I’m not usually a huge sports fan — I’m one of the few Asian American bloggers who didn’t weight in on Linsanity (or Linsanity, part 2) because I don’t watch basketball. But, I make an exception for boxing, which I’ve been into for a few years. Those of you who are boxing fans (and perhaps all of you who are Filipino/Filipino-American, whether or not you watch boxing) are aware that this weekend is a big date in boxing: Manny Pacquiao, a major athletic figure turned Filipino congressman, is scheduled to stage a comeback this Saturday.
Those of you who followed Pacquiao’s recent rise to boxing stardom — Pacsanity? — which culminated in him being named Ring Magazine‘s pound-for-pound best fighter in 2009, (temporarily displacing boxing superstar and anti-Asian racist Floyd Mayweather) might also remember Pacquiao’s more recent fall from grace. After a controversial scorecard defeat at the hands of the talented but unknown Timothy Bradley last year, Pacquiao suffered a second and unprecedented total knockout in his fourth match-up against Juan Manuel Marquez — a fight that most fans thought would be tough victory for Pacquiao but one that would erase the bad memories of the Bradley loss.
The question foremost on all our minds on the night of Pacquiao-Marquez 4 was: is this the end for Manny Pacquiao in boxing?
In the hours after the fight, I had this to say:
In truth, perhaps it’s time to let Pacquiao’s boxing career go quietly into the good night.
For nearly 30 seconds, Pacquiao lay listlessly on the mat as ring-side officials desperately checked to make sure he was still breathing and Pacquiao’s wife, Jinkee, sobbed hysterically. When he was finally roused, Pacquiao gamely sat up and smiled for the cameras. But, news reports say that the Pac-Man was later rushed to the hospital for a full, albeit preventative, check-up.
Pacquiao is no longer a young fighter. At 33, Pac-Man is older, slower, and heavier than the speedy, youthful fighter who debuted in 1995 in the light flyweight division at 16 years old and less than 100 pounds. In the following 17 years, Pacquiao has moved up eight weight classes, and become an undisputed champion in each.
I’ve been a begrudging Pacquiao fan for the last few years. Let me tell you why: as a boxer, Pacquiao is undisputedly great. Before Pac-Man, no boxer had dominated in as many weight classes as he had. And, further, Pacquiao is a household name in boxing, and he’s Asian; for Asian Americans, Pacquiao was a direct, headlong challenge to the stereotype of the emasculated, weak Asian/Asian American male. Throughout the controversial negotiations that aimed to set up a fight between Manny Pacquiao and the talented boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather — negotiations that were often bitterly racist — Pacquiao was remarkably poised and dignified, earning him further respect within the Asian American community.
But, Pacquiao’s star has also shone at a time when boxing, as a sport, is waning. In boxing, a fighter is only as good as his opponents, and Pacquiao dominated in multiple weight classes while there was a dearth of superstars for him to challenge. And, I’ve always felt that Pacquiao was most comfortable in the lighter weight classes; every time he moved up in weight, his technique seemed to suffer.
If Pacquiao can’t prevent a blow like this — whether due to age or fading athleticism or deficits in skill — it is simply no longer safe for him to be boxing. It is time for him to retire.
In truth, this is tragic. Like him or hate him, Pacquiao is a great fighter who also helped repopularize a dying sport. He deserved to retire gracefully from boxing, with either a knockout win or even a close technical decision. He deserved the opportunity to maintain a claim to being one of boxing’s true greats. He deserved better than to be eulogized in the sport of boxing with an image of him knocked out cold with his face buried in the mat.
But, perhaps I’m being too hasty. Perhaps Pacquiao will stay in the sport.
Well, I was being too hasty. A few months ago, I reported that Pacquiao had scheduled a fight against rising star Brandon Rios for this Saturday.
Rios is a competent — but young — fighter whose most recent fight was a rematch against Mike Alvarado that ended in a scorecard defeat for Rios.
I’ll confess — I’m unimpressed by Rios’ style, and despite his claims that he’s going to “retire” Pacquiao this Saturday, I think he will be completely out-classed in the ring by Pacquiao. While most boxing critics agree that Pacquiao will sail to a fairly easy victory in a few days, the fact that he’s coming off two humiliating defeats doesn’t explain why he’s taking training against Rios so lightly. Roy Goldberg of Bleacher Report also notes that Pacquiao — whose Marquez and Bradley defeats were brought about at least in part by interpersonal drama — is once again apparently distracted, already talking big post-Rios bouts that seem way too out of reach for the aging boxer, at the moment. And, Bleacher Report also reported yesterday that Pacquiao’s wife is still quietly urging him to retirefrom boxing.
(Meanwhile, boxing fans have long since given up interest in Mayweather-Pacquiao; personally, I’m looking to a Bradley-Mayweather fight hopefully in two years, after Bradley has seasoned a little more.)
Nonetheless, Manny Pacquiao is an undisputedly popular figure for Asian Americans (arguably to rival that of Jeremy Lin), particularly for Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, many of whom were devastated after the Marquez loss. And, with the destruction of Super Typhoon Haiyan still foremost in our minds, it will be interesting to see whether Pacquiao can win an iconic (if largely symbolic) victory to uplift the spirits of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans, as well as cement a boxing comeback.
My prediction right now: Pacquiao by way of knockout, probably rounds 6-7. What do you think will happen this Saturday? Weigh-in in the comments below!