Manny Pacquiao is preparing for a visit to the typhoon-devastated city of Tacloban in the coming days, returning to the Philippines with his boxing career back on the upswing after an impressive victory over Brandon Rios.
Pacquiao said after his win at The Venetian casino in Macau on Sunday that he planned to travel to the epicenter of this month's Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 5,000 people and displaced an estimated 3 million.
"I promised them that after the fight I would go to Tacloban to visit them," Pacquiao said. "As soon as possible we will finalize the date, what day."
Despite the devastation, big screens were set up in the city's plaza to allow fans to watch Sunday's fight, and their spirits received a much-needed boost from the victory for the Filipino star.
When the storm hit, Pacquiao was already in a training camp at the southern city of General Santos, and while the boxer and lawmaker's first instinct was to go to the affected areas to help, he was talked out of it by trainer Freddie Roach and others who advised him that the best thing he could do for the nation's spirits was to win the fight.
"It was very difficult for me, I felt so bad for what happened," Pacquiao said after Sunday's fight. "I wanted to visit there but because of my training I could not, so I was just praying for them and sent my staff to bring them help.
"This fight is for the families and the people affected by the typhoon — I am just happy that God answered my prayer."
While Pacquiao dedicated the victory to his country, it also was a vitally important victory for personal reasons, restoring a career that appeared on the wane after consecutive losses and almost a year out of the ring.
The brutal nature of his knockout loss to veteran Juan Manuel Marquez last December had many questioning whether Pacquiao could get back to the status he enjoyed as one of the world's best fighters around the turn of the decade. He turns 35 next month.
Even trainer Freddie Roach had doubts, saying Pacquiao should retire if he did not win and win convincingly against Rios.
The doubts and the fears quickly subsided as Pacquiao started strongly against Rios in the opening couple of rounds, throwing his trademark combination punches from all angles at a speed that was as quick as ever.
Rios rallied in the third round, and landed some good blows that had the pro-Pacquiao crowd at a sold-out 13,000-seat Cotai Arena groaning and shrieking in anxiety.
Pacquiao reasserted his dominance and went on to a unanimous points victory, with the judges scoring it 120-108, 119-109, 118-110. The Associated Press scored it 119-109.
Roach said "there were no signs of him slowing down whatsoever" even though Pacquiao did not press home his dominance and still has not stopped an opponent since 2009.
Pacquiao said memories of the Marquez knockout were in his mind and he was cautious in the closing rounds, while Roach chalked it up to the "compassion" in his deeply Christian fighter.
"Manny let him off the hook, I wanted the knockout and it was there, but I was very happy with the way he performed," Roach said.
Promoter Bob Arum said Pacquiao's next fight was tentatively scheduled for April 12, likely in the United States. The options include a rematch with Timothy Bradley, who took a contentious points decision against the Filipino last year, another clash with Marquez although the Mexican's camp was setting a high price on a rematch, or Russian Ruslan Provodnikov.
The fight the boxing world wants to see is a clash with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Arum said it was still possible.
"I know it's a fight that should happen and where there is a will there is a way," Arum said, expressing his frustration that the fighters' conflicting affiliations continued to be an impediment. "If all sides cut out the crap, it can be done."