A few days before he rumbled with Marco Antonio Barrera for the first time 20 years ago in San Antonio, Texas, Manny Pacquiao and his entourage — numbering about 10 people — had just finished dining at a local Chinese restaurant and the customary fortune cookies were being handed out.
Pacquiao was with members of the original Team Pacquiao — composed of seasoned boxing people from Manila, a handful of United States-based individuals, a businessman from San Juan, and a couple of Filipino scribes — when the then fast-rising puncher unwrapped his cookie and cracked it open.
The message read: Prepare for something big.
Pacquiao’s camp was already oozing with confidence when it set foot in Texas from California and the prophetic note only heightened the excitement.
Virgi Romano, then writing for Abante, and yours truly, were the only writers at the Alamodome.
Aside from the late Rod Nazario and company, also present was Pacquiao’s wife Jinkee, and Buboy Fernandez, who was attending his first fight.
Of course, there was Freddie Roach, who had a solid support cast made up of strength and conditioning coach Justin Fortune and cutman Lenny de Jesus.
The fortune cookie proved prophetic as Pacquiao battered Marco Antonio Barrera into submission in the dying seconds of the 11th round.
Barrera was being unveiled at that time by Oscar De La Hoya’s newly-formed Golden Boy Promotions and Pacquiao appeared to be the perfect platform to launch his rise to superstardom.
But Pacquiao rained on their parade and scored one of boxing’s biggest upsets in history.
The San Juan businessman later revealed that he made a killing as Pacquiao, who was moving up in weight, was the massive underdog.
The win opened up a lot of opportunities for Pacquiao as he found himself barreling into the domain of Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez.
“That was the fight (and win) that put Manny on the map,” Sean Gibbons, who is now Pacquiao’s right-hand man at MP Promotions, said from Uzbekistan, site of the ongoing World Boxing Council convention.
After dumping Barrera, Pacquiao rammed against Marquez in May 2004 in Las Vegas, a brawl that ended on a controversial draw, and one that spawned three rematches.
In March 2005, Morales beat him in Sin City but Pacquiao got back at him in January the following year and showed everyone the win was not a fluke when he did the same thing — knock Morales out — in the third bout in late-2006.
Now that Pacquiao has retired from the fight game, I consider the first Barrera fight as tops on my list, ahead of the De La Hoya demolition in December 2012, his US debut in June 2001 against Lehlo Ledwaba, his quick destruction of Ricky Hatton and even his epic conquest of Keith Thurman in July 2019, matches that I covered at ringside alongside the other 25 on US soil and the numerous others elsewhere in Thailand, Macau, Australia and the Philippines.
I could remember how the arena looked and sounded like shortly after referee Laurence Cole finally called a halt.
The silence was deafening and the spectators looked as if they were attending a wake.
The only guys who were celebrating were Jinkee, the veteran boxing men from Manila, the San Juan proprietor, a few US-based Filipinos, Roach and his training team and the two writers Pacquiao had flown in from the Philippines to cover the fight.
Those were the days.