After strutting past a media scrum and into a conference room full of star-struck officials and budding boxers on Wednesday, Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao promised to return to Cambodia to help train the next generation of fighters, officials said.
On the second and final day of his whistle-stop tour of the capital with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Mr. Pacquiao met officials, including Tourism Minister Thong Khon, and about 20 boxers at Phnom Penh’s Sofitel hotel at about 9 a.m.
During a meeting that lasted a mere 15 minutes, Mr. Khon, also the head of the country’s Olympic committee, said the superstar welterweight vowed to return as early as next year.
“The Cambodian people as well as Cambodian athletes, especially boxers, feel very happy to meet him in Cambodia,” Mr. Khon said. “He is a very famous boxer, not only for Cambodia, Asia, but also the world as a whole.”
“We have invited him to visit Cambodia again and he has accepted the invitation,” he added. “He promised to come again and to train Cambodia boxers…. I think his next visit could be next year.”
He added that Mr. Pacquiao had promised to attend the 2023 SEA Games, when they are held in Cambodia for the first time.
Eh Phuthong, one of Cambodia’s all-time great kickboxers, was among those who sat in the brief meeting with Mr. Pacquiao. Mr. Phuthong took a break from posing for selfies with reporters and fans to speak of his adoration for Mr. Pacquiao.
“It’s the first time for me to see the world’s king of boxing, so I and other athletes feel quite happy to see him,” he said.
“In Asia, he is the strongest and his visit means our young generations would see their hero and idol and they would be more eager to train like Pacquiao because they want to have pride like him.”
One of boxing’s greatest pound-for-pound fighters, Mr. Pacquiao—also a senator in the Philippines—was widely condemned in February after he labeled same-sex couples “worse than animals,” resulting in Nike dropping his lucrative sponsorship deal.
Prime Minister Hun Sen is a big fan of the boxer and in May last year slammed the decision to score what was billed as the “fight of the century” between Mr. Pacquiao and U.S. fighter Floyd Mayweather Jr. in favor of the latter. Mr. Hun Sen said he would not pay up on a $5,000 bet with a colleague in protest of the decision.
Mixed martial arts fighter Sim Bunsrun spoke of his excitement at the prospect of having Asia’s greatest boxer returning to Cambodia to pass on his expertise.
“He is a world-class boxer and he is visiting Cambodia so the international stage will be more interested in Cambodia,” he said. “And the world will know more about Cambodia through his visit.”