By Fox Doucette
One of my duties for this site is to submit a monthly pound-for-pound ratings list so that our Fearless Leader can compile it into a staff-written top ten list. After taking a long, hard look at who I had where and why, I dropped Manny Pacquiao all the way to fifth (behind, in order, Mayweather, Marquez, Bute, and Andre Ward). Mayweather is #1 for what should be obvious reasons to his fans; with very, very rare exceptions he is able to take on all comers, even elite fighters, and make them look like club chumps. Bute and Ward are where they are because of an ultra-competitive super middleweight division in which the Canadian blows out everyone foolish enough to step in a ring with him and the Oakland native is the most technically skilled fighter not named Floyd in all of boxing.
Which brings us to 2 and 5, and I can already hear the distinctive click of Pacland mouth-breathers loading another round into the bolt to prepare to fire in the comments. Yes, Manny Pacquiao defeated Juan Manuel Marquez by majority decision to defend his WBO welterweight championship of the world for the third time (recall that Manny’s fight with Margarito was for Antonio’s WBC junior middleweight crown despite Pacquiao weighing in at only 144½ pounds). Yes, Pacquiao hasn’t lost a fight since Erik Morales beat him seven years ago for a minor title at junior lightweight.
But what has Manny Pacquiao done in the meantime? Well, for starters, he’s got Bob Arum running interference for him with the judges, which reached its “boxing is corrupt, screw this sport” apex in the last Marquez fight (which is why I’ve got Marquez #2–even eking out a majority decision against Pacquiao in Vegas with the fix is in, all-time-great level fighting). He massaged his public image in order to make people believe that he is an all-time great the way people believe Kim Kardashian has a reason to be famous other than her “accidentally” leaked sex tape. He got the WBO to sanction catchweight fights as being for world titles in defiance of the WBO’s actual bylaws for championship matches. This is all leaving aside his apparent fear of WADA-style drug testing, which may not outright say that Pac is doing something, but it sure does gesture in that direction and say “hey, look over there.”
So why the hell would Manny Pacquiao be #1 or #2 (depending on your own personal perspective on who’d win between him and Floyd Mayweather) pound-for-pound in the world? The answer to me seems simple, and it leads me into the meat of an argument I’ve been making about sports in general since I saw the Seoul Olympics on NBC in 1988–Manny Pacquiao, more than any athlete ever to play any sport, has benefited from the Scourge of the Human Interest Story.
We watch Pacquiao be a politician in the Philippines. We watch him annoy a microphone and call it a “singing career.” The sixth Google result for “manny pacquiao” is “The Best Manny Pacquiao Video EVER!!!” on YouTube. His Wikipedia page repeats the fiction that “he is the first eight-division world champion” (which he is not; his win over Ricky Hatton gave him the IBO junior welterweight title, which is not a recognized major championship). He eagerly gobbles up his celebrity, then uses that celebrity to influence the judges in the ring, who know that their meal ticket is made possible by casting the correct vote for who won, irrespective of the results of Manny’s actual fights.
Meanwhile, Floyd Mayweather beats up women (Can we get a fight made between him and women’s champ Anne Sophie Mathis at welterweight in order to permanently shut up the “women’s boxing matters” crowd? If ever there were a good use for a domestic abuser, making sure the woman wasn’t given an unfair chivalrous advantage in an otherwise equal contest with a man would be it.), uses the “it’d help the economy” angle to avoid paying his debt to society on a criminal charge, and talks way too much trash to resonate with an audience.
Let’s say Pacquiao and Mayweather actually did fight (pipe dream, I know). You think the media wouldn’t hammer the ever-loving crap out of those stories for months on top of months leading up to the fight? Yeah, Pacquiao makes a rotten “white knight” because he’s from the Philippines, but it is basically the race angle repackaged, isn’t it? You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting some “fight preview” that said absolutely nothing about Pacquiao’s trouble with the style Mayweather brings to the ring (the real reason this fight isn’t happening), would gloss over Juan Manuel Marquez, basically a poor man’s Mayweather, exposing that very weakness in the infamous 2011 Vegas throwdown, and would give you absolutely nothing to make an informed decision if going to a sports book to bet on the fight.
All you would get would be human interest stories. Pacquiao’s celebrity. Mayweather’s legal troubles. Bob Arum’s approved spin on whatever topic that had nothing to do with the fights themselves. Repeat ad nauseam until you’ve got two or three million pay-per-view buys, then when the fight itself was anti-climactic (Mayweather knocks out Pacquiao after walking the latter into a perfect counter hook in the fifth round, or Pacquiao ugly-ing up the fight and winning a controversial decision), cue the hand-wringing in the media about how boxing has nowhere to go but down.
Why are other sports getting the public conversation? Go to YouTube. Search “1992 NBA Finals Game 1 Intro” (Bulls vs. Blazers, the “Jordan scores 35 in the first half” game). Listen to Bob Costas and his narration to set the scene. Notice how it’s all about the game…and how even if that were the first NBA game you’d watched as a casual fan in 1992, you’d have a good idea of what was at stake and how the teams would approach the action on the floor when the game tipped off ten minutes later.
Once you’ve done that, pay close attention to how boxing people set the scene at the beginning of their telecasts. Not even a modicum of lip service is paid to the actual action in the ring. With rare exceptions (Teddy Atlas and the Fight Plan on FNF comes to mind), the color commentators don’t do a lot to teach would-be fans about the nuances of the sport. It’s an athletic contest driven by non-athletic factors. Just one more thing boxing does wrong–maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. If there’s a way to screw something up, boxing will find it.
As for Pacquiao, if he wants to climb back out of fifth place (or avoid further sliding down the pound-for-pound ranking list of your friendly neighborhood commentator), maybe he should try spending less time on his public image and more time on winning decisively and unambiguously against Timothy Bradley when they throw down in June. Another “Vegas decision” going his way and he might just drop out of the top ten because I don’t give a flying toss about anything beyond what happens when leather meets face.
Fox Doucette covers Friday Night Fights for The Boxing Tribune. His weekly column, The Southpaw, appears on Thursdays. Fan mail, hate mail, and rabid froth from the mouths of Pacland folks can be sent to email@example.com. I’ve got a spam filter for a reason.