LAS VEGAS — Where Manny Pacquiao goes, Nick Giongco is usually not far behind. They've traveled the world together: all over the United States, Thailand, Mexico, Macau and of course, the Philippines.
Giongco, 45, is a sportswriter for the Manila Bulletin, the largest newspaper in the Philippines, and he's been covering Pacquiao's fights for nearly two decades, long before anyone in the United States had ever heard of the Filipino superstar.
"Pacquiao has changed of course," Giongco says, "but he remains the same to me."
All of the major newspapers in the Philippines will be represented in Las Vegas this week, some sending as many five reporters to document Pacquiao's big bout against Floyd Mayweather. The thirst back home can't be quenched. Giongco will crank out story after story. As fight week unfolds, the workload will only increase. The reporter expects to file at least six stories Friday, probably just as many the night of the fight and then six or so more the day after, too.
He's made multiple trips to the United States to document Pacquiao's training camp in Los Angeles. Pacquiao always seems to fit Giongco into his busy schedule. Sometimes that's at the gym. Other times it might be at the fighter's home. In the lead-up to Saturday's bout, Giongco has visited with him at both places.
"He is still a very charming person to talk to in private," the reporter says. "You shove a tape recorder and he would be gun-shy, but if you talk to him whenever there is no microphone, he speaks his mind and that's the time you get the best quotes."
Their unique reporter-athlete relationship is not like something American sports fans would easily recognize. Giongco considers the fighter a friend and even asked Pacquiao to serve as godfather to his daughter. The boxer often asks Giongco to organize or host big dinner with sportswriters and friends at which the fighter occasionally auctions off prizes, such as televisions or laptops.
"I know that it's different here in the U.S. and a line has to be drawn involving athletes and journalists," Giongco says. "But it's totally different in the Philippines. It's a cultural thing, I guess."
Still, their relationship has had its rough patches. After Giongco reported on Pacquiao's gambling habits, the boxer sued him for libel in July 2007. The fighter apparently had no intention of holding a grudge. Giongco showed up to cover Pacquiao-Barrera in October 2007, and the champion shook his hand and never mentioned the suit. It was dropped a couple of weeks later.
Covering Pacquiao, of course, isn't as simple as attending fights and cranking out articles. In the Philippines, Pacquiao is a politician — currently in his second term as a congressman — and also an entertainer who has dabbled in singing, acting and even professional basketball.
"People in the Philippines love Pacquiao as a boxer But his constituents love him as well in his native Sarangani province because he doesn't talk a lot like most politicians do," Giongco says. "He shells out his own money to help the poor."
Giongco has covered all of Pacquiao's fights in the United States, dating to his debut here in June 2001. But he started covering the Filipino fighter back in 1996 when Pacquiao had barely a dozen professional fights under his belt. The reporter hasn't missed a Pacquiao fight in person since September 1999.
"I never thought he would be this big," Giongco says. "I had thought that he'd be just a three-division or four-division world champion and not an eight-division titleholder."
He witnessed all of Pacquiao's greatest hits: He was one of only two Filipino reporters ringside for the boxer's U.S. debut and says he was nearly in tears when Pacquiao pulled off an upset over Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003. He recalls fondly the wins over Erik Morales and Oscar De La Hoya and he'll never forget the loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012.
"I thought that was the end of an era," he says.
Because he goes where Pacquiao goes, on Saturday Giongco will be at ringside again. It's the biggest bout Pacquiao has ever fought, the biggest Giongco has ever covered and the one the Philippines has been anticipating for several years.
"The Philippines will go upside down if he beats Mayweather," the Pacquiao chronicler said. "And if Manny loses? Well, it'll be a national mourning. The Filipino people would understand if the flag is flown at half mast."