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Thursday, March 11, 2010
Updated: March 12, 5:47 PM ET
Pacquiao no longer flies under the radar

By Calvin Watkins
ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Manny Pacquiao is an international star, but there was a time when boxing's current pound-for-pound champion toiled in anonymity.

When Pacquiao left his native Philippines for his first bout in the United States, he was an unknown fighter searching for an American trainer to help him for his 2001 bout against Lehlohonolo Ledwaba in Las Vegas.

He no longer deals with being unknown. Everybody knows his name. Traveling under the radar is a thing of the past. His party of 130 uses a private jet. Trainer Freddie Roach is always at his side.

On Saturday night, in the biggest and most expensive stadium in sports, Pacquiao gets to show why he's the best fighter in the world when he faces Joshua Clottey in front of a sellout crowd of 45,000 at Cowboys Stadium.

"He's been here since 2001, and he's been fighting nothing but the best," said trainer Emanuel Steward, who is a fight analyst for HBO. "I don't recall a fighter -- maybe Sonny Liston -- who comes into a fight with so much attention. He fights everybody. He fights hall of fame fighters. You don't see that too often."

He has fought the best and beaten the best. Bouts with Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera, Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton are part of his impressive résumé. In his last fight, he stopped Miguel Cotto in the 12th round to win his seventh title in seven weight classes.

Fight fans have noticed.

Manny Pacquiao
Pacquiao is beloved in his native Philippines and around the world.

A June 2008 fight in which Pacquiao knocked out David Diaz grossed $12.5 million and sold 250,000 pay-per-view telecasts.

His fight against Hatton in 2009 generated a live gate of $8.83 million and produced $50 million in pay-per-view buys.

In his last fight -- versus Cotto on Nov. 14, 2009 -- 1.25 million pay-per-view purchases helped generate $470 million in sales.

"He's an unbelievable star," said Mark Taffet, a senior vice president with HBO Sports, which broadcasts all of Pacquiao's fights in the United States. "You look at the numbers, and they're unheard of for a person of his weight class."

Pacquiao's seven titles have come in classes ranging from flyweight to welterweight. His style resembles that of classic Mexican fighters, who displayed punishing power, head movement and quick hands.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, when visiting Mexico with promoter Bob Arum, said he was stunned at how many fans knew Pacquiao.

"Our goal when we started with Manny was to break him out from the Filipino base that he had," Arum said. "We were able to pick up millions of Hispanic fans, and we have broken him into the general conscience of the people around the world. He is truly a crossover star. How many fighters of our time go on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' and go on 'Good Morning America' and have a big article coming out in Time magazine? I think that is saying something."

Manny Pacquiao
The next step for Pacquiao? Boxing's pound-for-pound champ will run for Congress in the Philippines, starting March 26.

And Pacquiao's fans aren't just Hispanic. Filipino fans have traveled far to see their hero. Even Cowboys wide receiver Roy Williams, a causal boxing fan, said he would follow Pacquiao to any fight during the offseason.

When this fight is over, Pacquiao has said that he'll run for Congress in the Philippines because he's tired of the social ills of his country. That has raised concerns about whether Pacquiao is truly focused on Saturday's fight.

"I'm not there yet," Pacquiao told ESPN Dallas when asked whether he might retire. "That's down the line. For now, I'm ready for this fight."

Pacquiao officially starts his campaign March 26.

"It is going to be busy," he said. "I want to pass some bills that will be good for the livelihood of the people there and education for the children."

But first he has to fight Clottey, who is no stranger to the big stage. He lost a split decision to Cotto last June and isn't an easy opponent.

"This is a very close fight," Steward said. "I like Manny in this fight, but not by much. He should win because that's what stars do."

Calvin Watkins covers boxing for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.