The day Manny Pacquiao gave a man $100 to shine his Louis Vuitton shoes
On Wednesday afternoon, in the Virgin Lounge at Brisbane Airport, a man begged Manny Pacquiao to let him shine his shoes.
The man was the employed shoe shiner for the lounge in the Australian airport. He also happened to be Filipino.
Pacquiao's family were cautious, because the shoes were made by Louis Vuitton – expensive slippers no matter how much a man is worth, even $500 million – but the 38-year-old boxer waved them away. When the man was done, he handed him a A$100 (NZ$109) tip. The man refused to take it but finally did so after much insistence from Pacquiao.
"I came from nothing," Pacquiao said softly. "I know what the feeling is of being poor, of having no food, of being nothing. You know, my philosophies … I came to this world naked and I will depart naked. When you die, you take nothing no matter how much you have."
He doesn't so much say but whisper this to me in a small conference room in a hotel near Sydney Airport on Wednesday night.
Pacquiao had just flown in from Brisbane with his family, various managers, advisers and security detail as part of his hurricane east coast tour this week to drum up publicity for his July 2 fight against Queensland schoolteacher Jeff Horn to defend his WBO welterweight title.
The largest crowd he's fought in front of is 51,000, according to his management. They're trying to get 55,000 to Suncorp Stadium for the Horn fight.
In reality, it's an easy sell. I mean, this is Manny Pacquiao, arguably the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of his generation, and easily one of the best of all time. The man American boxing writers voted the fighter of the decade for the 2000s. The boxer who claimed 11 world titles across eight weight divisions.
On this night, he is dressed in a dark grey suit, pale blue shirt, pale blue tie and a pair of black shoes so shiny you could see your reflection in them.
His story has been told inside out, through countless stories, books and documentaries, all charting the rise of a kid who left the family home when he was young because he was one of too many mouths to feed, lived on the streets of Manilla for a time, before finding a way out of poverty through boxing.
What else is there to ask? The question I had for Pacquiao was a simple one: why? There is nothing sadder than an old pug shuffling around the ring for the sake of a few more final paydays.
Pacquiao is a long way off that sombre final chapter. He's a long way off Roy Jones Jr, the near-perfect fighter who is still throwing them at glacial pace at 48. They rarely finish at the peak of their powers in boxing these days. They usually finish facedown, eyeballing the canvas.
Pacquiao's story is so good, his career so storied, why sour his legacy when there's enough money in the bank?
"It's not about the money," he insists. "No, it's not hurting my legacy [if I keep fighting], because I have already accomplished my dream in boxing, my career at the top. I'm a champion. I have to defend my title."
When will he consider retirement?
"It's hard to say, a couple more fights and then I'll think about it," he says.
Among the people sitting at the stable while Pacquiao chats is Michael Koncz, an adviser who also runs Manny Pacquiao Promotions, which is separate to Top Rank Promotions, owned by the legendary fight promoter Bob Arum.
Many within Australian boxing had suspected the fight against Horn would never happen when it was announced at the start of the year. Koncz's preference had been for Pacquiao to fight against Amir Khan in Dubai this month.
But when the money couldn't be raised in the UAE they came back to Horn. The Queensland government and Brisbane City Council found the money. Pacquiao was looking to earn $49 million against Khan. Against Horn, he'll pick up $10 million.
"It's all about money at this stage," Koncz says.
"It's not greed. Manny has been boxing for 20 years. I was working for Manny when we were making $400,000 a fight. People call it what they like but it's not about greed, it's smart business. So that was the delay – the financial package I was after was much more lucrative than this package.
"My job is to get the best economic package together, especially at this stage of his career. We're not done yet but it's getting close to the end. That's what we did before with Amir Khan and I plan to work the Amir Khan fight for later this year, November or October. We were thankful this offer was still on the table.
"I wasn't sceptical about coming here to fight in Australia. But I'm Manny's main adviser. I'm the one that negotiates all of his contracts and boxing is a very small part of what I do now. When I started it was all about boxing. My job is to maximise the profits for Manny. That's the reason I went to Dubai, I went for Amir Khan."
Money comes, money goes. The winnings from Pacquiao's first professional fight, as a 16-year-old against Edmund Enting Ignacio, went towards food.
"1000 pesos," he says when asked what he earned from it. "About 20 US dollars."
What did he do with it?
"Bought rice. You can buy one kilo of rice for that much."
Since then, his generosity in his own country has become legendary.
"I help the people," he says. "Building house and giving them free."
Koncz nudges him. How many houses?
"A thousand," Pacquiao says quietly. "It's not from government money."
How much does he think he's handed out over the years to people he does not know?
"A billion," he says. He's talking about pesos. A billion Filipino pesos is roughly worth NZ$28 million.
This is what also makes Pacquiao so appealing on a global stage and at home: his humility.
It was brought into sharp focus around his 2015 mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather, the flashy American who flaunts his wealth, who still posts $100,000,000 cheques on his social media accounts just because he can.
"Floyd Mayweather is different, different lifestyle," Pacquiao grins.
"He's flashy, he shows his money. I believe in God. I am a Christian. I am only in his command."
Earlier this week, he did a photo shoot in Brisbane and was expecting 200 people to turn up. More than 2000 turned up, many of them Filipinos. At the press conference, Horn's family, including both his grandfathers, were among the excited throng.
"They take picture with me," Pacquiao smiles. "It was nice. I never expected this kind of popularity here. I thought a few people know me here. I'm the kind of person who doesn't put that popularity in my head. I never do that. I don't want to put that in my head. It's not hard. That's my attitude. That's my heart. I don't like arrogant. I'm humble. Those who humble themselves will be exalted."
He says that religion has become a stronger part of his life in recent years. It has also got him in trouble.
Instructions were issued before our interview not to raise his controversial comments about same-sex marriage and comparing homosexuals to being "worse than animals". The same deal with his political career. Pacquiao ran for Congress in 2010 and was elevated to the Senate last year.
"I want to help people," he says of becoming a politician. "I want to defend the right of the poor people. It's not easy. It's very hard to be a politician and a boxer, but I manage my time. I discipline myself. What happened [with the Horn fight], they offered me to fight in May but I can't because I have work in the office, so I choose to fight July 2."
Indeed, he flew out of Australia on Friday evening so he could be back in the Philippines in time for resumption of the Senate session, which is trying to bring in President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial death penalty bill as part of his bloody war on drugs.
"Don't they [opponents of the death penalty bill] consider rampant drug-related crimes and the magnitude of illegal drug problem in the country as compelling reason?" Pacquiao is quoted as telling a Filipino boxing website.
"Shall we allow this kind of poison to continue killing our people particularly the youth sector? This is not just addictive but it also kills the dreams and future of our youths and the moral fibre of our society."
These are parts of the Pacquiao story that many still want to hear. Hopefully, outside of the all-stops promotional tour this week, the Australian press will be given a chance to know him better. Like most superstars, Pacquiao is more than just an athlete.
Meanwhile, there's Horn to consider: the schoolteacher who took up boxing as a teenager because he was being bullied.
"He's young, I know what he's feeling," says Pacquiao.
What is he feeling?
"He feels hungry to win, because I have been there. I've experienced that feeling when you are young and you are fighting a champion."
- Sydney Morning Herald