MANNY Pacquiao is sometimes showbiz, but he was obviously honest when he told ABS-CBN correspondent Dyan Castillejo this: “(F)irst time in my life, in my boxing career, na ako ang main event na ganito karami ang mga tao.” Consider: 50,994 people watched his bout with Ghana’s Joshua Clottey at Dallas’ Cowboys Stadium last Sunday.

Let us put that in its context. In recent history, the biggest crowd drawer was the fight between heavyweights Muhammad Ali and Leon Spinks at the Superdome in New Orleans in 1978. That attracted 63,350 people. In 1997, Julio Cesar Chavez and Pernell Whitaker tangled at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. A crowd of 59,995 gathered.

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That makes the Pacquiao-Clottey fight the third biggest crowd drawer in boxing in recent years. But here’s my take. Spinks-Ali was a heavyweight bout and Ali was an all-time great and the most popular boxer in the US. Chavez and Whitaker are all-time greats in the lower weights. In the case of Pacquiao-Clottey, Pacquiao was the sole draw.

Manny has become a cross-over star and is today’s face of boxing, contrary claims by the brash Floyd Mayweather Jr. notwithstanding. That crowd is proof of that. The Pacman legend has so grown worldwide people are joining what Ring Magazine editor Nigel Collins described as “the incredible thrill ride that is Manny Pacquiao.”

And international media are on the bandwagon, too. Consider Esquire’s Gary Andrew Poole, who has written for New York Times, Time and the Atlantic. He has announced that he is writing a biography of the Pinoy boxing icon. That should be big. I like his post-fight article, “Manny Pacquiao’s Secret to Success,” published on March 15.

That article brought Ali up in relation to some aspects of Pacquiao’s life, like his entourage that Roy Luarca of the Inquirer said is now 174 people-strong. Here’s Poole writing about “them”: “Other guys hold his comb, take care of his diamond earring, fluff his rice, hang up his exercise mat and walk his Jack Russel terrier named Pacman.”

On the Pacman magic, Jerry Jones, who built the magnificent Cowboys Stadium, said: “Michael Irvin has an aura---he had a way to create energy. Manny has that. I know what ‘it’ is. It’s taking talent and maximizing that talent and walking the walk. That’s what he is: He walks in and he has that aura.” (Irvin is an American football great.)

Some people have it, some people don’t. And there’s an increasing belief among big names in sports that Pacquiao has “it.” “Reminds me of a time I was walking with Muhammad Ali, and he literally sopped traffic,” Poole quoted Ross Greenburg, president of HBO sports, as saying. “People were mesmerized and it is the same with Manny.”

Collins’s, “Pacquiao: Roots of His Legend and Secret of his Success” (posted on March 8 at best summed up what Pacquiao has become: “Today, he is the centerpiece of a growing economic and political empire, an international personality whose life and exploits have eclipsed the sports page and become the stuff of legend.”

Last year, Pacquiao joined Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s best paid athletes, ranking sixth with estimated earnings of US $40 million. He earned more than tennis superstar Roger Federer and Shaquille O’Neal (with US $33 million each). In the top 10 were big names like Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.

Manny has really come a long way and we his kababayans better heed Collins advice: “all we can do is hold tight and enjoy the trip.”

( my blog: