Boxing great Manny Pacquiao: from booze, gambling and girls to a devotion to Jesus Christ

Reuters

Manny Pacquiao will have the world's attention on him this weekend, as he dons his gloves for what's been dubbed the 'fight of the century'. The boxer is considered one of the best ever to have lived, and Sunday's fight with the undefeated Floyd Mayweather has been keenly anticipated by boxing fans.

But it's not his favourite topic of conversation. Pacquiao is well known for his frequent references to Jesus. At the pre-fight press conference, he told reporters: "Everything I have accomplished, God has given me this strength. I used to sleep in the street, hungry, and I cannot imagine that the Lord raised me to this level of life."

Manny's rags to riches story has made the boxer a national hero in his native Phillipines, and he rubs shoulders with celebs and politicians regularly. He was named 'fighter of the decade' for the noughties. 

But despite all this success, several years ago he found himself on his knees and begging God for forgiveness, declaring 'I am not worthy in your sight'. Crying and feeling as though he wanted to die: he said, "Lord just guide me. I am not a talented person".

Though he started life as a Catholic, attended church, and referred to God often - it was after this dramatic encounter with God over four years ago that his life really changed. He describes his previous life as filled with "women, drinking and gambling" though he has been married for nearly 15 years. He says that he thinks he was headed for Hell.

But when he was converted, he described a "conviction from the Holy Spirit" and a vision from God.

"I heard the voice of God and I saw two angels," he said of his conversion experience. "When I heard the voice of God I felt like I died. ... I was in the middle of the forest and I was kneeling and praying with my face on the ground and then I saw a light, a very white light and I heard the voice."

Now he preaches regularly on the importance of being born again and believing and obeying Christ for salvation. He talks of God whenever he has a public platform. On Twitter and Facebook, he frequently thanks God and quotes Bible verses.

At the National Prayer breakfast in Washington in February this year, he spoke to Fox News about his faith. "I hate to do [drinking, women and gambling] any more, my heart is to read the Bible, to obey God, that is my heart," he said. "That is how God changed my life.

"When you have Jesus in your life, when you have God in your life, the things in this world are not important to your heart. The most important iscGod in your heart.

When asked if he saw a conflict between boxing and his faith, he said: "God has a purpose, he bring me back in his kingdom to use me to glorify his name, to let the people know that there is God, who can raise people from nothing into something".

Sunday's fight is very early in the morning, and the odds are in Pacquiao's favour. It's likely that he will retire from boxing afterwards at the age of 36. But his ove for Jesus doesn't show any sign of retiring.