team allowing people inside the hall through side entrances meant that the capacity had gone from just under 200 to almost 300. An extra 100 people makes a hell of a lot of difference! The disappointing result was a melee of people trying to get their minute of Pacquiao’s time. There was no flow of people, instead of moving along, people were crowding, trying to get more. Had the team involved had more than 2 days to prepare, a proper structure could have been implemented. The ideal would have been a private room or closed area where Pacquiao could meet people individually, with a separate holding room or area where people could wait in line. A five in, five out policy would be perfect. But that is for next time!

In the end it was up to a mix of PG directors, Filmefilms directors, Doce Pares fighters and Embassy affiliates holding people off and trying to disperse the crowd, trying to get them to form a line and trying to create some kind of semblance of order. That said many people had taken fantastic pictures and had real moments to remember. The whole day was powerful to witness and ultimately a positive event to be a part of. This is the first of it’s kind, it wasn’t even supposed to happen!

On Monday 2nd March the London Press tour brought Hatton to the Imperial War Museum in South London. PG was present inside the press conference giving us exclusive insight and access to what happened…footage and pictures to follow! In his address, Pacquiao spoke of his trip to Hatton’s hometown, where he said, “…But I think, instead of Manchester, it was Manny-chester!” in reference to the amount of Filipinos that were present. A lot was made of Pacquiao’s humble beginnings, there was a lot of time spent by the British press questioning Pacquiao about his upbringing, eating one meal a day, his early life, where he revealed his first purse was the equivalent of 50p and his political aspirations, where Bob Arum, boldly claimed Pacquiao would be president inside 10 years! Such is the interest and importance of Pacquiao outside of the ring. At one point a British journalist asked about the tattoo on Pacquiao’s hand. He replied, “It is a fraternity, with many members in the Philippines.” A Filipino journalist shouted “Soldiers!” to which Pacquiao gave him the kind of look you only get in the ring…the Filipino journalist promptly put his head down and said no more.

PG director Mae even managed to ask Pacquiao a question; “Manny…what message do you have for the youth and Filipino community in the UK as they. See you as a role model and a cultural icon over here…?” his reply was, “My message is, you know, if you live life, praise God, don’t be lazy, work hard, pray to the Lord…thank you…and then you will be successful in life.”

Pacquiao was then whisked away to the Philippine Embassy in Suffolk Street, in the West End to meet staff and sign items brought to him inside the Embassy. He also received a painting painted by Mrs Catapang, wife of Deputy Chief of Mission at the Philippine Embassy. He emerged after just 10 minutes and left for lunch. He ate at Josephine’s, London’s most famous Filipino restaurant before returning to his hotel in Park Lane and flying off to the States early Tuesday.

After a whirlwind few days, many are now counting the amount of things that they had signed, choosing which pictures to put up on facebook and telling those who missed out that they should have tried to get on the Pacman party bus.

By Adrian Williams

Special thanks to Joseph Garcia, Nigel Carlos, Gen Ashley and the Philippine Embassy staff

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