Summer of 2010:
“Manny Pacquiao. Man-Neee…Pack-Keee-Yaa. Manny Pacquiao,” he kept saying the name but I didn’t recognize it. My friend then told me Pacquiao had a record of 51 wins, 3 losses and 2 draws, and that he is considered as one of the top fifty boxers of all time. I asked him the obvious question: Didn’t we, as a society, stop thinking boxing was important around the time when Don King ran out of ways to invent hype?
I’m not trying to be irreverent. I grew up on ESPN classics, from the epic heavyweight triangle (Foreman – Ali – Frazier), to Sugar Ray Leonard, to No Mas, to the utter domination of Mike Tyson. But boxing lost its casual fan fare when Mike Tyson got out of jail to fight some chump named McNeely and what was the most hyped fight in years turned out to be the production of Don King’s imagination. Tyson proceeded to lose to Holyfield, bit the ear, and the rest is very boring history. More than that, boxing never bothered to anticipate or even acknowledge competition from its more primal counterpart: Ultimate Fighting.
—–flashback to July 2007——–
You should watch this 60 minutes video on the emergence of Mixed Martial Arts (or Ultimate Fighting) for three reasons:
- I find it fascinating that the sport struggled to gain popularity on television because it was too bloody. So they gave it some rules, added some padding and a scoring system and suddenly gruesome fighting became a legitimate sport. The reality is even when there were no rules, the best fighters (Royce Gracie) were the best because they were technically fantastic, not because the lack of rules favoured them. The rule changes aren’t for the fighters – they’re for us so we can draw that line between savageness and civility.
- Dana White and his partners put $2 million into UFC and now it’s potentially worth a billion. He scoffs at Fox for not recognizing the potential because he made more money on pay per view. Last night, Fox showed the feature UFC fight on regular cable TV for the first time. Fox probably paid Dana White several times more than what he was initially asking years ago, when they rejected him.
- It features one of the legendary Gracie brothers, and you will hear a story that will tell you exactly why this family is legendary.
60 minutes was featuring Manny Pacquiao. He is not only considered the best boxer in the game, but he’s an idol to his people, an aspiring politician and a musician (but a musician in the same way Shaquille O’Neal was a rapper). It’s clear there has never been a boxer like him and that I really like 60 minutes.
I keeping seeing the same poster: Manny Pacquiao v. Juan Martel Marquez III. They’ve fought twice before, with Manny winning once and the other fight a draw. Marquez clearly has what it takes to beat Manny. This third fight is expected to be decisive, since they are both strategically and physically familiar with each other. The best boxer should emerge.
November 12, 2011 – Fight Night
6:00 pm – I text Steve and ask him if he’s briefed on the Pacquiao fight. He tells me that this is the third time that they are meeting. I’m not impressed since it says that on the poster.
10:00pm – The bar is standing room only, everyone’s rooting for Manny and HBO makes a connection between Manny’s national background, Joe Frasier’s recent death and the “Thrilla in Manilla,” a legendary boxing match between Frasier and Ali. I imagine how amazing it would have been to have watched boxing during that era: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Larry Holmes and Joe Frasier (compact and explosive, the original Tyson). Nobody can doubt that Manny, all his fame, what he does for his country and his pop-star qualities are good for boxing. But what boxing currently lacks is talent in the heavyweight division. That’s the sort of thing that draws even the casual fan. I would describe the current state of boxing as track and field in the Olympics, but without the 100m dash.
Midnight-ish: They went to the judges after twelve full rounds. It was a decision that the vegas crowd booed, I questioned and Steve shrugged at. Marquez laughed to himself, as if to say, “how many times do I have to beat this guy in order win the fight?” The announcers explained that the judges awarded Pacquiao the decision because he threw and landed more punches, which was true. But when Marquez landed punches, they were packed with power. Stylistically, Marquez wasn’t a lead-with-my-jab kind of guy like Manny. Marquez was a counter-puncher, and apparently boxing’s scoring system doesn’t discriminate when it comes to punches. I’m thinking boxing needs some kind of conversion ratio, like every three jabs equals one cross. Would there be no sudden death overtime? Are they going to schedule a fourth fight now? We left the bar not quite sure about what we had seen.
Somewhere else during the Pacquiao fight: Cain Velasquez, the existing heavyweight UFC champion put his title on the line against Junior Dos Santos. The UFC’s heavyweight division has been extremely competitive for several years now. A minute into the fight, Dos Santos landed a vicious sweeping right cross and knocked out Valasquez, to become the new UFC heavyweight champion. People who saw that fight weren’t confused about what they had seen.
–When he’s not watching grown men fight, Umar Saeed covers the endless battle between money and people on his website: www.umarsaeed.ca/