WASHINGTON — Having captured just about everything else — including eight world titles and a seat in Congress back home — it was time for Manny Pacquiao to win over the nation’s capital.
The Filipino boxer was escorted to the Senate floor Tuesday morning and was scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama in the afternoon. For a day, at least, it was like old times for the sport: Instead of being investigated on Capitol Hill, it was being celebrated.
"This is an unforgettable moment in my life," Pacquiao said.
Wearing a suit coat that was a size or two too long for his power-packed arms, Pacquiao roamed the halls of power as the guest of Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, a Democrat and long-ago boxer whose recent re-election was no doubt helped by Pacquiao’s campaign appearances. After Reid and Pacquiao exchanged national flags, Reid was asked how along he would last in his prime if the two exchanged punches.
"About five seconds," Reid said.
Pacquiao arrived in town by train, wrapping up the press tour for his next fight, against Shane Mosley on May 7 in Las Vegas. The fact that he’s arrived on the scene is good news for boxing, or, as Reid put it: "You can become a great athlete and still be a great person."
Pacquiao was elected representative of the Sarangani province nine months ago in national elections in the Philippines and has shown he plans to take the new job as seriously as his boxing. Among his first initiatives was to explore building the area’s first provincial hospital.
Reid felt compelled to set up Pacquiao’s meeting with Obama because of the Pacquiao’s enthusiastic following in the United States.
"I try not to bother the president," Reid said, "but I bothered him on this occasion."
Pacquiao’s every move was shadowed as he walked onto the Capitol grounds with his wife. Promoter Bob Arum said it was reminiscent of the heyday of Muhammad Ali.
"He comes at a very fortuitous time," Arum said. "If anybody can bring boxing back to the mainstream … it’s Manny Pacquiao."