by Tim Harrison
Saturday night’s Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley pay-per-view extravaganza is right around the corner, and rather than being the hotly-anticipated blockbuster event that we’re used to seeing, the beating drums in the lead up to this fight have never reached the deafening roar we have grown accustomed to.
For the past few years a Manny Pacquiao fight promotion has centered on a pliable theme; the hero tested against tall – and often heavier odds. Whether his opponent was Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Joshua Clottey, or Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny has gone into each fight under the auspices of being behind the 8-ball. Despite the underlying truths to the circumstances behind the fight promotion, the narrative was there.
And the criticism was there as well; Manny Pacquiao was facing one-dimensional offensive threats plucked right out of the losers’ column or recently removed from an otherwise violent beating, while the young, hungry challengers weren’t given consideration to be his opponent.
It would appear that Bob Arum and his powerhouse promotional firm, Top Rank, have heard the criticisms. Timothy Bradley falls perfectly into the category of young and hungry, and being undefeated up to this point in his career doesn’t hurt his case either. So why has this fact been almost entirely ignored while Pacquiao’s (second or third) awakening of faith is being thrust front and center?
Unless you’ve been living in an Amish settlement for the last few years you’ve no doubt been made aware of the phenomenon known as “Tebowmania”, which has seasonally dominated mainstream sports coverage since Tim Tebow was drafted late in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. Tebow’s squeaky clean image and outspoken proclamations of his faith garnered an unnaturally large following while playing quarterback for the University of Florida and propelled him past celebrity status before ever throwing his first NFL pass. Tebow’s #15 quickly became the top selling jersey shortly after he was drafted, and ESPN dedicated large chunks of its SportsCenter broadcasts to Tebow minutiae.
Pacquiao’s latest religious awakening happened after his November 2011 majority decision win over long-time rival, Juan Manuel Marquez. After reports of Pacquiao’s drinking, gambling, and womanizing tendencies made their way to the surface (after his prior re-dedication to his faith in the lead up to his November 2009 fight with Miguel Cotto), Pacquiao immersed himself in bible study, sold his cock-fighting operation, his casino, and his restaurant in the Philippines. He re-dedicated his life to god and to his family.
Now I won’t go so far as to say Pacquiao is disingenuous in his over-the-top proclamations of his faith, but the timing certainly suggests opportunism. We’ve seen this act from Pacquiao before, just not to this degree. Before and after every fight he kneels down to pray in his corner. And after every fight he thanks god. When he was faced with accusations of PED use Pacquiao confidently proclaimed, “Liars go to hell!” So why is Pacquiao’s faith now the center of “Pacmania”?
Bob Arum, the mastermind behind the rise of Pacquiao from the one-fisted brawler to one of the best in the sport recently told Bob Velin of Tusconcitizen.com, “The dialogue on this fight has shifted from left hooks and straight rights, and everybody is engaged in religious dialogue, and this is resonating with the evangelical Christian community.
“When you track these websites, they’re running features on Pacquiao. And there’s the same type of feeling towards Pacquiao as there is toward Tim Tebow,” Arum would go on to say. “So Pacquiao has created this interest in boxing among a group that probably never watched a fight.”
Bob Arum has been quoted in the past as saying he doesn’t promote fights with the hardcore fan in mind. His goal is to reel in new viewers and casual fans. We’re seeing the old “Pacmania” that we’ve grown accustomed to morph into something resembling “Tebowmania”.
Manny Pacquiao vs. Timothy Bradley is the type of fight that hardcore fans have been clamoring for since the hype behind his carefully planned bunny hop through history has died down, yet no one cares to talk about it. Bradley has carried the promotion with his confidence, making an interesting foil to the man who is reserved to smiling and saying something about god. Bradley is young, fast, undefeated, and has shown heart in pulling himself up off the canvas in past fights. And while Bradley doesn’t boast bone-crushing power (only 12 knockouts in 28 fights), he has the confidence and faith in himself to know he can get the job done.
And in a sport where it is man against man in the ring and you have no teammates to rely on, faith in oneself is the only kind of faith that matters.