By Jason Keidel
With all the boxing bromides and bouquets hurled his way today, Floyd Mayweather Jr doesn’t need another gratuitous tribute. Between the champ, his camp and his phalanx of followers, there will be enough gaseous assertions to fuel a fighter plane.
So let’s turn to the loser — Manny Pacquiao — whom Mayweather called Emmanuel before the fight, perhaps in an attempt at emasculation. No need for such histrionics outside the ring, as he gelded the Pac Man inside the ropes with alarming alacrity. Mayweather is so quietly gifted that you can get whipped by him and leave with more bruises on your pride than your person. It’s not sexy, but it sells, because he wins, and victory is the wholly American virtue.
So where does that leave Pacquiao, the self-styled Pac Man, whose video-game style just lost all its electricity. There are no more requests for a redux, no line of kids clutching quarters to play another round of Pac Man. Pacquiao has indeed met the fate of the 1982 arcade — and now archaic — classic.
Pacquiao and his camp tried to make this bout a ballot box on God and social graces, taking a singularly religious approach to the ring. But it turned out to be a referendum on Mayweather’s ring mastery, italicizing the considerable chasm in talent between the two best fighters on the planet.
Vince Lombardi, the patron saint of pro football and the emblem of Americana, said adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. If the iconic coach is correct, then Pacquiao is hemorrhaging dignity, using an appendage to amend history.
Pressure does odd things to people and pugilists, even those as polished as Pacquiao. Mike Tyson famously said everyone has a blueprint until they get punched in the face. As was the case with Pacquiao and trainer Freddie Roach, who closed their workouts and training to the media and masses, guarding their game plan as though it were the Manhattan Project. Turns out their approach had more potholes than a New York City street, with Pacquiao often pummeled with jabs, lead rights and counter punches.
This was way more than a boxing match. It was the career-defining fight for two bejeweled boxers, who had nothing left to prove to anyone on earth except to each other. Their strata and status is so exclusive that they speak a personal and professional language we can’t translate, their personal and professional orbit so high that we can only guess at their impulses.
Mayweather literally has the world at his manicured feet, far above any of us, flying over the world in his Learjet while the rest of us live in it. Such are the spoils of success. For all his flaws, and they are profound and plentiful, Mayweather can dictate the terms until he’s terminated in the ring. And, frankly, it doesn’t look like he’s ready to surrender the physical or metaphysical crown as pound -for-pound king. He’s got one fight left on his Showtime deal, then he can pick his price when he tries to break Rocky Marciano’s record. As Mel Brooks declared a long time ago, it’s good to be the king.
Indeed, he so befuddled the Filipino congressman that there were new stories sprouting from the post fight pressers. It seems Pacquiao hurt his shoulder and was denied essential medical attention before the fight. Pacquiao, Roach and Arum sang the same chorus, saying the bum shoulder wouldn’t be an excuse, then used it as an excuse all night. Sad. It’s antithetical to everything Pacquiao has been about for the last decade — personal responsibility.
Pac Man’s camp chided Mayweather for his persona, personality and punctuality. Just as they broke camp and headed for Las Vegas, Roach said the “long international nightmare” was about to end. Presumably, he meant that Mayweather was more than a bore and bully than boxer, and that Pacquiao was the new, righteous sheriff who was about to run Mayweather out of town like a tumbleweed. We see how that went.
Such are the perils of machismo. If you don’t back it up, you look like a fool, and Freddie Roach isn’t one. But between the bravado and the no-show last night, Team Pacquiao will be more remembered for flatlining on their biggest night than for his decade of dominance leading up to it. Such are the zero-sum metrics of American sports, and American life. The runner up is only the first loser. There are ample archives, endless quotes, putting the loser in his place. They say no one remembers who lost the Super Bowl. But the world will remember who lost last night. The only solace Pacquiao can take in this defeat is his health and the dent he put into his colossal tax bill. There’s only one opponent harder to defeat than Floyd Mayweather Jr — the IRS.
There’s no shame in losing to a man who’s never lost, especially a tactician of Mayweather’s heft. What is sad, if not troubling, is Pacquiao’s lack of focus and ferocity. If nothing else, the Filipino dynamo was the one Mayweather foe who wouldn’t fold, the tornado welterweight who could at least match, if not trump, Mayweathers’s stealth. Volume can overcome the safety of solid defense. Joe Frazier was able to overwhelm Muhammad Ali with his windmill punching. And Floyd Mayweather, despite his blasphemous assertions, is no Muhammad Ali, in or out of the arena.
But it also appears that Manny Pacquiao is no Joe Frazier. Indeed, he was just an average Joe Saturday night, which is quite possibly portentous. Over the last year, Roach has assured us that the moment he notices a tangible dip in talent, reaction or reflexes from his most prized and profitable pupil, he will urge him to retire.
No one doubts the monolithic bond between that trainer and this fighter. But in boxing, business and family, often the hardest thing you can tell someone you cherish is that it’s over. It’s time for Roach to ditch his mitts, assume his paternal tone, and retire his fighter. He may loathe the move, but it will prove he loves the man.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.