The Endorsement: Manny Pacquiao
Each Monday in the Toy Department, a Sun sports writer will take a moment to offer his or her Endorsement of something he or she feels passionately about. There are no rules, and the subject can be as broad, or as narrow, as the writer chooses. This week, Childs Walker explains why a Filipino boxer is one of the most exciting athletes in the world. For previous editions of The Endorsement, click here.
There aren't five athletes in the world I'd rather watch than Manny Pacquiao. But I bet a lot of you have no clear mental image of him. You could walk by the Pac-Man in a grocery store and have no idea you were in the presence of a world-class athlete. He's about the size a lot of us were in middle school, and he wears the perpetual aw-shucks smile of a regular guy enjoying his regular life.
Put Manny Pacquiao in a boxing ring, however, and he's the furthest thing from regular. I think I first saw him fight eight years ago in a foul-plagued affair with Agapito Sanchez. Pacquiao fought at 122 pounds then and had two chief weapons -- limitless stamina and a straight left hand that hit opponents on the chin before they even knew it had been fired. He defined raw, but those two weapons were awesome enough that he not only hung with great all-around fighters; he beat them. In a sense, his limits helped to produce great fights because he had little alternative to boring straight ahead and firing murderous blows. Pit him again a craftsman such as Juan Manuel Marquez and you had the perfect dramatic contrast.
Too bad many sports fans never saw the fights.
For a large segment of Americans, boxing's golden age passed with Muhammad Ali. Its last mainstream appeal flickered out with the careers of Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. This nation's athletic pipelines turned to feeding more rewarding, less obviously damaging sports such as basketball and football. Fight coverage leads SportsCenter what, a few times a year? But I can't get across how limited a point of view this is.
Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and many other places never stopped producing great fighters. It's just that those fighters are rarely larger than the smallest players in our mainstream sports and few of them speak English when they burst onto the scene. To large immigrant populations tucked throughout the U.S., Pacquiao or Marquez or Miguel Cotto are just as dynamic as Kobe Bryant or Peyton Manning.
Their fights are often charged not only with violence and competition but with a nationalistic fervor rarely seen outside of the Olympics or the World Cup.
Pacquiao emerged as one of a quartet of great little guys along with Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales. The fights between those four were some of the most captivating, intense sporting events I've ever seen. For that reason, it's hard for me to think of the last decade as anything but a golden age for boxing.
Manny's stellar record against his three greatest peers earned him the moniker "Mexi-cutioner."
In the last year, he has turned his attention to higher weight classes. In June, he won a world title in his first fight at 135 pounds. In December, he bulked up further and ended the career of Oscar De La Hoya with a stunning display of hand speed.
Pacquiao started his career at 106 pounds. He beat De La Hoya at 147. Those 41 pounds might not sound like a lot to you, but the equivalent of Pacquiao's rise in say, baseball, would be Dustin Pedroia hitting 74 home runs in 2012. It's an amazing feat, one that had aficionados reaching back to the great Henry Armstrong (he held titles in three weight classes at once) for comparisons.
The pleasure of watching Pacquiao is the pleasure of watching a man who loves his work and has never stopped improving at it. He still has that wicked left and the knack for looking like the freshest man in the building come round 10. But he has added so many wrinkles over the years -- a better right, more balance, an ability to attack from angles rather than straight ahead. I've never seen him give a bad performance and he was beaten soundly only by Morales (a defeat he avenged twice.)
On Saturday, Pacquiao will try for 140-pound supremacy against once-beaten Ricky Hatton.
The fight is rich with subplots. Hatton is almost as big a star in Britain as Pacquiao is in the Philippines and both will draw huge nationalistic contingents to Las Vegas. Hatton is the naturally bigger man, Pacquiao the quicker and more accomplished. Hatton is trained by Floyd Mayweather Sr., the father of the only man to beat him, Floyd Mayweather Jr. With a victory, Pacquiao hopes to set up an even bigger fight with Mayweather Jr.
Both are likable men. Pacquiao is an Ali-like figure in the Philippines. He acts, he dispenses cash to the poor when he walks the streets, he dreams of running for office. His trainer, Freddy Roach, was the same kind of relentless, small fighter, and he hasn't let Parkinson's disease stop him from running one of the best gyms in the world.
Hatton, meanwhile, gets chubby between fights because he can't resist a pint or three at the pub. His rowdy supporters love to sing "There's only one Ricky Hatton" to the tune of Winter Wonderland.
It should all be quite a spectacle. I know $50 is a lot to spend on watching a boxing match in these tough times. But if you can gather a group of friends or get to a bar that's showing the fight, Pacquiao-Hatton should be quite a show.