This article originally appeared in Christianity Today. It is available in full behind a paywall on their site.
A political candidate was recently elected who is a bigger celebrity than Donald Trump, talks more about his personal relationship with God than Ted Cruz, and understands poverty more intimately than Bernie Sanders. As the winner of world titles in eight different weight classes, the candidate is also considered by many fans and fighting experts alike to be the most dynamic boxer to lace up the gloves since Muhammad Ali.
Manny Pacquiao, who has been a congressman in the Congress of the Philippines since 2010, won a seat in the Filipino Senate on May 9. He retired from boxing this spring shortly after defeating welterweight Timothy Bradley in a 12-round decision in Las Vegas. From street kid to world boxing champion to national hero and global icon, Pacquiao, 37, will continue his unlikely career trajectory by pursuing a new vocation: that of evangelical politician.
From ‘Nothing’ to $400 Million
A week before his fight with Bradley, I sat and talked to Pacquiao in the basement of Hollywood’s famous Wild Card Boxing Gym as he prepared for a training session with his longtime coach, Freddie Roach.
We talked a bit about his upcoming match, but mostly about his 2012 conversion to Christianity and the way his relatively new faith might shape his career post-boxing. “Now I understand everything,” Pacquiao said about his boxing career and unlikely rise to stardom. “The Lord raised me from nothing into something for a purpose, not for my purpose but for his purpose.”
Pacquiao said he came from “nothing,” but describing his life story as “rags to riches” captures neither the hopelessness of his youth nor the wealth and fame he found through boxing. Pacquiao was born in a village …
This post is part of the Faith and the Fight series:
The Boxer’s Prayer
Faith in East Los Angeles, the Vatican of Boxing
The Conversion of Freddie Roach: Boxing without Religion
Pre-Fight and Post-Fight Prayers
The Welterweight Church Usher
Andrew Johnson is a research associate with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.