The Nation’s Fist

Manny Pacquiao.

Manny Pacquiao.

If there’s ever been a tweet I wish I’d written, it’s this one:

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It’s a sentiment that I’m sure a lot of Filipinos and Filipino Americans share. Manny wasn’t the perfect boxer (too susceptible to counter-punchers like Marquez and Mayweather) or the perfect man (a womanizer and someone who has idiotic beliefs about gays), but he was one of us.

Twenty years ago if you would’ve told me that a Filipino boxer would one day be considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world and would headline the biggest pay-per-views year in and year out, I would’ve said you were crazy.

Growing up, my favorite boxers were Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Evander Holyfield, and Mike Tyson. They were the larger-than-life athletes that fans gravitated to, but it wasn’t until Pacquiao burst on the scene that I felt a kinship to a boxer.

He was our community’s brother, cousin, uncle, father; the one who represented you, good and bad. He showed the world the ferociousness of Ang Pambansang Kamao (The Nation’s Fist) inside the ring and the soft-spoken humility outside of it.

He did what any of us would’ve done in his position, whether it was hamming it up with Will Ferrell or chartering two planes for friends and family to one of his fights.

And those fights! From the moment he started collecting championship belts until last night’s trilogy-closing domination of Timothy Bradley, a Pacquiao fight was An Occasion, a family party filled with plenty of laughter and too much food. It was like a Filipino mash-up of the Super Bowl and Thanksgiving, as you cheered him on with your brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, parents, cousins, long-lost cousins, pseudo-family members, and random strangers. We made predictions of his fights and debated his place among boxing’s immortals, but not before stuffing ourselves from tables overflowing with food and drink.

While I’ll miss his fights and the parties, I’m rooting for him to stay true to his retirement. He has nothing left to prove and we all know about the damage that fighters suffer and its effect on their later years. I want to see him continue his public service to the best of his ability.

He’s my favorite fighter of all time, warts and all.

Day 122: No surprises

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No surprises in tonight’s “fight.” Floyd is the smartest fighter, no, boxer of this generation. Just like Sugar Ray Leonard waiting years for Marvelous Marvin Hagler to lose his best stuff, Mayweather followed the game plan to a T. The Manny of 2015 is nowhere near the Manny of 2010. Great job, “champ.”

Day 121: Ang Pambansang Kamao

Pacquiao-Mayweather weigh-in.

Pacquiao-Mayweather weigh-in.

We’re less than 24 hours away from the Fight of the Century and I’m bracing myself for a letdown. As I wrote on Day 28 of my Quest, both fighters are past their primes and no matter who wins, there will always be the “well, if they had fought five years ago…” question hanging over this fight. Millions of people are paying over $100 to watch on television, while others are forking over thousands and thousands of dollars to be in the arena. The revenue from the match will be half a billion dollars. Today’s weigh-in already had the crowd and energy of a superfight. There’s no way this thing is living up to the hype. It’s sickening, it’s insane …

And I’m fired up.

Pulitzer-Prize-winner Jose Antonio Vargas wrote a recent article on why Manny means so much to Filipinos and Filipino-Americans. It’s a terrific piece that doesn’t gloss over Manny’s shortcomings and Vargas, like millions of us, still root for Ang Pambansang Kamao (The Nation’s Fist). He’s forever tied into our identity, someone that Filipinos can proudly declare as their own, mainly because so many of us can relate to his rise from poverty to the pinnacle of his profession. We might not have gone days without food or received an eight-figure paycheck, but in Manny we see the struggles of our parents and grandparents. We see his hard work providing for the ones he loves. We see his smile and we see ourselves, our families.

No matter what happens tomorrow night, I hold my head up high. Just like Manny Pacquiao.

Day 120: Supply and Demand

Manny Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao

My friend is out in Vegas right now for the big fight. He’s a huge boxing fan and even though he’s not going to the fight itself, he is going to the weigh-in tomorrow. The weigh-in takes place at the MGM and tickets were $10 each. My buddy posted earlier today that scalpers were selling them for $400 each.

That’s $400 to watch two men be weighed. Of course, you could fork out a few thousand more to actually watch them fight, so $400 to be part of the circus is a bargain.

It’s the perfect example of supply and demand. And sports-fueled insanity.

Day 115: One Week Away

Pacquiao

Pacquiao

I’m wondering if all sports fans feel like I do about next Saturday’s Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. I’m excited, but it’s tempered by a few facts: both fighters are past their primes, the pay-per-view is $100, and there’s a chance that the fight will be a big stinkbomb. If Mayweather truly is head-and-shoulders above Pacquiao, then we’ll get another Floyd dancefest, featuring 12 rounds of defense and counterpunching. In other words, I’ll be asleep by round six.

I’m betting on Manny knocking out Money, though. Floyd was smart to wait five years as Pacquiao went through a few wars and sustained damage, but I think it’s going to come back and haunt Floyd. He hasn’t had to fight anybody in Manny’s class and hasn’t faced anyone with Manny’s power. Floyd won’t be able to dance away from Manny. He’s going to have to take some huge shots and while the fight won’t justify its $100 price tag (or the tens of thousands of dollars that actual attendees will be paying), it should be an exciting match.

Nobody will be asleep due to boredom. Only Floyd will, thanks to a thunderous left from the Pac Man.

Day 113: Great Deal

Pacquiao-Mayweather tickets on Stubhub.

Pacquiao-Mayweather tickets on Stubhub.

There’s a great deal over on stubhub.com right now. Only $128, 705.25 for two ringside seats to the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. That’s less than $65,000 per seat!

If I had 128,705 friends I could borrow a dollar from each of them and be in Las Vegas next Saturday night.

Note to self: make more friends before the next Fight of the Century.

Day 105: Greatest. Fight. Ever.

Hagler vs Hearns

Hagler vs Hearns

Hagler. Hearns.

Mention those two names and sports fans know exactly what you’re talking about: the greatest fight in boxing history. Three rounds of toe-to-toe action featuring two hall-of-famers, thirty years ago today.

I watched the fight with my dad, brothers, cousins, uncles, and friends at my uncle’s house. The room was abuzz with excitement and my most vivid memory was everybody screaming and shouting from the opening bell until Hearns finally crumpled to the canvas.

Everybody knew we had just seen history. I’ve watched my share of sports during my lifetime and this was one of the few, and definitely the best, examples of the event living up to the hype. It was exhilarating, the once-in-a-lifetime fight that thrilled during every second of the match.

The hype for the latest Fight of the Century has been building for years. Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather are set to square off in less than a month and it’s relatively quiet right now on the media front. Thankfully, we’re not getting daily write-ups about the fight (although I’m sure that will change with about two weeks to go). There won’t be a 24/7 or Total Access reality series, since the event is basically selling itself, but you can follow each fighter on social media to see what they’re doing every day.

I’m not as excited about Pacquiao-Mayweather as I would’ve been a few years ago. As I wrote earlier this year, both fighters are past their primes and fans will need to temper their expectations for a war like Hagler-Hearns. We’re more likely to get another Hagler-Leonard, which means Floyd will use his better boxing skills to weasel his way to a decision. Just as Leonard did nearly three decades (!) ago, he’ll do just enough to win the match.

And this is exactly why I’ll always be a Pacquiao and Hagler fan rather than a Mayweather and Leonard fan. Pacquiao and Hagler are fighters. Mayweather and Leonard are boxers. You can argue that boxers understand the sweet science. You can also argue that it’s called a prizefight, not a prizebox.

I appreciate boxers. I root for fighters.

 

Day 70: Pac Man

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Manny “Pac Man” Pacquiao

 

Today was the only pre-fight press conference for the Pacquiao-Mayweather bout on May 2nd. They probably could have done without doing any publicity for the fight, since we’ve had five years of Mayweather making excuses the best fighters of this generation going back-and-forth in the media and social media.

It was less than two months ago when I wrote that the fight would never happen and that if it did, then Mayweather would win via a do-just-enough-to-sway-the-judges decision. During today’s press conference, I found it interesting that Mayweather referenced the Hagler-Leonard superfight in 1987.

I was a huge Leonard fan going into the fight, but also liked Hagler, thanks to him being in the greatest fight I’ve ever seen, Hagler-Hearns. It was what a superfight was supposed to be: two top fighters going at it. No controversies, no referee involvement, no crooked judges, and in the end, we got three of the greatest rounds in boxing history, with the Marvelous One victorious.

Hagler-Leonard was hyped to be the same thing, but it wasn’t even close. All we got was Hagler’s odd decision to switch to orthodox for the early rounds, Leonard stealing rounds with late-but-ineffective flurries, and a still-disputed split decision for Leonard. I was rooting for Leonard that night, but even I conceded that Hagler was the better fighter that night. I was just as stunned as anybody by Leonard’s win. He pulled a fast one on the judges and the boxing public that night: he fought in spurts, doing flashy work to influence the decision. But his best work might have been the pre-fight psych job he did on Hagler: why else would Hagler switch from his natural southpaw stance? He thought he was outsmarting Leonard, but Leonard already had Hagler going away from his strengths.

Here’s what I think Mayweather’s thinking. Five years ago, Manny was in his prime, a lightning-quick fighter with thunder in his fists. Mayweather wants his perfect record intact, so he throws the red herrings of PEDs, drug testing, Bob Arum, etc. until Manny wears down after a few years. Just as Leonard waited for the right time to face Hagler (Leonard retired before they were supposed to have their first superfight, leading to the Hagler-Hearns classic, and after the Hagler-Mugabi war, Leonard unretired), Mayweather thinks he can psych-out and out-defense Manny.

And this is what is going to lead to Mayweather’s first professional loss.

While both fighters are past their primes, it’s Mayweather who’s going to wish they’d fought five years ago. Freddy Roach said that Floyd’s legs are a bit shot and the last time he said that, Manny sent Oscar De La Hoya into retirement. It’s true that Manny isn’t the powerhouse he once was and ever since he beat Miguel Cotto, he’s been on the downside of his career.

However, Mayweather hasn’t fought anybody with fists like Pacquiao. Fighters age and lose their speed, but not their power. Manny won’t throw those crazy 11-punch combos anymore, but he can sit down on his punches and punish Mayweather, who won’t be able to shoulder-roll and out-quick Manny. After eight rounds of getting hit like he’s never been hit before, Floyd will go down for his first loss in the 9th round.

And next year around the same time, we’ll all pay another $100 for the Pacquiao-Mayweather II pay-per-view.

Day 28: When Manny Met Floyd

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When Manny Met Floyd. Photo from bleacherreport.com

I saw the Manny Pacquiao documentary last week. Since I’m a huge Manny fan, I knew I would love the film. There was nothing in it that was new or relevatory for us diehards, but casual or non-fans will appreciate the boxer’s rags-to-riches story. It’s the classic underdog tale, with an extremely likable protagonist.

Of course, these days, you can’t say Pacquiao without mentioning Floyd Mayweather; there have been talks for years about a Pacquiao-Mayweather superfight. My brother said it when the idea was first floated by the media and it took me a while to agree with him: this fight will never happen. No matter what the terms of the fight are, Floyd seems to come up with another excuse: blood tests, purse splits, promotion companies … nothing is ever just right for Floyd.

In recent weeks, supposedly there have  been increased talks between the camps, which led to last night’s interesting moment at the Heat-Bucks game, pictured above. The two best fighters of this generation met at courtside and exchanged numbers.

Will they finally meet in the ring? Frankly, I no longer care. Both fighters are past their primes and the only thing either fighter gains are enormous paychecks. Yes, it’s the match that fans have wanted for years, but it won’t be anything like what it could’ve been five years ago. No matter who wins, it’ll always be, “Well, if they would’ve fought in their primes …”

Back then, Pacquiao would’ve destroyed Mayweather: Floyd has never fought anybody with Pacquiao’s devastating combination of speed and power. It’s the speed that generated Manny’s vicious punches: it’s those bombs that you can’t see that do the most damage.

If they fought now? I’ve got Floyd by a boring decision. He hasn’t sustained as much damage during his career and he’s perfected the win-without-risking-too-much style of boxing. As the years have passed, Manny has slowed down. He still has bursts of quickness, but nothing like what he showed against Ricky Hatton or Miguel Cotto. The wars and the devastating knockout against Juan Manuel Marquez certainly didn’t help his speed. Physically, I don’t think Manny could make Floyd fight his fight anymore. He’d probably try to box with Floyd, which is exactly what Mayweather wants. Pacquiao is at his best when things are chaotic in the ring, especially after he gets tagged and bangs his gloves together, as if to say, “Okay, now we’re fighting!”

It’s a shame, too, since anybody who loves fighting loves Manny. He’s a bit reckless in the ring, but that’s what appealed to so many boxing fans: he’s a throwback to guys who fought to win. It’s a big difference from boxing not to lose.