PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — MANNY Pacquiao returns to the warm embrace of the Filipino people as the boxing sensation arrives in the country before daybreak today, less than a week following his domination of Mexican Marco Antonio Barrera in their 12-round rematch in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The 28-year old ring idol is planing in straight from Los Angeles, California on board Philippine Airlines flight 103, together with wife Jinkee, boxing adviser Rex ‘Wakee’ Salud and other close friends.
On Sunday, Pacquiao scored a convincing 12-round unanimous decision victory over the 33-year-old Barrera in their return bout since their 2003 slugfest in San Antonio, Texas also won by the Filipino southpaw.
Following the one-sided loss, Barrera, a certified boxing Hall of Famer, announced his retirement from the sport after a colorful and legendary 18-year career.
The day starts early for the Filipino boxing superstar. After a brief rest and sumptuous breakfast, Pacquiao and his entourage will visit the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), whose secretary Lito Atienza, the former Manila Mayor, is a close friend and supporter of the General Santos City native.
A press conference is set at the department’s Social Hall before Pacquiao proceeds to Malacanang at 10 a.m. for a courtesy call to President Arroyo.
The hectic schedule led the former two-time world champion to drop a planned motorcade in Manila, an event that has been a regular fanfare with every Pacquiao victory during the time of Atienza as Manila mayor.
Mayor Alfredo Lim said that Pacquiao’s business manager, Eric Pineda, sent a text message informing them that the Filipino boxer couldn’t attend the motorcade because of a prior commitment, according to an Internet report by television network ABS-CBN.
The decision not to take part in the Manila motorcade will throw away days of preparation by city officials, who have been setting up the tour since Monday.
Pacquiao is expected to appear in more functions after today. He is likely to attend the opening ceremonies of the Philippine Basketball Association’s 33rd season on Sunday at the Araneta Coliseum, while a similar motorcade awaits him by the time he went home in General Santos City.
Meanwhile shortly after the Filipino left Los Angeles, Top Rank big boss Bob Arum disclosed that high-profile fights await Pacquiao in 2008.
Arum, who co-promotes the southpaw fighter together with Golden Boy Promotions, said Pacquiao plans to have his first fight next year in February or March, return to action by mid-2008 and then cap the season with another match in November.
The Top Rank head didn’t mention names of Pacquiao’s possible opponents, although there are countless prospects eager to face the Filipino.
Tops on the list are reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) lightweight titleholder David Diaz, WBC featherweight boss Juan Manuel Marquez (if he gets past Rocky Juarez on Nov. 3 in Arizona) and Joan Guzman of the Dominican Republic, who battles the equally-capable Humberto Soto of Mexico on Nov. 17.
“Everybody wants a piece of Manny Pacquiao,” said Arum.
Aside from Diaz, Marquez and Guzman, others who have been making noise the past few days include Venezuelan kayo king Edwin Valero, the current World Boxing Association 130-lb supremo, and Cuban veteran Joel Casamayor.
Valero was at ringside during the Pacquiao-Barrera rematch and he was unimpressed with Pacquiao’s showing.
“All speed, no power,” Valero, 22-0 with 22 knockouts, told a couple of Filipino scribes at the Events Center.
While Las Vegas remains the frontrunner in hosting Pacquiao fights, Macau is also eager to host the world’s finest fighter pound for pound.
Pacquiao hinted at the possibility of invading the lightweight ranks when he experienced difficulties making the 130-lb limit in the Barrera match, having to get rid of two to three pounds hours before the official weigh-in.