Opinion: Manny Pacquiao should embrace the role of underdog and fight Floyd Mayweather

There used to be a commercial about the broker EF Hutton: “When EF Hutton talks, people listen.” When Max Kellerman talks boxing, I listen. I find him cogent, insightful, and entirely sane. Here is what he had to say tonight on HBO after watching the Pacquiao-Marquez replay:

“When I was sitting there calling the fight.I had it 6 rounds to 6, I called it a draw. Just now scoring it off of television, I changed some rounds, some rounds I gave to Marquez I gave to Pacquiao and vice versa. Still had it six rounds to six, a draw. These two guys are evenly matched no matter how many times they fight. They’re evenly matched, and that’s the thing. Marquez was not evenly matched with Floyd Mayweather. Floyd completely dominated him, knocked him down, basically shut him out, twelve rounds to nothing. And for those who say Mayweather was bigger than Marquez, well, Mayweather’s bigger than Pacquiao. Or, it’s a matter of styles, Marquez’s style will always give Pacquiao’s style problems. Don’t draw conclusions about a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight from that. Well, what’s Marquez’s style that gave Pacquiao trouble? Counterpuncher with a good defense. Who’s the best counterpuncher in boxing, with one of the best defenses of all time? Floyd Mayweather. I think today — I think Sunday morning in fact, last week, when we all woke up, we realized Mayweather was a prohibitive favorite — a substantial favorite — to beat Manny Pacquiao, should the two ever fight. I think Top Rank realizes that which is why, in spite of the fact Floyd really seems like he wants to fight now, Top Rank, Pacquiao’s promoter, is talking about a fourth Marquez fight, and sure there’s some interest in that eventually, but right now we all want to see Mayweather-Pacquiao, and we hope that fight isn’t ducked by either guy, or either promoter.”

Kellerman went on to end by urging Manny, Top Rank, Golden Boy, and Mayweather to make the fight that everyone in the world wants to see — Pacquiao-Mayweather — and to leave a fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez for another day.

I’m digesting how I feel about this analysis. Some preliminary thoughts: First, it’s hard to really argue with the logic. Kellerman is a highly skilled attorney, he has an IQ of about 160, and he knows how to structure an argument. He isn’t dissing Pacquiao in my view, he’s just following the thread of logic as it presents itself when you watch Pacquiao-Marquez III, and weigh that against Mayweather-Marquez.

Of course there are counterarguments. Mayweather came in at 146, two pounds over the catchweight of 144 the parties had agreed to, and when you add his rehydration and consider that in that fight, Marquez had not bulked up as scientifically as he did for Pacquiao, clearly Mayweather did enjoy a substantial size and strength advantage which he would not have against Pacquiao. Pac can go to the full welterweight limit of 147 if he has to and eliminate the potential for he catch-weight enabled shennanigans the Mayweather pulled against Marquez.

But still…..

After feeling very, very confident that Pacquiao could handle Mayweather, I must confess that now I would see Pac as an underdog but you know, the more I think about it, that’s not a bad thing. I would acknowledge Pacquiao is an underdog, but would believe that Pacquiao has the strength of character, the discipline, the heart, the intelligence, so that with the help of Freddie Roach, Team Pac could devise a way to learn from what has happened with Marquez, and Manny could apply that to overcome the challenge of Mayweather. I would believe that just as Marquez surprised people in the fight with Pacquiao, so too (and moreso) can Manny Pacquiao surprise the doubters and pull off a convincing victory over Mayweather — a victory that because of Mayweather’s arrogance and ugliness of spirit, would be about as sweet and exhilirating a victory as could ever be achieved in sport.

And what if Manny were to fall short against Mayweather? Would there be disgrace in that? I think not. He has done more than enough to cement himself as one of the all-time greats, and falling short against Mayweather would have little negative impact, while beating Mayweather would vault him forcefully into the ranks of “best ever” — a spot he has semi-occupied, but which may be denied him now, courtesy of Marquez having emerged as his “Kryptonite”. Believe me, if he beats Mayweather, everyone will forget about Marquez. And if he loses — and still wants to continue boxing–Marquez IV will be there.

So, should Pacquiao go another round with Marquez, or go straight for Mayweather?

Bob Arum’s calculation is obvious — an immediate rematch with Marquez would bring in good money, allow Manny an opportunity to cure the ills that were exposed in this fight, make money for all parties, and Mayweather would still be there at the end.

Or would he?

If Manny finally does to Marquez what he tried but failed to do three previous times–that is, whup him convincingly– one unintended (but entirely predictable) consequence would be that Mayweather will lose all appetite for a Pacquiao fight. He will say “I gave Paquiao a chance and he ducked me, now I don’t need him,” and we would be back to the stalemate of the last two years. Plus, how profitable would a Marquez fight be? This time the purse was lopsided in Paquiao’s favor, $22m-$5m in guarantees. Marquez is making outrageous demands for $25m guaranteed, but presumbly sanity would eventually prevail and the two could fight for guarantees in the range of $15 M each. Is that worth it, under the circumstances?

My conclusion:

I think Manny Pacquiao should embrace the role of underdog and take on Floyd Mayweather. He’s a Filipino, he understands what it is to be an underdog; he understands what it means to overcome the odds, to push away the obstacles and defy expectations. It’s in his nature to do this; he’s done this his entire life. He is the champion of people who daily struggle against odds that seem insurmountable, and so it is completely in his character to take on this challenge and, win or lose, make Filipinos be proud to be Filipinos, and make the rest of the world respect the culture and people he represents.

As Larry Merchant said — before Pacquiao, all we knew about the Philippines was Imelda’s shoes. Now we know a whole lot more.

Pacquiao is to thank for that, and if he takes the risk and takes on Mayweather, a hero’s welcome will await him in the Philippines whether he wins or loses.

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