By Corey Erdman
At Manny Pacquiao’s open media workout at Wild Card gym, the future Hall of Famer politely announced that he would not be answering any questions regarding a possible rematch with Floyd Mayweather, both out of respect for his next opponent Adrien Broner, and because there was no news to report.
Then, in a scene reminiscent of the famous Simpsons sketch in which lecherous man after lecherous man hits on a model at a car show by asking “do you come with the car?”, more than a dozen consecutive reporters asked a Mayweather-related question and had their request politely declined.
The event prompted plenty of Twitter roasting about the preponderance of fan journalism, the quality of reporting in 2019, and more. But in a sense, each and every one of the offenders could be excused, because for almost two decades, everyone and everything in boxing was in orbit of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, and the fact that questions about a rematch are still being asked is perhaps just one clue that those days aren’t over just yet.
The sign of a truly beloved superstar is when the public has a staunch unwillingness to stop believing in their abilities. Fans of Michael Jordan believe he could still beat the NBA’s top players in a 1-on-1 matchup. Wayne Gretzky fans believe he could rack up a 200-point season in today’s NHL.
In boxing, athletes’ primes tend to be a little shorter, and the turnaround in terms of “eras” a little quicker, so we often get to see generational debates decided in the ring, in some sense. People believed Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson were the best fighters in the world long after they weren’t, and saw them lose to the next generation in humiliating fashion.
What’s remarkable about Pacquiao is that while he’s 40, and has been fighting “the next generation” for about two generations now, the sport still hasn’t passed him by, and he still hasn’t been humbled. The knocks against him are a KO loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in a tetralogy he otherwise won, extremely controversial decision losses to Timothy Bradley and Jeff Horn, and a defeat at the hands of his rival Mayweather, a generational great. None have been enough to knock him off his perch as one of the world’s most significant, and most popular fighters.
It’s unclear what, if anything, actually could. Pacquiao has given the public very real reasons to dislike him personally, stemming from his dangerous political actions, including outright homophobia, advocacy for death sentences to drug dealers and opposing contraceptives and birth control for women. Those things were enough to cost him his Nike deal, but certainly not all of his commercial endorsements.
It’s true that boxing does operate on a different scale than almost any other industry in the world in terms of what behavior its brain trust, its fanbase and its media will tolerate. Pacquiao is not the first person of questionable morals to enter a boxing ring, nor will he be the last. Lest we forget that he is about to box a man who is wrapped up in two separate sex crimes in different states.
Boxing’s open door policy has a beautiful side to it. It’s maybe the one job in the world where someone like Broner with a criminal past can have a legitimate chance at getting rich and altering the course of his family’s future. It’s an industry that can give a cripplingly poor child like Pacquiao was a path out of poverty and the means to change lives in his homeland. But that door remains open no matter what—even when Broner doesn’t seem to have rehabilitated, and even when Pacquiao started to use his newfound political power to promote damage.
Unlike Broner however, Pacquiao has never assumed the role of the villain. Rather, he remains the smiling good guy babyface in every promotional build up—the anti-Mayweather.
Pacquiao is the hero this generation of fans doesn’t want to give up on, in every sense. When he was signed by Al Haymon and PBC, the initial reaction was that he was being purchased for parts, to simply serve him up to lineup of welterweights under the banner as a means of building their notoriety. What we’ve seen throughout the buildup to the Broner fight however, is that Pacquiao is still nothing less than an A-side fighter—definitely in terms of public opinion and recognition. When a Manny Pacquiao fight week comes around, media and fans start remembering their favorite Pacman performances. This time around, with Pacquiao reunited with longtime trainer Freddie Roach, the chatter has sounded even more nostalgic.
As Pacquiao was being bombarded with questions about Mayweather on media day and deflecting, Broner was fielding similar questions with a little more fury.
“No disrespect, but I don’t give a f*** about Mayweather and Pacquiao. I’m focused on Adrien Broner and Pacquiao. I’m focused on getting this victory and I’m gonna go to the drawing board with my team – Stephen Espinoza and Al Haymon–and we gonna make bigger moves,” said Broner.
Very little of that was true. For one, the most touching moment of Showtime’s recent All Access program was Broner’s tale of deciding to become a boxer while in jail, and how fighting Pacquiao was a realization of a dream. As far as Mayweather goes, Broner’s career and fighting style are molded in his image—not to mention their longtime tumultuous personal relationship. And finally, there are still fewer bigger moves for anyone in the vicinity of 147 pounds than fighting Pacquiao, even in 2019.
So forgive the press on that day for being a little stuck in the past, because it doesn’t look all that much different from the present in this case. A possible Mayweather-Pacquiao rematch is still probably the most profitable fight that could be made in boxing, over a whole bunch of potentially better, more intriguing bouts.
Whether those two deserve it or not, everyone isn’t willing to let go.