The year 2012 was an unforgettable one for eight-division boxing title holder Manny Pacquiao because two events further fueled talks of his imminent retirement from professional boxing.
The first, of course, was his unexpected loss to Mexican boxer Juan Manuel Marquez on Dec 8 by a knockout on the sixth round. The Filipino boxing champ's previous loss to American boxer Timothy Bradley on June 9 wherein also lost his WBO Welterweight title, was another indicator of the Pacman's apparent reaching the apex of his career.
His loss to Bradley has led his family to urge Manny to end his boxing career, but the champ ignored their appeals. Again, his mother, Dionesia, and wife, Jinkee, repeated the call for Manny to hang his boxing gloves, amid observations by some Filipino doctors that he appears to be showing early signs of Parkinson's disease, but Pacquiao reportedly wants to meet Marquez in a fifth match.
However, what doctors and his family could not stop, God may. The second event that now heavily influences Manny's decisions is his becoming a born-again Christian in middle of 2012. As a result of his newly discovered Christian convictions, Pacquiao sold all his business interests in casinos and other forms of gambling, stopped his frequent extramarital affairs with starlets, attends Bible study sessions at his mansion in General Santos City and even expressed a desire to become a pastor.
Raised a Catholic and known for hearing Mass and making the sign of the cross before boxing matches, Biblical verses now could be seen in Pacquiao's official Web site, although he has not officially cut his ties with the Catholic church.
While critics, including his mother, have blamed his two recent losses to Manny's becoming a born-again Christian. The issue of his loss has divided traditional Catholics and born-again groups.
A Facebook posting by a former Youth With A Mission member, Pastor Leo Labaton of the Wesleyan Church, captures in essence the trials that athletes who embraced Christianity will face in their careers as their physical strength eventually diminishes, but their spiritual strength grows.
"Life has its ups and downs . . . Manny is a sportsman and he is not a god, he is not invincible . . . Through this loss, he will still glorify God and more people will be brought to the Savior's feet," AssistNews quoted the pastor's posting.
The same philosophy seems to have been adapted by these five top athletes, who like Pacquiao, have embraced Christianity.
1. George Foreman - He held the heavyweight title twice 19 years part and ended his professional boxing career with 76 wins and 5 losses over 28 years. When he quit boxing in 1977, Foreman became a Baptist minister following a near-death experience due to exhaustion and heatstroke after his bout with Jimmy Young. During the experience, he bargained with God to extend his life in exchange for changing his life and ways.
He has shared his testimony in Christian TV programmes such as The 700 Club where he tackled fatherhood.
2. Tim Tebow - He used to be a quarterback of the Florida University football team where he capped his collegiate athletic career with 2 National Championships, the Hersman Trophy, the Associated Press Player of the Year, the Davey O'Brien Award and being 3-time All American awarded.
Tim's faith was developed by his family, who are missionaries. Before he enrolled for university, Tim spent three summers in the Philippines helping with his father's orphanage and missionary work.
One of his strong testimonies to the youth is his advocacy for abstinence and his open admission of being a virgin until he gets married.
3. Jeremy Lin - Tim Tebow has become the peg for Christian athletes that basketball's latest sensation, the towering Jeremy Lin is dubbed the Taiwanese Tebow. The 6' 3" New York Knicks guard rose to international fame when he scored 89 points in his three NBA games as a starter, 109 in his first four and 136 in his first five.
Lin is an evangelical Christian who led the Asian American Christian Fellowship when he studied at Harvard University. Besides his basketball career, Lin aspires to become a pastor and head a non-profit organisation and to work in inner-city communities to help poor children.
4. Albert Pujols - He is considered one of the greatest hitters in baseball history and is an icon with the St. Louis Cardinals. Albert holds the record in major league history for batting at least .300 with 30 or more home runs and 100 or more runs batted in his first 10 seasons.
Pujols became a Christian in 1998, influenced mainly by his wife, Diedre, and grandmother. On the Pujols Family Foundation Web site, the baseball player wrote, "In the Pujols family, God is first. Everything else is a distant second." The foundation has a heart for people suffering from Down syndrome and sends medical missions to the Dominican Republic.
5. David Robinson - Another NBA superstar, David won two NBA championships with the San Antonio Spurs and became a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
In his induction speech, he mentioned a story from the Gospel of Luke and concluded his speech that God followed him in his career. He told Sports Illustrated in 1996 that he is not playing for the fans or money, but to honor God.
The 7' 1" center has numerous charitable works, including donating over $11 million to the Carver Academy in San Antonio, which he established mainly to encourage to youth to pursue education.
These five top athletes indicate that a sports career and one's faith can go together, especially in team sports like basketball, football and baseball. However, in the case of contact sports such as boxing which has been criticised for being too brutal, the pressure is greater on Pacquiao to yield the gloves.
The next few months would be interesting to observe which way the eight-division title will swing.