By Yenni Kwok
(CNN) — Philippines boxing icon Manny Pacquiao’s fellow countrymen were left reeling Monday after their hero’s controversial defeat to American boxer Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas at the weekend.
It was his first loss in seven years, and a contentious one as well, especially compared with Pacquiao’s previous defeat in March 2005, to Mexico’s Erik Morales in a unanimous decision.
“Pacman,” as he is affectionately known by fans, appeared to dominate Bradley during the 12-round match at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas but the judges decided otherwise. Two ruled the fight 115-113 for the American boxer, while the other judge gave the score 115-113 for the Filipino champion.
“People were in shock and disbelief,” said Lito Tacujan, sports editor of the Manila-based Philippine Star daily. “Everybody felt furious with the result. They thought the match result was set up or scripted.”
After the scores were announced, most of the crowd in the packed arena booed — a sentiment that was echoed in Pacquaio’s homeland where streets in towns and cities across the Philippines were deserted as people tuned in to watch the fight at home, in shopping malls, cinemas, parks and even army bases — Pacquiao is a lieutenant colonel in the Philippine Army Reserve Command.
In a nation that worships the 33-year-old sports hero cum lawmaker, there were accusations of foul play. “Rigged,” Congressman Joseph Victor Ejercito, a fellow legislator in the House of Representatives, told the local media. “It’s obvious that Pacquiao was ahead. I can’t see how he lost.”
Another congressman, Ben Evardone, voiced his displeasure too, saying: “It is the biggest highway robbery, not only against Manny Pacquiao, but against the Filipino people as well.”
Even the Malacanang presidential palace felt compelled to issue a statement in the aftermath of the stunning upset. “Manny is still our one and only people’s champ, and we are proud of him,” the deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in the statement.
“For a lot of people, including myself, Manny won the fight,” Tacuja said. “He carried the fight well, he put on lots of pressures, he landed more powerful blows than Bradley. He’s trying to be the old Manny.”
According to media reports, a Pacquiao-Bradley rematch may happen later this year, possibly in November at a venue to be decided. Tacujan believes the rematch with Bradley will influence whether a much-anticipated showdown between the Filipino boxer, whose retirement is said to be on the horizon, and America’s Floyd Mayweather Jr., who is serving a three-month jail sentence for a domestic violence conviction in Las Vegas, will happen.
“If Manny can give a knockout or win convincingly with a decisive victory, I think there would be a match between him and Mayweather,” the sports editor said.
For now, it seems little has changed in the way his country sees Pacquiao. “For us, he is still a No. 1 hero, not only in boxing, but in sports too,” Tacujan said.
“He is the best thing that has happened in the Philippines for many years.”