By Ingming Aberia
There was a time in Rome when people found entertainment in death. The gladiators may have not liked the idea of killing each other; but death for one meant life for the other. To live, one needed to kill the other. How the combatants tried to cling to life was what thrilled the Coliseum crowd.
Professional boxers may not like the idea of killing each other; but killing the opponent is the only way by which one could be sure he does not die in the hands of his opponent himself. Sugar Ray Robinson—the one many boxing fans consider as the greatest boxer of all time, pound for pound—then 26, fought Jimmy Doyle in 1947. Staggered twice in earlier rounds and fighting for dear life, Robinson hit Doyle with a wicked left in the eighth round. That was Doyle’s last ring performance; he died in an Ohio hospital hours later from brain injury.
Two months later Robinson figured in two bouts the proceeds of which were meant to help Doyle’s family, financially. Would Robinson be careful with his fists this time? No. He knocked out both opponents in the first round.
There is thus a radical redefinition of professional boxing when, after mugging Antonio Margarito for twelve rounds on November 13, 2010 at Arlington, Texas, Manny Pacquiao said: “Boxing is not about killing each other. Boxing is about entertainment.” There probably is no argument about boxing being entertainment. But about boxing being less brutal and violent than what it is would be debatable.
Not having the mind of a killer in professional boxing is like not having the nerve to take the winning free shot—while the score is tied with no time left in regulation—in basketball. In golf, it is like hitting a bogey when all you need is par to win the championship. In other words, although winning fights may not be a problem, boxers who do not have the mind of a killer cannot be as great as Robinson.
What do you think would the fans say about Manny Pacquiao’s redefinition of boxing? Of course people understand that the best way for fighters to protect themselves from harm is to either maim or kill their opponents. That is what they want to see in a boxing match—the aggression by one and the all-out effort to defend life by the other. The drama that tugs between life and death is what makes the sport worth watching. It is what made Jack Dempsey and Mike Tyson box-office hits. And it is what made Robinson—and now Pacquiao—darling of the press.
Thus for Pacquiao to say boxing is not about killing each other was like Gandhi telling his people not to hit back regardless of pain and provocation they got from the British. Gandhi got an enormous amount of credibility because he endured pain and humiliation himself. And Pacquiao seems credible not only because “Manny knows”—given the way he is almost deified in today’s press, he could say he just saw a bush burning in Mount Sinai, and people would find it hard to disagree with him—but also because people saw what he did in the Margarito fight. And, even more telling, people could see what he did in his 40 or so previous fights.
What Manny seemed to be saying is that there is no need for boxers to hurt the opponent who, by all indication, is in no position to hurt back. One may find him easier to understand by looking at his record.
Manny has a total of 57 career fights. He has won 52 of them (38 via stoppage); lost three while 2 bouts ended in draws. Like almost all professional boxers who spend the first half of their careers honing their skills and building up their confidence (except probably Leon Spinks, who faced and defeated Muhammad Ali to take the latter’s world heavyweight title in only 7 professional fights), Manny’s first 24 fights could be considered to be easy fights for him, compared to his last 33 fights which, aside from being mostly title fights, involved opponents bigger than him at age 25 (at which point human males normally stop growing physically). We venture to assume that Manny found no need to hurt his relatively easy first 24 opponents, knocking out “only” 14 of the 23 he defeated (or a KO rate of 61 percent).
He started to chase a world crown in his 25th fight, against Thailand’s Chachai Sasakul for the latter’s WBC Flyweight belt. From this point on until his last fight against Margarito, he faced not only future Hall of Famers in Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez but also bigger opponents in David Diaz, Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey and Margarito (most of whom are arguably future Hall of Famers themselves). Again we venture to assume that Manny Pacquiao may have found threats to his own safety in his last 33 fights (from 25 to 57), and went on to knock out 28 of the 33 relatively tough opponents he defeated (or a KO rate of 85 percent).
Against relatively easy opponents, Pacquiao holds his punches. Against dangerous foes, he becomes a killer. One may also notice that the 5 fights (of his last 33 wins) that went the distance involved Oscar Larios, Barrera in a rematch, Marquez, Clottey, and Margarito, in that order. Pacquiao master trainer Freddie Roach complained that Manny played to the crowd—the fight was held in the Philippines—in the Larios fight. The Las Vegas crowd chanted “Barre-run!” in the Barrera fight. Clottey did not want to mix it up. Margarito had the heart but not the vision to be competitive. Thus except for the Marquez fight, we could say that Manny did not see any need to hurt anyone of these otherwise tough opponents. He found no need to knock them out.
In the context of what his fight record indicates, we can say that Manny Pacquiao’s idea of boxing not being about killing each other may have been in his mind since the day he wore a boxing glove. His record also indicates an exception: everything goes in front of clear and present danger.
Ingming Aberia http://pacquiao.ws
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Hermilando “Ingming” Duque Aberia is a sports fan and a literary enthusiast. He has written a book titled “Manny Pacquiao: Story Bigger Than Boxing.” He has a master’s degree in Development Management from the Asian Institute of Management and is a practitioner in social development work.