The first time I saw Manny Pacquiao fight live on television could have been possibly more than ten years ago on the undercard of an HBO PPV broadcast, possibly featuring the Lewis-Tyson mega fight or an Oscar De La Hoya fight. Aside from the fact that the commentary crew butchered his name by making it sound like they were dropping F-bombs any time they said his name, Pacquiao’s balls-to-the-wall style and frantic pace stood out. As I curiously watched the tiny Filipino blitz his opponent with a repeated one-two attack, my best friend’s dad turned to me and told me not to forget about this guy because one day he’d be a huge star.
Slowly but surely Manny Pacquiao did become a huge star, arguably the biggest star in the sport. His rise to stardom began with his TKO win over Marco Antonio Barrera, and continued with fights with Mexican stars Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales.
But Pacquiao’s star hit its plateau sometime around his third fight with Erik Morales. The narrative going into the fight was how much (or little) Morales had left in the tank and just how much he’d have to kill himself to make the 130-pound weight limit. The buzz was gone and the outcome was all but certain, and to the surprise of very few, Pacquiao put Morales out of his misery in the third round.
The lack of Pac-mania continued through his unnecessary 2007 rematch with Barrera (I saw the lack of interest firsthand as the Pacquiao fight party thrown by the Filipino household a few doors down wasn’t overflowing into their front yard).
After Pacquiao’s second fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, he bolted for the higher weights to capitalize on the void left by the first “retirement”of Floyd Mayweather Jr. Pacquiao’s handlers were able to launch his star off of his stoppage win over a weight-drained Oscar De La Hoya in 2008, and launching him even higher on the backs of knockout wins over Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto.
Following Pacquiao’s win over Cotto, the demand for a super fight with Mayweather reached an all-time high. The negotiations fell apart when Pacquiao’s team accepted, then rejected a stipulation for random blood and urine testing leading up to a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. The Pac-mania was still at its apex and the Top Rank hype machine was able to spin the fallout to make it appear as though Mayweather was the one who killed the negotiations, despite the fact it was Team Pacquiao who threatened to hold their breath until they got their way.
As fights with Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito, and Shane Mosley came and went, the blank check of good will for Pacquiao started to bounce. More people started to come around to accepting the possibility that maybe it was Pacquiao’s handlers using every Jedi mind trick in the book to stop a fight with Mayweather from happening, essentially keeping all Pacquiao revenue in house.
The steady decline in interest was most apparent in the promotion for Pacquiao’s June 2012 fight with Timothy Bradley. The usual narrative consisting of “smaller man, heavily distracted, facing larger opponent, must dig deep to find the strength to overcome such a tall task” was replaced by a story of the religious awakening of a flawed sinner finding god when faced with divorce and personal ruin. Timothy Bradley was merely an afterthought in most of the media attention focused on the fight. Pacquiao’s “thoughts” on gay marriage took precedence here, and Bob Arum basked in the light of the droves of new eyes focused on Pacquiao and his latest religious awakening.
Now that the dust has settled and the taste of the bad decision rendered in favor of Bradley has resided, we’re supposed to be in full swing, beating the drums and chanting in anticipation of the announcement of Pacquiao’s next opponent. Aside from the Michael Marleys and self-titled “D-Sources”of the small sect of the media diving in mall fountains in search of precious pennies, the constant speculative articles have been fewer and farther between than I’ve become accustomed to igoring. Upon closer inspection, the weight dragging from the Top Rank publicity teat appears to be considerably less this time around. Bob Arum, the architect of this castle made of sand (thanks, Jimi Hendrix), has finally overplayed his hand. Aside from the fight that probably won’t ever happen – the proposed mega fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. – there is little interest in seeing Pacquiao dance with Tim Bradley, Juan Manuel Marquez, or Miguel Cotto again. Hell, there may be even less interest in a Mayweather fight at this point.
Pacquiao has reportedly turned down an offer to face Timothy Bradley in a rematch of their controversial June WBO welterweight title fight, citing dissatisfaction with his proposed purse amount, and forcing his team to scramble to find another option. With Juan Manuel Marquez having already priced himself out of the Pacquiao sweepstakes, Pacquiao is reportedly angling for a rematch with Miguel Cotto, possibly at a catch weight of 150 pounds, a stipulation already turned down by Cotto. The proposed November 10 date that has been in play since before Pacquiao’s disputed split decision loss to Timothy Bradley in June has gone up in smoke. December 1 is now the target date…if Team Pacquiao can get their man on the same page.
Pacquiao has stated several times that his legacy is complete and he could walk away from the sport, with or without a Mayweather fight, and be content where he stands. Without a suitable PPV cash cow waiting in the wings, Top Rank would be left high and dry should Pacquiao choose to walk away. Arum’s castle has withstood the pounding of the waves thus far, but like all flimsy castles made of sand, they eventually melt into the sea.
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