Filipino boxing sensation, platinum-selling recording artist and new congressman Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao will make a bid for the World Boxing Council's crown tonight when he takes on Mexico's Antonio "Tornado" Margarito in Dallas.
A seven-division world champion, 31-year-old Pacquiao is a bona fide megastar in the Philippines: In May of this year he was elected to the country's House of Representatives, he has two platinum albums under his belt and has acted in eight feature films.
Tonight he is looking for his eighth title, which he will seek in front of a crowd of 50,000 fans at Cowboys Stadium.
This is Pacquiao's biggest fight since he was elected to public office in March, and his entire country will be watching with baited breath.
The unique role Pacquiao has filled in his country has led him to International fame, but some fans of his boxing worry that he may be spreading himself too thin. Not to worry, he says.
"The focus is always there," Pacquiao told The Associated Press. "I'm always hungry for a fight. There is no distraction."
Manny Pacquiao: Rags to Riches
Abandoned by his father, Pacquiao left home as a teenager because his mother didn't have enough money to feed him. At first boxing was just a way to eat. Now he is the biggest star in a sport badly in need of new big stars.
By 2008, Pacquiao had raked in $40 million and added $35 million the following year. In 2009, Forbes magazine ranked Pacquiao as the sixth-highest-paid athlete in the world.
For tonight's fight he is guaranteed $15 million, his biggest payday ever, and could make up to $25 million if the fight sells as well on television as promoters expect.
As his fame grew, so did his ambitions. In 2007, Pacquiao announced his bid for a congressional seat in the District of South Cotabato, where he lost to a well-established incumbent. He ran again in 2010, this time in the Sarangani province, the hometown of his wife, Jinkee, with the Nacionalista Party. He won in a landslide victory, ousting the wealthy Chiongbian clan, who had been in power for more than 30 years.
"In the Philippines, we need a leader that really wants to help the poor people," Pacquiao said before his election. "I have experience being nothing, and I know how they feel."
"Manny is a multi-tasker. He loves to stay busy," said Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach.
Fame at Home and AbroadIn the Philippines, Pacquiao's popularity is god-like. They say the crime rate drops when he fights because everyone is watching him on TV.
The 5-foot-7, 150-pound southpaw, trains nearly every day at the Wildcard Boxing Gym in Los Angeles, where fans wait outside the gym just for a glimpse of the champ and perhaps an autograph or picture.
Inside the gym, Pacquiao's entourage and a crowd of onlookers, often including a few celebrities, watch the "Pacman" power through his grueling training sessions. Recent drop-ins include actors Jeremy Piven, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall and Mickey Rourke, a former professional boxer himself.
Roach, 50, also a former professional fighter, has trained 26 world champions, including the likes of Mike Tyson and Oscar de la Hoya. He said Pacquiao is his best.
"His work ethic is way above anybody else. He's like a machine," Roach said. "It took us, like, eight to nine years to get to this point. The thing is, he knows the game now. He knows how to study opponents. He's well-rounded, not just a one-punch knockout artist like he was at the beginning."
Tonight in Dallas, with all of the Philippines, and millions of others around the world watching, we will see if the Pacman is still at the top of his game.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.