Boxing reveals character, and if there was ever any doubt about Manny Pacquiao’s character, there should be none now. His actions before, during, and after the fight with Juan Manuel Marquez leave no doubt that Pacquiao the human being is blessed with courage, grace, and true (not fake) humility. The myth may have been diminished; the man was not.
Yes, it was painful–achingly so–to watch Manny go down, felled as brutally as he once felled Ricky Hatton. It was even more painful to watch Jinkee Pacquiao scream, crying as she tried to claw her way into the ring. The images haunt, and will continue to haunt the collective consciousness of Pacquiao fans for many years.
But those images tell only a small sliver of the story of what we saw last night.
First, let’s look at the fight.
Manny Pacquiao knew the risks and he accepted then. Marquez is at his most dangerous as a counterpuncher — in fact his entire craft is built around on the need for an opponent who pursues him, so that he can lie in wait and look for the kind of openings that are inevitably created by an aggressive fighter seeking to “get off first” against an opponent. That’s why he’s Kryptonite for Manny Pacquiao, who is by nature a “get off first” attacker. Pacquiao knew that a strategy of aggressive pursuit of Marquez played directly to the Mexican fighters’ strengths. It wasn’t the only strategy available to him. He could have fought cautiously, waiting Marquez out, forcing his opponent out of his counterpunching comfort zone by making him initiate the action. But Pacquiao didn’t do that. He knew the risk but he wanted a clear outcome, and he was willing to take the risk.
He took the fight to Marquez.
An early indication of the risk Manny was accepting came in the third round when Marquez floored him with a counterpunch. This was a shocking moment — but shouldn’t have been. It was part of the calculated risk that Manny took. To take the fight to Marquez and get the knockout he wanted, he had to risk getting knocked down, or even knocked out. And in that first knockdown, Marquez proved he had sufficient power in his punches to take Manny out.
Yet Pacquiao kept coming.
In the fifth round he knocked Marquez down and bloodied his nose so badly that it was clear it was broken, and clear that Marquez was having trouble breathing.
When the end came, Manny was ahead on all three scorecards 47-46 and was about to be ahead 57-55 after dominating the sixth round.
Manny was decisively ahead on all Compubox statistics. He landed over 90 punches; Marquez less than 60.
So make no mistake — it is absolutely true that Juan Manuel Marquez won the fight in a spectacular fashion — but he did not administer a beating to Manny Pacquiao. The truth: Manny Pacquiao was administering a beating to Marquez when, trying to finish Marquez off, he walked into an overhand right that ended it in one punch. It was a punch that reflects Marquez’ unique counterpunching skill set; his intelligence; and his strategic approach to boxing. Marquez trained hard, he focused hard, and he looked for and found just the kind of opening his style and strategy called for. But he only got the opportunity to use those skills in such spectacular fashion because Pacquiao had the guts, courage, and heart to go after him, consistently and repeatedly, throughout the fight.
After the Fight
Manny was out cold when he hit the canvas and there was not the slightest possibility that he could stand up and beat the count. The blow was that decisive. The only question — and it was a real one — was whether he had been truly injured in a frightening way. He lay on his face for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably a full minute before slowly being helped to a stool.
There, sitting on stool, the glaze slowly receding from his eyes, what did Manny do?
Not the false-bravado, “he didn’t hurt me” smile that beaten boxers so often present.
It was a rueful smile, an honest smile that said “he got me, didn’t he?”
As soon as he was able, he got up, waded into the crowd that had poured into the ring, and congratulated Marquez. Then he stood and waited his turn for post fight interviews. When his turn came, he was honest, reflective — and most impressively, he seemed to have already put everything in perspective far better than millions of distraught fans. “It’s boxing,” he said. “That’s sports.”
In the HBO post-fight interview, Larry Merchant fished hard, trying to get Manny to take the bait on the issue of the possibility that Marquez was juicing. Twice, rephrasing it slightly each time to be sure Pacquiao knew what he was implying, he tried to get Pacquiao to say there was something unnatural about Marquez’s power in this fight — power that had become suddenly much greater after a training camp in which he hired a known purveyor of performance enhancing drugs–Angel Heredia–to be his strength and conditioning coach.
But Manny did not take the bait.
He would not diminish Marquez in his moment of glory, nor would he make excuses.
What It All Means
Manny Pacquiao did himself, the Philippines, and boxing proud last night. He showed heart and courage and he took his defeat with dignity, grace, and a sense of perspective. His reaction in defeat illuminates the true meaning of sport, and sportsman.
When Ricky Hatton took a similar blow from Manny, it drove him into retirement; his physical and mental health disintegrated; he contemplated and may have even attempted suicide.
With Manny, you just know you don’t have to worry about that.
The ease and honesty with which he accepted his defeat is Exhibit A to the argument that Manny Pacquiao is a truly humble person — a person for whom humility is a natural state. Of course he has an ego — but in spite of all the success, all the accolades, that ego is not so large that it can be crushed by a moment like this. He doesn’t see himself that way. He will be saddened as he reflects on the outcome for one reason — that he disappointed his countrymen, and did so at a time when the country was hurting. But by displaying calm in the eye of the storm, he gave his countrymen something to be proud of, even in defeat.
Pacquiao will consider retiring. He is already on to the next phase of his life, and there are greater battles to fight, greater causes to champion.
But he will not want the final image of Manny Pacquiao in a boxing ring to be that of him lying face down, defeated.
My expectation is that his career will enter a new phase — not the perfection of the past 7 years, but one that is as exciting, and rewarding for both Manny Pacquiao and his fans.
There will be a Pacquiao-Marquez 5 — the boxing world is already buzzing about it and after the spectacularly explosive 4th edition, the tickets and PPV numbers for a fifth fight will be huge. Going into PM4 there was a sense that these two were locked in a repetitive cycle of close fights decided on the judge’s scorecards, and if this fight had repeated that pattern — there would be little call for a fifth fight, no matter who won. But playing out the way it did, and ending in such spectacular fashion, there is a sense that the course that a fifth fight would take cannot be predicted — and that is what would make it special.
Something occurred to me this morning when I woke up, images of the fight still vivid.
When Pacquiao fell, he didn’t end up on his back — he fell forward.
Because Manny Pacquiao got caught with a punch when he was pursuing his opponent, being the aggressor, never letting the fight be brought to him, but rather bringing the fight to his opponent.
There is honor in that.
He fell forward because that is his direction in the ring, and in life.
There is no doubt that he will continue moving forward. He has already helped the Filipino people by inspiring, giving a sense of what is possible through hard work and diligence. But Manny has always been a work in progress, as a boxer and as a human being. This moment is not the one he sought, but it has revealed more of his character than we have seen previously — and there is every reason to like what we see, and to continue to believe in him, perhaps not as the greatest current boxer on the planet — but as a humble, honest, respectful and courageous person who gave it his all, came up short, and took it with class.
The easy, glorious ride that Manny Pacquiao was on for most of the last 9 years is clearly over. Now it’s a different situation; no one always gets what they seek to achieve, and Manny Pacquiao’s long road to this moment has prepared him for it. He faces life with a smile and even in defeat, the smile is there. These days, he is Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena“:
The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twister pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. . .It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Manny Pacquiao stumbled, there is no doubt — but equally there is no doubt that he “dared greatly” and will continue to do so.
He deserves respect and honor.
Please check out my book John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood, just released: (with a link for Amazon shipping rates and times to the Philippines.)