If you want to say Manny’s diminished by this, go ahead,” said fight organizer Bob Arum testily, following the latest Las Vegas slugfest between Manny Pacquiao and Mexican challenger Juan Manuel Marquez that resulted in the most controversial win ever to go the Filipino champ’s way. Arum has an interest in keeping the animosity alive and raging between the Pacquiao and Marquez camps. A fourth fight between the two would surely rake in more millions of dollars for the boxing impresario, and would probably lead to the Holy Grail of world professional boxing today: that elusive dream match between Pacquiao and the only remaining fighter in the planet to perhaps equal (or at least noisily lay claim to) his stature as the greatest pound-for-pound boxer of his time: Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Oscar De La Hoya, too, thinks Pacquiao owes it to his fans worldwide to finally face Mayweather in the ring, however differently his promoters and handlers might feel about the match. “My advice to Manny is, ‘You’re the fighter. You call the shots.’ Pacquiao fights for the people and the people want him to step up and fight Mayweather.” It bears mentioning, incidentally, that De La Hoya is identified by the Los Angeles Times as someone “who helps promote unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr.,” and thus has his own stake in seeing that mythical battle come true.
It’s true that legions of Pacquiao’s fans would like to see nothing better than for the soft-spoken but deadly Filipino fighter to put the gasbag Mayweather in his place. But it’s also true that, after the unexpectedly less-than-stellar victory he managed to eke out against Marquez last Sunday, many more people would not want to see Pacquiao back again in the ring so soon, whether in another rematch with Marquez or an epic clash with Mayweather—not in the condition he was in, when he scared the wits out of his fanatically devoted country with a listless, ambiguous performance that showed off a heretofore unfamiliar sight: a vulnerable, rattled Pacquiao.
Perhaps the pre-fight hype from his camp ramped up expectations too much. Pacquiao, assured his handlers, had never trained harder or more fiercely than for this match, intent on demolishing once and for all Marquez’s taunt that he was robbed of victory not just once, but twice, in their first two bouts. Pacquiao, it must be noted, had nothing more to prove at this point; his place in the pantheon of the world’s greatest boxers had been assured, and he needed no Marquez to validate it. The Mexican pugilist was coming in as the underdog with a raging chip on his shoulder. He was 38, near the end of the line for a boxer, bulkier and so was thought to move more sluggishly, and had been putty in the hands of Mayweather. The odds were 10-1 in Pacquiao’s favor.
What everyone thought would be a cakewalk proved, however, to be a sobering experience—not just for a bruised Pacquiao, who after the 12th round had trudged to his corner dejectedly, his body language already accepting defeat, but also for his fans worldwide, many of whom went mute and white at seeing their once invulnerable idol humbled, himself seemingly surprised when the announcement came that he won by a majority. The cold numbers did favor Pacquiao, but, persuasive and definitive as they are in their impartiality, they can only offer cold comfort to those by the ringside and before TV sets whose eyes and instincts told them it was, at the very least, the least convincing of PacMan’s victories. If Marquez, who was pummeled by Mayweather, could flummox him this way, imagine… we dare not voice the thought.
“Wala siya sa kondisyon,” was the assessment of Rolando Navarrete, Philippine boxing’s former “bad boy.” Perhaps Pacquiao has spread himself too thin, with politics and show-biz nipping at the meanness of his game? We’ll leave it to the experts to do a fine-grained dissection of where he came up short. We can only express the prayer that, whatever Pacquiao decides to do moving forward, whether it’s a rematch with Marquez or a showdown with Mayweather, he’d be back in his glorious element, to banish the shadow of this ambivalent moment in his career. He might also want to ponder the notion that, with 15 straight victories under his belt, and billions of dollars to leaven all that hard-won triumph, he’d be pushing his luck to keep stepping into that ring. Newsday sportswriter Marcus Henry has asked the painful question: “After that performance you have to wonder about Pacquiao. How many more great fights does he have in him?”
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