To most people, Manny Pacquiao is the smiling, elflike figure on "The Jimmy Kimmel Show" singing karaoke and trying to hawk a CD containing seven different versions of “Sometimes When We Touch.”
These same people will tune in to watch Pacquiao fight in the continuance of boxing’s David vs. Goliath story, as the former flyweight world titlist tops off his rise to glory at eight titles in eight weight classes, from 112 pounds to 154 pounds.
Pacquiao’s rise from abject poverty in General Santos City in the Philippines to incredible wealth, worldwide fame and icon status is truly remarkable. It’s hard not to get sucked into the fairy-tale story.
With a friendly media behind him and a massive and loyal legion of fans exalting his every move, there is little debate about Pacquiao’s placement as top dog of the boxing world or even, to many, his status on the legendary all-time-great list.
As a matter of fact, in a recent poll to determine the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all-time, Pacquiao received as many votes as Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali, combined.
Easily galvanized and fiercely motivated, Pacquiao’s hardcore fan base has turned the sport on its ear. The united front of Asia-heavy Internet traffic has dictated the manner and tone of Pacquiao discourse, even elevating fringe yellow journalists with a pro-Manny spin into top-rated mainstream voices.
And therein lies the odd chasm between Manny Pacquiao the legitimately gifted and world-class fighter, and Manny Pacquiao the quick revenue source for a depressed and deflated boxing market.
The dark, dirty secret of the mainstream boxing media is the extent to which boxing news sources have allowed the profitable wave of Pacquiao traffic to influence editorial decisions.
Writers grasp at the influx of live bodies to boost their own status, and administrators fall all over themselves to bring in the page views that will allow them to compete with their competitors and boost their own ad revenue.
The day-to-day reporting from the Internet media eventually trickles down to newspaper and TV sources, becoming talking points for dedicated and casual followers alike.
Of course, nobody in the industry will admit to this blatant pandering. Many, honestly, don’t even see it. They’ll argue that Pacquiao is a legit news story and boxing’s biggest star at the moment. And that, in and of itself, may be a valid point. But the real ethical question isn’t about the coverage; it’s about the editorial decisions that accompany that coverage.
The same hard-edged boxing experts who rode Oscar de la Hoya, Floyd Mayweather and any number of stars in the past have suddenly become unable and/or unwilling to place Pacquiao under that same scrutiny.
Pacquiao’s last five opponents, and 10 of his past 14, have come into their contests after recent career-threatening/career-defining losses.
The losses alone aren’t the factor. Fighters lose all the time and manage to come back and have successful careers afterward.
But veteran offensive specialists like those being lined up by promoter Bob Arum to face Manny — those who suffer crushing KOs at the tail end of a long career — are like toothless and declawed tigers. They seldom rebound and tend to fall apart very quickly after their public executions.
People who know the sport know that; Team Pacquiao knows that.
Convenient matchmaking is a part of the sport, and every legend, at some point, has engaged in the practice. But no elite fighter, mentioned in the same breath as some of the all-time greats, has been able to get away with it to the degree that Pacquiao has.
Imagine Sugar Ray Leonard opting not to fight Tommy Hearns in favor of Hearns’ second-round KO victim, Pipino Cuevas, or choosing to confront the loser of the Roberto Duran-Carlos Palomino bout?
If you’ve been a fan of boxing for more than four years, you probably do remember the outrage from these same media sources when Mayweather fought the loser of the Carlos Baldomir-Zab Judah upset.
Boxing scribes and TV analysts couldn’t blast Mayweather fast enough for fighting from the “loser’s bracket.”
Conversely, with this Saturday’s Shane Mosley contest, Pacquiao will have dipped into that same bracket six times in a row, fighting the bridesmaid instead of the bride in his last half-dozen contests, and only fighting the “winners” after they, themselves, have suffered a crushing defeat.
This is hardly the stuff of legends, but in a sport hungry for stars and in desperate need of a short-term cash influx, people “in the know” are turning their heads and allowing masterful Arum and Top Rank Promotions to step all over the basic standards and traditions of the sport.
In Pacquiao’s run at winning an unprecedented eight titles in eight weight classes, boxing and its hardcore, loyal fans have also witnessed weight stipulations, catchweight compromises and, in his last bout with Antonio Margarito, the winning of a world title in a division where Pacquiao never made the minimum weight and had never even competed previously.
The story of Manny Pacquiao can be separated into two parts: his hard-fought rise from obscurity to greatness below 130 pounds with legitimate wins over great fighters like Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez; and then the latter half of his career as a manufactured legend being pushed into all-time great status via rigged Top Rank “in-house” matchmaking and a fawning, desperate media.
Predictably, the boxing world has once again dropped the ball. In the effort to cash in quickly on a true phenomenon, they have sacrificed some of the most basic tenets of the sport and, in doing so, have robbed the fans of seeing what Manny Pacquiao could really do.