GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines — Philippine boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao says he has given up gambling, cockfighting and other vices to become a goodwill ambassador for the Catholic church.
Pacquiao, one of the richest men in the Philippines and a national icon, also announced that he had sold his shares in a Manila casino, and in a nightclub and a bar, while also giving away to friends all his fighting cocks.
“I am no longer in the vice business. I’ve sold my shares in a big nightclub along with my shares in a Manila casino outlet,” the 32-year-old, the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, told reporters in a recent interview in the southern Philippines.
“I do realise I was a weak person before. If I had died the other year, I believe my soul would have ended in hell,” he said.
“I had faith, but I was doing things which were against the will of God.”
Aides said the eight-time world champion had owned more than a thousand roosters worth 30 million pesos ($709,000) for cockfights, a Philippine blood sport where the birds fight to the death armed with sharp metal spurs.
His remaining past time now is basketball, said Pacquiao, who is also a member of the Philippine parliament.
Regarded as one of the greatest boxers in history, amassing a 54-3 win-loss record with two drawn bouts, Pacquiao holds a record eight world titles in as many weight divisions.
He often cites God as the source of his ongoing success and wears a rosary around his neck before and after fights.
However he has not escaped intrigue and reports of him womanising — despite being married — and gambling have become rich tabloid fodder.
“I have found my real peace and happiness now,” he said. “I draw strength and inspiration from reading and hearing the word of God.”
He said he and his wife — along with friends — now read the Bible every day at home.
The powerful Catholic church in the Philippines said last month it had asked Pacquiao to become its ambassador.
“With all humility, yes, I am accepting the daunting task,” he said.
The Pacquiao shares in the casino, called Poker Asia, were sold and the proceeds given to its workers, his spokeswoman Rose Tamayo told reporters, without giving the value of the assets.
“It was a very lucrative business. But this only shows the Congressman’s resolve to change for the better,” she said.