There’s the Rub

In the end

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IN THE end, Manny Pacquiao lay crumpled on the canvas, face down, his left arm twisted crookedly behind him, his right buried underneath his unmoving body. It was an eerily familiar sight.

How could it not be? There were plenty of reminders of it, not least the flashing of highlights of his past fights on a cylindrical screen high above the ring that spun around and around. It was capped by Ricky Hatton throwing a wayward punch at him and him countering with a left jab that landed flush on Hatton’s face and twisted it into a violent grimace. That was the punch that nearly ended Hatton’s life. It wasn’t just that it took Hatton a long time to get up, which worried his corner no end, and he had to be sent to the hospital afterward. It was that Hatton contemplated suicide afterward. That blow had a decisiveness to it, it had a finality to it.

It was history repeating itself, the first as victory, the second as tragedy. At least for us. It was history repeating itself, except that the roles were reversed. Eager to do to Juan Manuel Marquez what he had done to a string of Mexican fighters before him, Pacquiao had thrown a wayward punch at his head and Marquez had countered with a right that landed flush on his jaw. Pacquiao never knew what hit him. It wasn’t just that he lost the fight, as one text message quipped, it was that he lost consciousness.

That was what made it a bitter pill to swallow, the sublime irony or ironic completeness of it, being almost a carbon copy of his demolition of Hatton. Of course Hatton wasn’t Mexican, he was Brit, but he might as well have stood for the slew of Mexican fighters Pacquiao had sent to a similar state or worse, their faces puffed up beyond recognition, their egos trampled upon beyond repair. And now a Mexican had done to him exactly the same thing.

That was what made it a bitter pill to swallow, the decisiveness of it, the finality of it. Pacquiao had lost before, but never like this. He had been outmaneuvered before, he had been outpointed before, but he had never been knocked out cold before, he had never been thoroughly humiliated before, he had never been obliterated before. His destination after fights, or so we’ve naturally come to expect, was the concert hall, not the hospital.

It could have been worse, as it was. You saw Jinkee’s face as she stood over her fallen husband, ashen-faced, tearful, and fearful. Pacquiao wasn’t moving, and the ring doctor had been summoned to check on him. What flashed in my mind at that sight was that she wasn’t thinking about what had happened and its implications to her husband’s career or standing in the community. She was just thinking, “Please, God, let him live, please, God, let him be all right.”

What was unthinkable had suddenly, nightmarishly, and shockingly become thinkable. In fact it had become grim reality. Driven home by the Mexicans in attendance—a multitude of them had descended on the arena, as though smelling blood, as though smelling redemption—erupting into thunderous rejoicing. Accompanied by taunting chants. Their own text messages flew thick and fast. “Marquez will be holding a concert tonight, be there,” said one. “How many Mexicans does it take to knock out Pacquiao? One,” said another.

To say that they burst into ecstatic celebration and dancing in the streets is to say that Filipinos burst into ecstatic celebration and dancing in the streets at Edsa. Well into the night, groups of drunken Mexicans swaying as they crossed streets could be heard shouting “Viva Mejico,” to find an echoing shout from passing cars.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, it is a bitter pill to swallow. Made all the more bitter by the thought that if Marquez had not managed to sneak in that punch, and, tragedy of tragedies, at the very last second, Pacquiao might have gone on to win the fight. Indeed, might have gone on to knock out Marquez as he had vowed to, he had wrested control of the fight, he was on the way there. But life has a way of throwing a curve ball at the best of us. You can’t always get what you want, or even what already seems within grasp.

But in the end, as in most everything else in life, it’s how we respond to adversity rather than adversity itself that defines us, that makes us win or lose. Nothing can ever take the sting of Pacquiao’s massive debacle, which is our debacle too—so share my glory, so share my coffin, as Evita puts it—but we can always show class in the face of it. Pacquiao himself has always done so, he has never made excuses. Look at what he did after his fight with Timothy Bradley. Though he believed he had won it, he said, he would bow to the judges’ decision.

Pacquiao himself has always done so, he has been charitable in victory and graceful in defeat. Hard as it is to do, we can always look at it from the other end. Of course the Mexicans would be raucous, of course the Mexicans would be rowdy, of course the Mexicans would be wildly exultant. Which can piss you off no end. But they’ve been in the state we’re now in for a long, long time, seeing one after another of their champions executed by the Mexicutioner, and having had to grin and bear it. Now they’ve found their Avenger, the one person who has laid their nemesis low, the one savior who has brought the mighty Achilles to heel. The fading of one nation’s legend is the rise of another nation’s hero.

I can’t say let’s wish them well, the wound is still too fresh for that. But I can say let’s congratulate them and accept the defeat with a heaviness of honor if not with a lightness of heart. Maybe we can still retrieve some shred of dignity from the wreckage of devastation. Maybe we can still reclaim some moral victory from the ashes of defeat.

In the end.

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