PACQUIAO WATCH: Time is ticking (Last of three parts)

Robbed or rigged: Take your pick

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/18 June) — So when Manny Pacquiao almost inexplicably lost to Timothy Bradley, an early 1-7 long shot, reactions swung from one extreme of the pendulum to the other.

When the decision was announced, every living room in the Philippines tuned in to the fight collapsed into deafening silence.  The shock however quickly turned into defiant howls.   Then the outrage turned into bemusement and disbelief.  Did they not just watch another boxing match?

From all conceivable angles and perspectives, Pacquiao looked like he was in total control of the fight.  Indeed, from the statistical point of view, Pacquiao was the more effective, accurate and the bigger puncher.  Oh, he landed more than Bradley by disparity ratio of close to 2 is to 1, too.

So why did Pacquiao lose?

Was he a victim of a bum, if not deliberate, decision?  Was the fight an unforgivable fix? Or has Manny simply lost a step and is now ripe for the picking?

When looking at the Bradley bout, Pacquiao’s 60th professional fight, it is best to range it against Manny’s body of work as a prized knockout artist.

Manny’s boxing career is best defined in three chapters.

The first is when Manny was virtually a non-entity in international boxing.  Second is when he started to make a name for himself and finally, the third, when he hit pay dirt.  You can argue that a fourth is now dawning on him.  But it is not easy to exaggerate his “untimely demise” from the sports.  Manny will tell you that straight in your face with a wide grin.

Early struggles

Manny was so driven to make it big in boxing he had to stow away from home and start his professional boxing career in faraway Mindoro Island – 900 kms from his hometown in General Santos City – against a kid named Edmund Enting Ignacio.  He won his professional debut with an inconsequential unanimous decision victory.  That was in 1995 when he also fought a total of 10 times during that year.  Back then, he was a hungry kid hoping to make it big and was taking fights in a week or two’s notice.  He took his first loss, a knockout, against Rustico Torrecampo in his 12th professional but bounced back by racking up 12 consecutive victories (10 by KOs) before coming from behind and knocking out Chatchai Sasakul in Thailand to win the World Boxing Council flyweight title.  He would lose it to Medgoen Singsurat in his third defense but not before abdicating the title at the weighing scale.

Fighting at an average of close to six fights a year in his first six years as a professional, Pacquiao never even merited a second look from international boxing promoters even though he already won a championship crown – until he took Las Vegas by storm in mercilessly pummeling Lehlo Ledwaba into submission in the undercard of the Oscar de la Hoya-Javier Castillo title fight at the MGM Grand.  He won his second world crown, the International Boxing Federation (IBF) super bantamweight title in that impressive display of predatory hunger.  Still, many thought Pacquiao was a one-hit wonder.

No one-hit wonder

Sports scribes who saw Pacquiao shellacked Ledwaba were impressed but many never thought he was something special.  He was pitted against dangerous and equally hungry fighters.  To the astonishment of cynics, Pacquiao actually thrived and prevailed.  Unbeknownst to them, Manny lives up to challenges and enjoys pulling surprises.

Then the time of reckoning came.  He was handpicked by the handlers of Marco Antonio Barrera to a non-title 12 round fight after the latter was stripped of his featherweight title for refusing to pay the WBC sanctioning fee.

Pacquiao would serve the world notice by taking the fight in less than a month’s call.  A new boxing superstar was then born on November 13, 2003.  He completely dominated Barrera, then at the prime of his career and one of boxing’s most feared fighters, en route to an 11th round TKO win.  Pacquiao followed up his victory with an exciting but controversial draw with Juan Manuel Marquez but not after sending the Mexican thrice to the canvass in the first round.  Many thought Pacquiao won that fight and victory would have been his had one judge not erred in scoring the first round for Marquez.

Pacquiao’s career took another spill as he suffered his third defeat at the hands of Erik Morales, the last of the Mexican triumvirate with whom Manny would do memorable battles.  Pacquiao, however, would avenge that loss with two knockout victories in as many rematches with Morales.

Top of the heap

When Pacquiao turned 30, he was running out of opponents in the featherweight class.  He took yet another leap and sought more glories in the higher weight divisions although at that time, Manny already had four world titles in as many weight divisions. (One was for the lineal super featherweight title he won over Barrera).

He challenged David Diaz for the WBC lightweight crown and won handily in nine rounds to capture his fifth world title.  He earlier captured his fourth crown by dethroning perennial nemesis Marquez to take away the latter’s WBC super featherweight title.

Then again, he did the unthinkable.  He agreed to fight Oscar de la Hoya, then still boxing’s golden boy, albeit already on the wane.  Only Pacquiao and coach Freddie Roach, and his growing entourage, had serious thoughts of beating de la Hoya who was taller and bigger than the Filipino boxing champion.  But Pacquiao had better things in mind.  He took advantage of the slumbering giant before him and ran around circles.  By the end of the 8th round, de la Hoya’s face was a bloody mess.  He took a beating like no other in his career.  He quit on his stool.  For all the boxing greats Golden Boy fought, he never felt so humiliated the way Pacquiao administered him his final career loss.  It was his time to call it quits.

It was the end of an era (Golden Boy’s).  And the dawning of a new one (Pacman’s own).

But like all good things in life, they all never last.

Closing another chapter

Pacquiao has been in the world boxing stage for close to a decade now and dominating it the last five years.  He has run out of opponents except the one that always gets away – Mayweather.  But the guy is in jail and is never in the mood of fighting him.

The only exciting fight left for him is a fourth redux with Marquez.  But Marquez always has Manny’s number.  Their skill sets and individual strengths cancel each other out sometimes a knockdown or two is all it takes to make a difference.  Their last of three close fights was perhaps the most controversial one with many picking Marquez as the winner.  One cannot be faulted if he thought the missed call benefited Pacquiao. Either way, both camps have their arguments.  (I scored the Pacquiao-Marquez III fight a draw and had Pacquiao winning the first two fights)

But Bradley’s win?

If it was robbery, was it a wakeup call for the Marquez imbroglio?  If it was a fix, was Manny part of it?  These questions may only be answered by someone who was into the deal – if ever there was one.  It would be interesting to know how much PPV buys the Pacman-Bradley raked in and see how it weighed in the decision.  But until that someone emerges and comes out in the open, we will have to content ourselves with weighing what the future holds for Manny and boxing.

Robbery, rigged or simply a case of inept officiating, the Bradley debacle is definitely the writing on the wall that Manny cannot ignore.

To be still in the mix of Las Vegas business after all things are considered, Manny and his team will be back playing the game like he did it before – be at the mercy of his promoter, the cable network and the gods of Las Vegas.

Until Mayweather mans up and fight him, Pacquiao will be obliged to do a rematch (and face the prospect of still another loss) or yet another trilogy with Bradley but for lesser purses and a smaller cut of the pie.  Add to that, he could no longer expect purse parity with Mayweather granting that fight happens.

At 33, Manny is no longer young yet not old enough to be an upstart’s sacrificial lamb.  By meekly accepting the Bradley decision, he is setting the stage for his own demise as boxing’s prima donna and, counting Mayweather, its primus inter pares.

Had Manny not been denied the victory, he would have maintained his grip and continued dictating the terms of his future fights.  But there is not enough competition to make everybody happy.  Eventually some will lose their shirts without Manny taking a huge pay cut.

Manny knows it.  He is into the business of boxing and boxing business.   He once dipped his hands in boxing promotion.  He never made any single cent out of it.

Manny knows the lucrative bouts are fast drying up.  Three or four fights more and he is done as boxing’s biggest draw.  Defying the odds like he did before may no longer be a luxury for him and his boxing fans.

But who knows, Manny is still capable of pulling some hat tricks.  Maybe he has a fourth chapter in mind.  Many would love to have that.  But it is better that he ends this one while still on top.

No better way to leave the sports than have a legacy of winning. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Edwin G. Espejo writes for www.asiancorrespondent.com)