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Mike Friolo.
(Originally conceptualized in 2011, this interview-collaboration initially did not push through due to pressing personal concerns and work commitments by both parties. That year, Pacquiao fought twice, registering two wins but lost two bouts the following year – one controversial decision loss to Timothy Bradley and a shock 6th Round KO to his Mexican “contra pelo” Juan Manuel Marquez in an exciting fourth fight.

For avid collectors of exclusive Nike shoes and apparel bearing the image of the Filipino boxing icon, the December 2012 bout appeared to be the PacMan’s last fight wherein fans were able to purchase Nike items with the United States being the primary market. No footwear and apparel were released for the Brandon Rios tiff in Macau in 2013 and also none for his upcoming rematch with Bradley in April 2014. For serious and casual collectors, the Marquez KO loss appeared to be the beginning of the end to the Nike Pacquiao era.

A collector himself, the author deems it fit to pay homage to a legendary designer who maximized his talent and skill to boost Pacquiao’s image in particular, and of the Filipinos in general.
Oregon-based Mike Friolo took great pains in researching his parents’ Philippine roots and immersing himself on its rich culture and symbols to enable him to come up with ideas on how to craft the Pacquiao Nike designs.

In this exclusive interview, readers are afforded a chance to take a peek at his persona, tidbits on his professional background and more importantly, his message to potential designers and his rather bold appeal to his followers.)

In October 2007, Manny ‘PacMan” Pacquiao wore striking red trunks with white band in his rematch with Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera. Fight fans observed a familiar logo as seen on popular athletes: the Nike swoosh. Gone was the familiar “No Fear” trunks and headband which PacMan fans were usually accustomed to in every fight.

The shift obviously meant that the Filipino was touted as the “next great thing” in the sport as Nike usually markets and promotes its promising athletes. There was no doubt Pacquiao was the man.

However, despite the excellent level of his speed and power never before seen in the sport, Pacquiao was still an unknown boxer in the United States at that juncture even after his trilogy with Tijuana, Mexico gladiator Erik Morales in 2005 until 2006. At the Nike headquarters in Oregon, it was rumored that nobody seemed interested in doing his designs from the get go.

After some speculation and “finger-pointing”, eventually the opportunity fell on the lap of a talented individual of Filipino descent who stepped up to the plate to design all apparel and footwear for the PacMan. His name was Michael Friolo. To his family and peers, he was simply Mike.

Mike Friolo is a graphic designer by profession and was widely credited as a direct participant in conceptualizing the designs for the Pacquiao Nike project from 2007-2009. These concepts had been translated into PacMan’s official crest, MP logo and Filipino-themed designs and colors which befit the popular boxer’s legendary status. Eventually, these were seen in Nike shoes and apparel with the graphic and intricate designs carefully imprinted, sewn and/or embossed.  

To the so-called “sneakerheads” and Pacquiao fans who had supported and bought these Nike items -- either staying late for the midnight release or waking up at dawn to be the early birds at the nearby Nike or Champs store -- Friolo’s efforts raised the bar in creating the designs which truly reflected the “Filipino” in the famous boxer.

The last of these designs in tees and kicks were last seen in the Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto face-off in November 2009.
In an exclusive interview, the former Nike designer opens up and expounds his rationale behind these designs, as well as his memories on how he came up with those. The interviewer sought out the well-known designer who was praised in sneaker forums and the like, and here’s how it went, to wit:

Oliver: Hello Mike, again thank you for allowing me to reach out to you. What’s keeping you busy nowadays aside from your regular job as one of Columbia Sportswear’s chief designers?

Mike:  Anything and everything, I have a tendency not to stay idle for too long. One of my mentors once told me this: "you're only as good as your last gig”. That one really stuck with me. Never rest on your laurels and always find new projects to keep you sharp, ready to kick a** but remaining humble. I've worked on various projects over the past few years that have kept me busy. I've designed for Under Armor Basketball, Li Ning Basketball, Nike NFL, Adidas Basketball, Clinch Gear's athlete Dan Henderson, to name a few. Recently, I worked on graphics and branding for the US, Canada, and Russia ski team uniforms for the 2014 Winter Olympics which I thought were great projects.

Oliver: Could you please tell me briefly about your background and how you became a graphic designer? I understand your parents were originally from the Philippines and initially migrated to Canada in the 80s before settling eventually in nearby United States.

Mike: Yes, I was born in the Philippines, raised in Canada before moving again to the States, and I've lived here ever since. I have been a designer for 20+ years. Originally, I was interested in architecture (my dad was an architect) but found my passion with everything revolving around design. My first professional design opportunity after college was actually at Nike in 1993. I've worked just about every aspect of design -- from graphics, advertising, web design, apparel, and some footwear.

Oliver: How and when did you eventually land the opportunity to work for Nike corporate office in Beaverton, Oregon? Upon your hiring by Nike, what were your initial projects with the shoe and apparel giant before you eventually bumped onto the Nike Pacquiao project? In what capacity were you involved at?

Mike: I went back to Nike in 2003 and I started at the Kids division, designing apparel graphics for Boys and Girls. I worked at several departments starting at Men's Sportswear designing tees. Then worked at the Urban division, designing graphics thereat for apparel and footwear, and some for Lebron James. That led me to Nike Basketball where I worked on projects involving Lebron, a little involvement on Kobe Bryant’s stuffs, and College Basketball. I was the lead graphic designer for House of Hoops -- creating designs for tees and graphics for sneakerhead basketball shoes.

When I was asked to work on the Pacquiao brand, I had just finished working on Olympic uniforms for the Philippine National Basketball Team. The sudden focus on Pacquiao seemed to make sense for me. At first, the project was super small involving only a couple tees and shorts. Eventually, I was briefed by Nike corporate to come up with a logo mark for Pacquiao but my own neurotic behavior got the best of me. I started to work on the logo mark, the crest, the in-ring uniforms, robes, the graphics for the shoes, the boxes for the footwear and everything in-between. You can visualize the emotional roller-coaster I was on at that juncture.

Oliver: By having a Filipino heritage, did you feel any pressure to submit the designs which you deemed as truly representative of the Philippines and Manny Pacquiao? How did you cope with it?

Mike: On the one hand, it was a blessing but on the other hand, it was also a curse. I had great insights and I really wanted to create something iconic and meaningful that resonated with Filipinos and the fans. Indeed, the pressure was on and it kept me up for many nights. I already knew who Pacquiao was as a boxer. My dad would have me over to watch his fights, and he was a super fan of Pacquiao and boxing in general (I grew-up watching boxing, I was no stranger to it.) Knowing how excited my own family got, I realized that this was a bigger opportunity to really showcase Manny and the Filipino culture, and to create something that was meaningful.

I can't think of an instance where a designer is handed a project that has cultural relevance to his/her own heritage -- to create something meaningful for a one-of-a-kind athlete who is a symbol for an entire nation and Filipinos around the world. His fans love and adore him.

I believed that this was something that will always be part of Nike's DNA, something that Nike will be known for like the Jordan logo or Lebron logo, or any other big athlete in Nike's endless stable. For me, this was the big show! I've worked on tons of icons, logos and marks over the years at Nike but I had no idea this particular project would gain such a cult following. I didn't want to let anyone down! 


Click here to view a list of other articles written by Oliver Iglesias.

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