Manny Pacquiao falls, questions arise
With a single, thunderous right hand at the end of round six Juan Manuel Marquez sent the legend of Manny Pacquiao crashing face-first to the canvas.
With his nose broken and his left leg seemingly injured, Marquez delivered a knockout so definitive referee Kenny Bayless didn’t even bother to count. And with the entire boxing world watching, the 39-year-old Marquez provided an unambiguous answer to any lingering doubts about whether he really is better than Pacquiao.
For him the win must have felt like an exorcism. Before this weekend Marquez risked retiring as a world-class boxer and Mexican legend whose Hall-of-Fame credential were overshadowed by the fights he didn’t win — a draw and two razor-thin decisions against Pacquiao.
But Saturday night Marquez calmly adjusted to Pacquiao’s early head movement, weathered a barrage of power shots after Pacquiao stunned him, and coldly capitalized on Pacquiao’s penchant for running face-first into right hands. After 42 of the most closely contested and hotly debated rounds in recent boxing history, Marquez ended plenty of discussions with the perfect overhand right.
But in settling that question, Marquez’ spectacular win raised a ton of others.
The most urgent include…
1. WHEN WILL BOXING GET SERIOUS ABOUT P.E.D. TESTING?
This isn’t to suggest Marquez is doping. As we discussed last time, there are plenty of holes in the Maquez-is-on-steroids theory, and anybody willing to convict Marquez based on circumstantial evidence and leaps in logic better reach the same conclusion about Pacquiao, Zab Judah, Andre Ward and any number of other fighters.
So far I’m willing to give Marquez the benefit of the doubt, same as I did when similar allegations surfaced about Pacquiao, and Saturday’s one-punch knockout doesn’t change my opinion.
Sometimes a guy just hits a home run.
If Marco Scutaro goes yard in the Giants’ 2013 home opener it doesn’t mean he juiced up over the winter. It just means he put the right swing on the right pitch.
Still, we can’t ignore the performance enhancing drug issue, especially with reformed (as far as we know) steroid gurus like Angel “Memo” Hernandez and Victor Conte overseeing the training and nutrition of a long list of world-class fighters.
When Floyd Mayweather began insisting on Olympic-style random testing during lead-ins to his fights, people criticized the move as a dodge he concocted to avoid facing Pacquiao. But as random, pre-fight drug screenings have become more common so have positive tests.
As Lamont Peterson learned when he got popped for testosterone while training for his rematch with Amir Khan.
And as Conte protege Andre Berto discovered after he tested positive for nandrolone ahead of his scheduled rematch with Victor Ortiz.
And as Erik Morales found out before challenging Danny Garcia. Morales’ pre-fight drug test came back positive for a P.E.D. but — amazingly — that fight still went on, highlighting an even bigger drug problem in boxing.
If sanctioning bodies and state commissions only test after fights they might as well not test at all. Any steroid guru worth his syringe knows how to beat a test when the screening date is circled on his calendar. And if outside agencies uncover drug use through pre-fight testing, commissions and sanctioning bodies can’t undermine the process by allowing fights to proceed.
And if the folks running boxing are unwilling to back up stringent pre-fight testing with stiff penalties they can’t complain when fans look skeptically at the achievements of all fighters, innocent or guilty.
If I want to watch a bunch of drugged up athletes flout toothless doping controls I’ll watch cycling.
This is the Sweet Science, so let’s get samples to the laboratory and get on with the sport.
2. WHAT’S NEXT FOR PACQUIAO?
In the minutes after Saturday’s bout, while Pacquiao was still under observation by medical staff, promoter Bob Arum took to the podium at the post-fight news conferenced and told anyone who would listen that one loss means nothing, and that absorbing a crushing kayo didn’t have to affect Pacquiao’s career any more than losing one game affected Sandy Koufax’.
Which makes for sense for Arum, considering how much money he has made as a result of Pacquiao’s stardom, and how much he stands to make should Pacquiao continue fighting.
But not all losses are created equal, and neither are all losers.
Pacquiao has a disturbing habit of walking in to right hands, accepting the blows as the price of getting close enough to engage in the exchanges where he does his damage. Saturday night the cost proved way too steep, and the result places Pacquiao in an awkward position.
He can continue fighting, altering his aggressive style to protect a chin that is now a liability, or he can continue as he always has, hoping his beard will hold up against opponents now empowered by his vulnerability. Or he can choose a lower calibre of opponent, reducing the chances that flaws in his defense or strategy will be exposed.
None of those options are appealing for a fighter whose multimillion-dollar brand is built on winning convincingly over big-name foes.
A fourth choice is to walk away altogether. After 17 years, 61 pro fights and world titles in eight divisions Pacquiao has certainly earned that right.
I’m just not sure circumstances will afford him that luxury.
As Arum has already made clear, he has too much money and hope tied up in Pacquiao remaining active to let his cash cow head to pasture. A fifth fight with Marquez would take a brutal toll on the bodies and souls of both men but would generate north of a million pay per view buys. This is a numbers game, so we know which consideration will win out.
Besides, for all of his eight-figure paydays Pacquiao may just need the cash.
His entourage numbers more than 100, and he provided more than $1 million worth of tickets to the Marquez bout to various friends and associates. They weren’t freebies, either. The cost came out of Pacquiao’s guarantee.
It’s an amazingly generous move by a guy who doesn’t mind sharing his incredible wealth. But it’s also the kind of gesture that, repeated often enough, leads fighters who should be retired right back to the ring.
3. DOES THIS MEAN WE’LL NEVER SEE MAYWEATHER-PACQUIAO?
It just means the price went down.
Although boxing seems like a giant single-elimination tournament — lose once and go to the end of a long line to wait for your next payday — truth is promoters decide who fights whom. Losing your previous bout might make you less marketable, but if you’ll accept the purse the promoter offers then the fight can, and will, go on.
That’s why Pacquiao and Marquez will take home at least $35 million between them while Tim Bradley, the guy who defeated Pacquiao in June, is at home in Palm Springs, Calif., training, seething, and waiting for a date and an opponent.
In falling to Marquez, Pacquiao didn’t lose a chance at a Mayweather payday, but he fumbled away a ton of bargaining power.
Earlier this year Mayweather told the world he had offered Pacquiao a $40 million guarantee, only to have Pacquiao turn it down in favour of a 50-50 split of total revenue. If a new conversation on a purse split were to take place in the near future I’d expect Mayweather’s end of it to sound like this:
“Hi, Manny. Remember the $40 million guarantee I offered you before? Well I don’t. But if you want to get it on I can give you $5 million. Sound good?”
And in six months, it might.
For whatever Pacquiao lost on Saturday night, he remains one of the two biggest names in boxing and the most lucrative B-side Mayweather could hope for in a pay-per-view partner. Mayweather can still use Pacquiao to generate a massive payday, even if he no longer needs him to burnish his Hall-of-Fame legacy.
Unless, of course, Mayweather loses his next time out.
Then the price of “the fight” takes another precipitous drop and the two boxers, rallying around their shared need to stay relevant, will suddenly find common ground on every issue from money to drug testing to ring size.
So if you’re that committed to seeing Mayweather-Pacquiao, make sure you pull for Robert Guerrero May 4.
But if you’re over the idea of that fight I can’t blame you.
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