Can Manny Pacquiao And ESPN Help Get Each Other Out Of A Slump?
By: Sean Crose
“For this fight we are giving the people the chance to watch it for free. It will be live on ESPN.” – Manny Pacquiao
Photo Credit: Top Rank and Duco Events
Perhaps you haven’t heard, but the Worldwide Leader in Sports, as ESPN has liked to be known, has fallen on some tough times lately. Viewer subscriptions are way down. What’s more, quite a few staff members have been canned. To make matters worse, the Connecticut based operation has developed a reputation among more than a few people of being a sports network that also aggressively espouses political correctness. Yup, ESPN is in a bit of a slump. With enormous rights fees to pay and more and more people moving away from cable television, the Disney owned operation is a ship in need of a light house signal.
Even with all this in mind, however, it’s odd to see the network going all in – and indeed, ESPN is most certainly going all in – on Manny Pacquiao’s upcoming fight with little known Australian welterweight Jeff Horn this weekend. Then again, it’s going to be odd seeing Pacquiao, who has literally earned untold millions of dollars thanks to Pay Per View broadcasts, fighting on “free” television. Boxing used to be a huge part of ESPN. As the network grew and grew however, boxing diminished and diminished. As recently as a few months ago, one was far more apt to find a splashy headline about the UFC than it was the sweet science.
Times, however, change. Boxing is hot in 2017 in a way that has nothing to do with the names Mayweather and McGregor (though their impending circus is certainly garnering attention as a pop culture event). People are packing arenas for the kinds of big fights that the sport, until very recently, seemed remiss to make. This sea change, which is seeing boxing (with the exception of the aforementioned Mayweather) move away from low risk/high reward contests to legitimate contests, has clearly caught the eye of ESPN, which is looking to freshen up its stale brand.
In that sense, Pacquiao is a perfect fit for the network’s agenda, for he too is looking to freshen up his own stale brand. While the Filipino icon certainly remains one the most exciting fighters on the planet, he hasn’t scored a knockout in ages. What’s more, his disappointing superfight with Mayweather in 2015 greatly tarnished his image as a top level fighter, as well as his earning potential. That might all change with a spectacular showing in Australia on Saturday, where PacMan will fight the undefeated Horn in his homeland before 50,000 fans.
“We do believe that Manny Pacquiao is at his peak,” Horn’s trainer Glenn Rushton tells the media. That statement may be contrary to popular belief, but it’s clear the people at ESPN hope it’s true. For a great PacMan fight could bring in some much needed buzz for the network.
Pacquiao’s top performances have traditionally impressed mainstream America due to the fact that their rapid and violent nature makes for good viewing and good conversation. There’s a real reason, after all, people who have zero interest in boxing paid a ton to see Pacquiao face Mayweather in a bout many believe happened five years too late.
For Pacquiao himself, this appearance can prove to be quite helpful in kickstarting his stalled career. A strange thing that seems to be overlooked is the fact that Pacquiao is still one of the best in the game. He may not be what he was, but he’s still a whole lot better than most out there. “I don’t know if he has a knockout in him,” says Horn, “but who knows? I will finally find out though.” As will ESPN…and the millions who will be watching Saturday’s fight live on basic cable.
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