By reading some media accounts, Manny Pacquiao is a cross between Henry Armstrong and Saint Thomas Aquinas with a little Bruce Lee thrown in for good measure. His words soothe the savage breast and his gaze cures everything from Lupus to caffeine addiction. As such, there’s no real need to push the envelope of gushingly loving public displays of media affection, right?
“I am seeking eternal life. You cannot buy the key to the kingdom of heaven because it’s something money cannot buy. It is something which is priceless.”
The above quote about eternal life comes from the moving piece penned by penny-rolling, Pacquiao propagandist, Michael Marley. In it, the bulbous bag of gas paints the unintentionally hilarious image of Pacquiao holding court in the swanky Chelsea Piers Sports Complex in Manhattan, clutching his “engraved white Bible” and quoting Bible verses as wretched boxing scribes are hustled past him.
“We all have our life, our body and our soul but you must also have the spirit…you must have love, joy, patience and forgiveness,” Pacquiao said while Marley sat at his feet, cross-legged and gazing lovingly at the man who has transcended this Earthly realm (or, at least, that’s how I imagined the interview session). “If you don’t, you go through life like the blindfolded man who can’t see where he is walking.”
Marley’s religious experience notwithstanding, many in the mainstream media have also picked up on the “born again” story and are turning it into the story of this upcoming camp.
Honestly, a born-again prize fighter battling with the concept of intentionally causing harm to another human being is a damn fine story. Real human interest stuff. And it’s especially refreshing from a writer’s point of view. After all, Manny has been covered from every conceivable angle since becoming a pop culture icon and things are getting a bit stale.
Pacquiao closing down his bar and grill, swearing off the night life, and releasing 1,000 fighting cocks is good stuff, no doubt.
The Filipino’s “transformation” is especially heaven-sent coming into the Tim Bradley bout where even Bradley’s close family is most likely attending the fight just to get a glimpse of Manny.
The storyline of the Bradley fight will be a variation on the “Manny is distracted” tale, the general theme for the last half-dozen fights. But this time, the distraction is coming from a spiritual re-birth where Saint Manny has suddenly become an even more celestial figure.
On June 9th, it’ll be Manny Pacquiao vs. Manny Pacquiao’s Inner Turmoil in a battle for immortality and the WBO welterweight title. “Punchless Pilate,” Tim Bradley will be around, somewhere, but he’s inconsequential to the narrative being set up. Bradley is a damn fine fighter, but it would take true divine intervention to get a decision in Vegas against Pacquiao and everyone knows it.
So, that’s why the born-again sub-plot is so necessary from a marketing standpoint. Bradley won’t be selling any tickets and the possibility of a Bradley upset isn’t enough of a possibility to generate interest.
But, who knows? Maybe all of this is on the level and Manny has really turned a spiritual corner in his life.
However, the same media channels hyping Manny’s re-birth are also the ones that have run interference for Team Pacquiao over the course of the last several years, passing along fantasies and flat-out lies about the Mayweather-Pacquiao drama while shilling for Pacquiao’s next in house fight. They’ve run with stories ranging from mysterious big-money investors to outdoor stadiums that would never be built to phantom Mayweather-Pacquiao negotiations where Mayweather was never contacted–All with Manny’s promoter, Bob Arum, as the sole source.
So, excuse some of us cynical-types for doubting these same members of the Pacquiao Media Corps when they paint the picture of the saintly pugilist in a moral dilemma about hurting another human being.
Aside from being a necessary marketing angle for the fight, the spiritual rebirth could be part of a major pubic relations push to get the “humble superhero” back in the good graces of an increasingly skeptical public. The media darling recently tasted some bad public relations mojo for the first time as he notched two tepid performances in 2011 (escaping with a controversial decision over Juan Manuel Marquez in the second bout of the pair) and was finally being held accountable by some for his role in the Mayweather-Pacquiao non-mega-fight debacle.
The bad press didn’t likely sit well with a fighter who has been treated as though he could do the water-to-wine trick with just a few swigs of bottled water and the ringside spit bucket.
And for Arum, the bad press and lack of intrigue generated by a Bradley bout has to be a real concern. Manny’s loyal fans would pay 60 bucks a pop to see their idol brush his teeth, but the casual fan is the one affected by a stale Pacquiao product in a fight with a non-knockout puncher after it was all but established in November that a decision loss in Vegas is pretty much out of the question.
Time and time again, Arum has declared his preference for attracting casual fans over hardcore loyalists. Casual fans can be influenced into action by name recognition and a good storyline. Unless something else pops up, the Good Manny vs. Bad Manny angle will be the selling point on June 9th with a side order of “Manny might retire to explore his spiritual calling” thrown in just to sweeten the pot.
Expect three more months of boxing’s version of the Tim Tebow saga until the opening bell for Pacquiao-Bradley actually sounds.
But if I could somehow get an audience with the Bible-clutching congressman/pugilist/rock star, I’d respectfully let him preach to me if only I could get in one brief paragraph before being hustled out for the 2 PM appointment with the next lot of blazer-stained media buffet divers:
“Manny, get over yourself. You’re a great fighter, but that’s it. You’re an awful singer, horrid actor, and by all accounts, a pretty terrible congressman. Come back down to Earth, Manny. I know that it’s a pretty heady thing to be worshiped like a deity, but it’s OK that you’re just regular guy who happens to be an outstanding athlete. By the way, letting your promoter and all your underlings tap dance over truth, logic, and integrity in your name is not a very Christian thing to do.”
You can email Paul at email@example.com or behold as he reigns over his Twitter realm with an iron hand. Paul is a full member of the Burger King Kids’ Club, a born iconoclast, and an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church.