Boxing star Manny Pacquiao, who is planning to run for Philippine president in the 2022 elections, says he is retiring from boxing to focus on the biggest fight of his political career.
Pacquiao, a Philippine senator who has been dividing his time between politics and fighting, made the announcement in a 14-minute video posted on his official Facebook page on Wednesday.
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“I just heard the final bell. Boxing is over,” said an emotional Pacquiao, the only man to hold world titles in eight different divisions.
“I never thought this day would come as I hang up my boxing gloves,” he said as he thanked his fans all over the world.
“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but I am at peace with it,” Pacquaio added.
Known for his fast footwork and blistering-speed punches, Pacquiao was widely regarded as one of the top offensive fighters in the sport’s history.
Veteran promoter Bob Arum in 2010 said he was unmatched and rated him better than Muhammad Ali.
“His left and right hand hit with equal power and that is what destroys his opponents,” Arum told the Reuters news agency.
To the greatest fans and the greatest sport in the world, thank you! Thank you for all the wonderful memories. This is the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but I’m at peace with it. Chase your dreams, work hard, and watch what happens. Good bye boxing. https://t.co/Bde4wO82sA
— Manny Pacquiao (@MannyPacquiao) September 29, 2021
In August, the 42-year-old lost a WBA welterweight world title match against Cuban Yordenis Ugas.
Growing up in the south of the Philippines, Pacquiao’s family lived in dire poverty, prompting him to do odd jobs to survive.
As a teenager, he stowed away on a boat to the capital Manila, where he started competitive boxing.
Pacquiao was among the staunchest allies of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, backing the leader’s bloody war on drugs and his bid to reintroduce the death penalty.
In July, he was removed as president of the country’s ruling PDP-Laban party, leading a split and competing factions that nominated different candidates.
Pacquiao started his political career with a failed congressional run in 2007. He won a seat at the lower house of Congress in 2010, representing the southern Sarangani province.
The two-term congressman was then elected for a six-year term in the Senate in 2016, and is up for re-election in 2022.
As a senator, the fundamentalist Christian legislator advocated for the death penalty against illegal drug trade, suggesting that those found guilty should face execution by firing squad. Pacquiao once famously said that even Jesus was sentenced to death.
He also proclaimed that Duterte was anointed by God to end the country’s drug menace.
Pacquiao drew criticism from civil rights groups after he said that Filipino LGBT members are “worse than animals”.
Armand Dean Nocum, a Manila-based political analyst and campaign strategist, had earlier told Al Jazeera that the senator probably sees 2022 as his best chance of becoming president before his popularity as an international boxing champion ebbs.
“By 2028, he would just be another senator dismissed as having done nothing in the Senate. So he knows it’s now or never for him,” Nocum explained.
In the latest survey published on Wednesday and conducted between September 6 to 11, Pacquiao ranked fourth as the preferred candidate for president, with Duterte’s daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio leading the race. Duterte-Carpio, however, has not yet declared her candidacy.
Pacquiao’s support rose to 12 percent from eight percent previously, while Duterte-Carpio’s support dropped from 28 percent to 20 percent, according to Pulse Asia.
The same poll showed Senate President Vicente Sotto overtaking the elder Duterte as the top contender to become vice president, which in the Philippines is a separate contest. Duterte dropped to 14 percent from 18 percent.
Sotto, a former actor and comedian, won 25 percent support, a big jump from his 10 percent in the previous poll.
A separate survey released this week by Social Weather Stations showed 60 percent of 1,200 respondents believed Duterte’s move to run for vice president violates the intention of the constitution.