Blaming the Victim: Pacquiao, Bradley, Conspiracy Theories and Common Sense
My late Aunt Edith was about the most conflict-averse person I’ve ever known, but in the hours after Timothy Bradley was awarded a split decision victory over Manny Pacquiao — a bout most of us think Pacquiao won comfortably — I thought of my grandfather’s big sister and the sweltering summer nights I used to spend sleeping in her living room when my sisters and I would visit.
She lived on Langley Avenue on the South Side of Chicago. Walk 50 yards south and you’d hit 95th street, cross it and you’re on Chicago’s State University’s campus. In the mid 1980s Chicago certainly had rougher neighbourhoods, but that stretch of 95th still wasn’t an area where people with sense let their guard down.
So when the sun set and it was time for my sisters and I to go to sleep Aunt Edith would shut the windows, flip the latch and tuck us in. She shut and locked the windows before bed if we were visiting in the spring, and she sealed them even if we visited during one of Chicago’s legendarily muggy summers.
I would point out, correctly, that on a 90-degree day going to bed with the windows closed was like trying to sleep in the sauna, and that we’d all breathe a little more easily with some air flowing through the room.
She would counter, even more correctly, that her neighbourhood was full of crooks and that to leave a window unlocked was to invite a break-in. Better to sweat through the night than fill out a police report in the morning.
Robbery is wrong but handing robbers an opportunity is negligent.
When Michael Buffer announced the botched decision Aunt Edith’s lesson in security flashed across my mind.
Because nature and the internet abhor a vacuum, cyberspace has quickly filled with conspiracy theories purporting to explain Pacquiao’s inexplicable loss:
The fight was fixed to keep Pacquiao occupied for the rest of the year and set up a showdown with Floyd Mayweather in 2013.
The fight was fixed to keep Pacquiao occupied for the rest of the year and prevent him from ever facing Mayweather.
The fix has been in for weeks — otherwise why would Bradley appear at a press conference with a poster hyping a Pacquiao rematch set for Nov. 10?
Each of the theories is seductive, but all of them are idiotically risky in a sport with such a tenuous grip on the attention and trust of mainstream sports fans. I’ll accept that Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum, is spiteful enough to steer Pacquiao away from Mayweather if means denying a record payday to an ex-protege he has grown to hate. But I can’t believe he’s foolish or hubristic enough to sacrifice his cash cow, Pacquiao, as part of a convoluted plot with muddy objectives.
Instead of scrambling for a conspiracy I viewed the decision through Aunt Edith’s prism.
Those judges stole the fight from Pacquiao because Pacquiao allowed them to do it.
This isn’t to blame the victim. Human beings aren’t supposed to steal from each other, and none of us deserve to be robbed. Yet we recognize that when given an opportunity, certain people will steal. This is why doors and windows have locks.
Saturday’s bout wasn’t like Pacquiao’s points victory over Juan Manuel Marquez last November. I had Marquez winning that fight but wouldn’t have disagreed with a judge giving Pacquiao a narrow edge. The fight was just that competitive, the fighters that evenly matched.
This time Pacquiao appeared to win eight of the 12 rounds. Early on he pot-shotted Bradley with well-placed left hands, and whenever Bradley tried to rally Pacquiao would deaden his momentum with sharp power shots.
By the third round it was clear Pacquiao had Bradley outclassed and outgunned. He could hurt Bradley — and did several times — but Bradley couldn’t rattle Pacquiao even when hitting him flush.
It’s a recipe for a knockout win but Pacquiao never pressed for one, even when he had Bradley stunned.
Instead fought he in bursts, opening rounds slowly and closing them with attention-grabbing flurries. And in the final quarter of the fight, when he felt he’d built a safe lead, he geared down. Not the soundest strategy for a fighter with knockout power and a stiff chin, but adequate assuming competent judges.
But this is boxing, where dodgy decisions are common as break-ins in bad neighbourhoods.
Last summer Cuban junior middleweight Erislandy Lara suffered an even worse verdict after an even more lopsided thrashing of Paul “The Punisher” Williams in a main event on HBO. It can happen to just about anyone and fighters need to be aware of the risk implicit in turning fights over to the jury.
If you don’t want thieves stealing your new TV, lock your doors and windows so they can’t get their hands on it.
And if you don’t want judges bungling a decision, steamroll your opponent in six rounds instead of letting the fight go 12.
Pacquiao that option.
When he had Bradley wobbled he could have rallied to stop him.
When the fight entered its final quarter he could have stepped on the accelerator, the way Floyd Mayweather did last month in closing the show against Miguel Cotto.
Instead he chose to assume he had large cushion, cruising in the late rounds while Bradley collected points that would prove pivotal. Pacquiao didn’t deserve the poor decision but he certainly set himself up for it.
Which isn’t necessarily bad for the Pacquiao brand.
In dropping this decision Pacquiao appears less a loser than a victim of the evil forces of boxing politics. So when he enters a rematch with Bradley he’s not simply fighting to avenge a loss; he’s battling to correct an injustice. Once again he becomes David, out to slay his biggest Goliath yet:
Boxing’s corrupt establishment.
In winning a bout most people think he lost, Bradley gains a both world title and the skepticism of millions of fans who feel he doesn’t deserve it. So he preserves his undefeated record and the chip on his shoulder, which are both precious to him.
And Bob Arum? He’s as disgusted anyone else is with the decision, but he’s also a promoter. He gets paid when other people fight, and figures to make a killing off the rematch.
It’s the rare blown decision in which everyone involved wins, and a scenario that dovetails nicely with conspiracy theories casting Pacquiao’s loss as part of a giant hustle the boxing industry is running on the public. But before we adopt that framework for analyzing what happened Saturday, we need to decide how we feel about Pacquiao.
He’s either the humble and honest giant-killer whose fighting spirit and integrity represent our last hope for righting boxing’s myriad wrongs… or he’s a guy who fixes fights.
But he can’t be both.
Or if you think Arum sold Pacquiao out without Manny knowing, you have to accept that Arum, at best, is the snake Mayweather has always said he is.
At worst he’s an absolute moron.
Pacquiao earns more money for Arum than the rest of Top Rank’s roster combined, drawing in casual fans who could just as easily ignore the sport altogether. Only a fool would jeopardize his most lucrative proven revenue stream just to gamble on a Pacquaio-Bradley rematch.
Arum might be dishonest, but he’s not dumb.
And the Pacquiao-as-victim-of-a-sinister-plot storyline may be sexy, but it’s not sensible. He and Arum are lucky they can wring something positive from this loss, but moral victories here are like small insurance payout after thieves have cleaned you out.
You appreciate the cash but you would rather have not been robbed. Pacquiao and Arum will take advantage of the spin but they would rather have had the win.
Pacquiao thought he had a victory wrapped up on Saturday, and incompetent judges had no right to steal it from him.
But Pacquiao had no business letting it happen.
Doors have locks for a reason.
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