Pacquiao, Mayweather, the Steroid Debate and Who's To Blame

An LA Times poll of readers who follow boxing has come up with results that show 92% or respondents blame Mayweather or his handlers, while only 8% blame Pacquiao or his team.  Yet a persistent and noisy minority of bloggers and sports scribes keep putting forward the notion that they just can’t fathom why Pacquiao would not just submit to Mayweather’s testing protocols rather than walk away from a $40m payday. Ergo, he must be juicing.

I’ve probably spent more time thinking about this than is probably productive or reasonable. My wife is Filipina and we’ve been fans of Pacquiao for awhile — and until this came along I had never come across a single aspects of Pacquiao’s behavior in or out of the ring that I had any question about, or any quarrel with.  I remember when he first began his remarkable tun that has left him where is now, at the top of the sport — I kept thinking, will America ever be able to embrace and consider a superstar someone who is so humble and respectful — virtually no swagger, complete respect for his opponents, and a tiny, faltering voice when speaking in English.  (Not so at all in Tagalog, in which he is quite well-spoken.)  How can a guy like that capture the imagination of America and the world?

Well, the answer is — knock out everyone remotely in your weight category, climb to the top of your sport, cause Oscar De La Hoya to retire on his stoo, KO Ricky Hatton with the most amazing knockout punch seen in a major championship fight in years (amazing knockouts happen in mismatches, not closely matched championship fights).   And along the way earn a reputation for fair play, showing a certain smiling charm even when entering the ring for a championship fight, and a touching tradition of immediately dropping into your knees in your corner and praying fervently after each fight. (And by the way – this was never more apparent than after the Hatton knockout when Pacquiao extricated from the arms of his cornermen who were trying to hoist him into the air, then threw a quick worried look at Hatton’s prostrate form in the middle of the ring and immediately dropped to his knees and prayed for half a minute or more. )

I mean — what’s not to like about this guy?  And America seems to “get it” — and for that I’m truly grateful.

But now Pacquiao has a cloud hanging over him.  In spite of the fact that he’s agreed to an unprecedented drug testing regime for boxing consisting of unlimited urine samples, plus multiple blood samples leaving only a 24 day window between the last pre-fight blood test and first post-fight blood test — in spite of all of this and the fact that he has been tested 11 times by the Nevada boxing commission and never had a problem, I am now seeing articles mentioning Pacquiao and Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds in the same headline.   I have seen comments from boxers and boxing fans saying “he must be juicing, otherwise why not take the tests”?

On one level I understand this, but it seems unfair.  At least Pacquiao and his supporters can take heart from the LA Times poll cited above (and others).  But it can’t be denied that his reputation has been tarnished, and there are some people out there–reasonable people–who wonder what the thought process is that would cause Manny, if clean, to refuse to submit to Mayweather’s testing protocol.

Let me take a stab at trying to help understand it.

First, there is the fact that Manny seems to genuinely feel — whether physically or just psychologically — that taking blood in the runup to a fight weakens him and disrupts his preparation, concentration, and confidence.  Is this that hard to understand?  I remember seeing Ricky Hatton on Pacquiao/Hatton 24/7 pushing his wife out of his hotel room, not even wanting to cuddle with her — much less spend the night with her. And indeed, boxers’ aversion to sex before fights has long been understood, even if it’s mostly a superstition — it’s widely followed.  If losing that particular “precious bodily fluid” can weaken a boxer, why not blood.

And Pacquiao has some empirical evidence to support his claim.  The one fight he has lost since starting to fight in America in 2001 is the first fight to Morales.  Watch the following interview, which took place in the immediate aftermath of that fight and long before the current brouhaha got underway.  In it Pacquiao tells of how because of a lab mixup, he was forced to repeat a blood test two days before the fight that had originally been done 30 days before the fight.

So even a skeptic should give some consideration to Manny’s explanation for why he is reluctant to take blood in the runup to a fight.

But I think there are other reasons and one of them is something that most Americans are ignoring — and that’s Filipino pride, particularly in the face of an insulting assault by an arrogant American like Mayweather.

At every step of his career, and in particularly here in the US, Manny has had to deal with the fact that people just don’t expect an Asian fighter to be as good as Manny has in fact turned out to be.  And so now he reaches a point where, after demolishing ODH, Hatton, and Cotto, he is at the pinnacle of the sport, the number on pound for pound boxer on the planet by any reasonable explanation–and here comes Mayweather, a guy who has ducked every tough fight that has been presented to him, trying to bully Manny into agreeing to procedures which are potentially disruptive to his training; which have never been required of any fighter in the history of professional boxing; and which, if he succumbs to Mayweather’s demands, put him at an immediatey psychological disadvantage to a loudmouth, no-class (sorry Floyd, telling it like it is) American who is surrounded by familiar members who are themselves, by any reasonable calculation, also thugs and loudmouths.

I think it’s really important for those of us over here who aren’t really thinking about this in terms of the Philippine-American dynamic to pause and give a little thought to just what it means to grow up as a Filipino in the “claws of the eagle”.   There’s a lot of history between the Philippines and America that they don’t teach us over here.  They don’t , for example, teach us that in 1898 when America fought a war with Spain, doing battle in Cuba and the Philippines (both of which were Spanish colonies), we at first promised the Filipinos that if they made common cause with us against the Spanish we would give them their freedom — but then when it was over we changed our mind and made them an American colony.  That’s right, an American colony.  And the Filipinos, feeling betrayed, fought the Philippine-American war from 1899 until the early 1900’s, giving the Americans a rather powerful taste of what we would later experience in Vietnam.  That’s how we ended up with military bases in the Philippines; and that’s how we ended up being a country which Filipinos feel both  a deep familiarity and affection for — but also feel, quite rightly in my view, that the “special relationship” is special only from the Filipino side — it is not reciprocated by the Americans.

That’s a very short and cursory stab at explaining a complicated psychological relationship, but my point is — Mayweather standing up and dictating new and unprecedented drug testing terms to Pacquiao as if it is he, Mayweather, who is the alpha male — this has to be extremely repugnant and galling to Pacquiao.  Moreover, Mayweather started out insisting on the USADA as the testing authority — an American outfit that was obviously very chummy with Mayweather, so much so that the head of the USADA was constantly available for sound bites and interviews whenever the Mayweather camp wanted to trot him out.  How do you think Manny felt about that?  Do you not think that he had people around him raising questions about whether the testing would be fair and impartial (remember Lance Armstrong and the French doping authority who hounded him mercilessly)?  And then of course, there was the growing realization, by Pacquiao, that Mayweather and company were relentlessly damaging Pacquiao’s reputation with both overt statements and innuendo — all in spite of the fact that Pacquiao has been clean his entire career.

Here’s the bottom line.  Manny Pacquiao is the party who has been wronged here, and in standing up to Mayweather with a lawsuit he has signalled that he won’t be pushed around.  And you better believe that Pacquiao’s March 13 fight with Joshua Clottey will thump whatever fight Mayweather makes for the same night in terms of pay per view — and then the negotiations will restart, and this time there will be no doubt who the alpha male in the situation is.

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