By Ivan G. Goldman
No matter who Manny Pacquiao chose to fight December 8 he was bound to upset somebody. By apparently settling on a fourth bout against Juan Manuel Marquez and the admittedly larger purse that comes with that choice, he upset everyone who figured 36 rounds with the wily Marquez were enough. Because if you can’t finish your business inside 108 minutes of action, you probably never will.
You could say the Pacquiao-Marquez series is a return to old-time boxing, when rivals went at each other over and over again. It’s true that evenly matched Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta, for example, went at it six times. But the comparison doesn’t really hold up. Why? Because in those days fighters competed monthly, sometimes even weekly. Two of the Robinson-LaMotta battles took place in 1942. That year Robinson competed 14 times. So did LaMotta. They didn’t shut themselves off from other opponents in order to pursue their great series. They were still competing against pretty much all comers (provided they played ball with the gangsters who then ruled the sport).
Philippines Congressman Pacquiao fights only twice a year now. The last time he competed three times in one calendar year was 2008. And although famed for the excitement he brings to his contests, he’s scored only one stoppage in his last five outings. But there ought to be an asterisk on that record because kindhearted Pac-man had the much bigger Antonio Margarito so bloody and battered that, ignoring the exhortations of his trainer, the more bloody-minded Freddie Roach, he couldn’t bear to throw serious shots at his suicidally upright opponent during the last two rounds. At one point Pacquiao peered at the ghastly, broken face in front of him and asked “Are you okay?” But I digress.
When top fighters put together their schedules these days the ramifications are very different. If Pacquiao goes ahead and fights Marquez in December, he won’t turn around and face Tim Bradley in January. There’s an established pattern for marketing a big-pay-per view event, and it consists of a time-consuming series of press events, talk shows, and other appearances. It eats up months. Pacquiao’s nemesis Floyd Mayweather has fought only six times since 2006, and it looks more and more like the entire year of 2012 will be a bye, as was calendar year 2008.
Marquez-Pacquiao Four isn’t a bad fight, but it’s dictated more by ethnicity than sport. Marquez, a superb Mexican boxer-puncher, attracts many more millions of dollars than an excellent African-American like Bradley. If Bradley-Pacquiao had been a great fight, Bradley’s future would be much brighter. But for his big moment in the sun he and the Congressman produced a great collective yawn. If Bradley were a renowned knockout artist like, say, Lucas Matthysse, he’d be a more valuable commodity.
By the way, what’s wrong with Matthysse, 32-2 (30KOs) as an opponent for Pacquiao? The fact that he’s only a junior welter and Manny is now a full-fledged welterweight? Guess what? Marquez, 54-6-1 (39KOs), is also a junior welter. Boxing fans would love to see Pacquiao-Matthysse in December, and I guarantee you, so would Matthysse. But he has an unforgivable marketing flaw. He’s not Mexican. The match would be less lucrative to the network, the venue, Pacquiao, and all the ancillary individuals who earn a living from Pac-man’s matches. If Matthysse were just an English-speaking American of any heritage — not necessarily Mexican — his purses would be five times bigger and Pacquiao’s people would take his phone calls.
Marcos Maidana, another thrilling warrior who’s never in a bad fight, is also guilty of competing while not equipped with a financially lucrative ethnic background. It takes time for an Argentine to gain a U.S. following, and by that time he’s probably on the verge of the big downhill slope called getting old — a phenomenon being valiantly resisted by 37-year-old Sergio Martinez.
I wouldn’t miss Pacquiao-Marquez Four for the world. But if boxing moguls paid less attention to conventional financial wisdom and more attention to putting together great fights, they’d be pleasantly surprised by the financial rewards that followed.
Ivan G. Goldman’s critically acclaimed novel The Barfighter is set in the world of boxing. Information HERE