By Sean Crose
Here’s a sign of our times: reporters from top publications may be far more interested in Manny Pacquiao as a basketball player than they are in Manny Pacquiao as a boxer. For questions regarding the Filipino legend’s short foray into professional basketball a few days ago peppered a Tuesday conference call to promote Pacquiao’s November 22nd showdown with Chris Algieri.
Basketball questions were even trumping boxing questions early on.
C’est la vie.
“It will not affect my training,” Pacquiao argued. “It (basketball) help(s) a lot. That’s why I’m always in shape, even if I don’t have a fight.”
Truth be told, the basketball endeavor made for good publicity. Many people simply aren’t that excited about the Pacquiao-Algieri matchup, after all. Algieri is the epitome of a light punching, scientific fighter. Add that to the fact that Pacquiao hasn’t scored a knockout in ages and the possibility of a slug fest occurring is, quite frankly, less than promising.
It should be noted, however, that Algieri is very popular with the media outside of boxing. Nike has reportedly spoken with the college educated Long Islander, or at least with his camp. What’s more, Arum himself boasted on the call of Algieri’s numerous television appearances (“More of the public now know Algieri than they know most fighters,” the promoter said).
Such things should be cause for concern in Pacquiao land. Pacquiao has already been robbed by the judges once before, after all. Still, neither Pacquiao nor trainer Freddie Roach appeared to be in panic mode. “We had a great start (in training),” Roach claimed, “maybe the best start we ever had.”
It became pretty clear during the call that Roach didn’t think Algieri was the most challenging opponent for his man, although he did claim that Algieri was a worthy foe (“He definitely deserves to be here”). Indeed, Roach was more than happy to speak of Pacquiao’s sparring partners for the bout. “All guys tall,” he said. “Some guys better than our opponent.”
When it was implied that the famed trainer wasn’t being particularly fair in his assessments, Roach was as clear and as blunt as always. “Sometimes the truth hurts,” he stated flatly.
The entire call proved to be a rather strange affair. At numerous times the connection between the media and Pacquiao’s camp in the Philippines was broken, allowing a deafening silence to permeate the proceedings. At one point a man could be heard belching (or was it groaning?) over the dead air.
Yet the strangeness didn’t end there. One reporter wanted to know how Pacquiao felt about the situation in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy demonstrators have been talking to the streets. Fortunately, however, no questions were asked about the Pac-Man’s singing career.
If there was anything to truly discern from the call, it was the distinct possibility that the media is ready – perhaps even willing – for a changing of the guard to occur. The questions about Pacquiao’s foray into basketball, coupled with the real interest in Algieri’s appeal to the general public (“So media friendly,” Arum gushed, “and so crowd friendly”) gave hints of a narrative some are already eager to write.
None of it, however, fazed Pacqiao. The man was, as always, unflappable. He’s simply the kind of guy who genuinely doesn’t care about such matters.
“I know what I’m doing,” he assured the media. “I’m also confident I’ll win this fight in Jesus’ name.”
It’s honestly hard to see a silver lining in any of this for Pacquiao (save for the untold millions he’s set to make), unless, of course, he somehow manages to knock out his extremely gutsy opponent. For if he beats Algieri, most of the boxing public will simply shrug. Yet if he somehow loses fairly (and, let’s face it, Algieri’s a good fighter) the Pacquiao era will be considered over and done with.
Boxing, however, is a sport of risks. And Pacquiao-sized paydays undoubtedly make those risks that much easier to make.