The day started way before dawn, the way significant and truly memorable days often do. And this was one of them...meeting probably the world's best pound for pound boxer, and one of the business world's respected tycoons, all in one day. Two personalities from entirely different and contrasting backgrounds, yet very much the same, both being champions in their respective fields.
Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao and Air Asia Founder and CEO Tony Fernandes meet up at the Pacman Wildcard Gym in General Santos City to formalize a marketing agreement before Pacman's next bout set for November 23 in Macau. And that was one awesome day...
Located at the third floor of the JMP Building beside Greenleaf Hotel and right across SM City General Santos, Pacman Wild Card Gym's walls are lined with artworks and photos of Pacman's classic bouts. Walking up the steps, you get goosebumps as you near the gym, and you just know you're about to see greatness. Up close.
Inside the gym, a festive mood lingers in the air, made even more festive by the vibrant and iconic red thematic color of Air Asia. Air Asia's sponsorship includes the repainting of one of its signature red Airbus A320 aircraft featuring images of Pacman. The aircraft will also be used to fly Team Pacquiao to Macau for the November 23 bout.
Air Asia Group CEO and Founder, Tony Fernandes, looks on at Pacman's intense sparring session with coach Freddie Roach at the center ring. The loud thumping sounds of powerful jabs and punches reverberate throughout the gym, as Coach Freddie Roach shouts "punch up" and "punch high". Round after round, both the intensity and energy continue to rise as Tony Fernandes nods with approval. Air Asia recently featured Taylor Swift on its aircraft, but this will be a first featuring a Filipino sports icon. "We try to celebrate heroes, guys or girls who come from nowhere and make people's dreams come true," says Air Asia's Founder and CEO.
After several high-energy rounds with Coach Freddie Roach in the ring, Pacman steps down for a series of other routines. I'm just a few feet away from the Pacman, and like a sudden rush of adrenaline, I go forward to take a few photos, clicking away at every jab and punch Pacman throws.
Buboy, Pacman's long-time friend and trainer, shouts out the time at 30-second intervals, as Pacman shifts to focus on another type of punch at every interval. Like a dance, the speed, precision, and footwork are quite a sight, as Pacman bobs and weaves before throwing another jab.
At the end of the session, Coach Freddie Roach and Buboy slowly untie Pacman's gloves, but Pacman's sessions aren't over yet. Coach Freddie Roach, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease, shows no sign of slowing down in each and every session with Pacman.
Almost like a father, Coach Freddie Roach whispers a few more reminders to Pacman, and like a good son, Pacman nods, and the gloves are pulled. In one of the sporting world's longest partnerships, Coach Freddie Roach and Pacman collaborated for eight division world championships. And the bond remains stronger as ever.
Pacman then greets his friends and loyal supporters at the Pacman Wildcard Gym, then the champ is led to another corner to meet another champ. Air Asia's Tony Fernandes and Pacman ink the partnership with a handshake to the cheers of the crowd inside the gym.
Pacman then autographs a pair of boxing gloves for Tony Fernandes, and the crowd erupts with another loud cheer. And it's official. Air Asia is Team Pacman's newest promotional and marketing partner. The deal brings together icons of both the sporting and business worlds, in one handshake.
Like old friends, both Pacman and Tony Fernandes hug before Pacman goes back to his next sparring session. As the bout nears, the daily sessions of Pacman gets more intense, all the way until his November 23 match with Chris Algieri in Macau.
The Pacman Wildcard Gym erupts with another round of cheers from Pacman's friends and loyal supporters. Adding to the celebratory mood, Air Asia's Flight Attendants, in their signature red colors, complete the festive scene. Quite an impressive sight...
But for Pacman, it's back to work. And he hits it hard.
Pacman's trainer, Buboy, shouts out the time, and Pacman speeds up the pace.
Barely a few inches away from the man, I click away, knowing every punch he throws, is a punch for me. And for a country in need of heroes. Silently, I cheer him on, as I click away with my camera.
Tony Fernandez and his winning team from Air Asia will soon unveil the commemorative livery on its Airbus A320 featuring Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao. Two Air Asia Airbus A320s will fly Team Pacquiao to Macau on November 23 for Pacman's match versus Chris Algieri. Stay tuned for more updates as Air Asia activates its marketing campaign with Pacman.
As the day winds down, Pacman's team of trainers huddle around him, and discuss the next round of sparring sessions. For Pacman, it's another long day at the gym. And just like that, my day ends as we approach Air Asia's iconic red Airbus A320 for the flight back to Manila.
And we pretty much had the entire plane to ourselves. As we settled into our seats in the chartered Air Asia Airbus A320, somehow my adrenaline was still pumping, and I could still hear the loud thuds of Pacman's jabs and punches and the cheers of the crowd. But as you sink deeper in the seat, it hits you. Meeting the world's best pound for pound boxer and a respected tycoon in one day...and I still can't quite believe it happened. And thanks to Air Asia, it did. And I'm back in Manila in no time.
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