Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pacquiao vs. Cotto: Part 1

After much intrepid internet research, my friend Javid found a Filipino barbeque place called Tito Rad’s, on 49th St. and Queens Boulevard where $20 would get you two beers, some unexplained “appetizers,” and, most importantly, a place to watch the Manny Pacquiao fight on pay-per-view. Living in New York these days, you get accustomed to 1) there being at least one of any type of ethnicity-place that you can imagine somewhere in the five boroughs and 2) being able to locate them on the web pretty easily; but if there is a Filipino sports bar somewhere, they have a lousy web-presence, since Javid had been looking for them all week, and Tito Rad’s was all that he could come up with.

Once we had a place to watch it, I gave myself over to eager anticipation of the fight. Indeed, all week I had been feeling excited, to an extent that surprised me, since I am not much of a boxing fan at all, and know little about the sport. As Saturday progressed, I became increasingly happy at the prospect of watching it, as well as irrationally nervous that we would find some way of missing it anyway. I mentioned this to Javid, while we were waiting for some friends of mine to arrive from New Jersey before heading out to the restaurant, and he said that he had been looking forward to the fight all week as well.

The obvious reason for the anticipation was simply Manny Pacquiao. Sometimes an athlete comes along whose combination of extreme talent and intense personal charisma allows them to utterly transcend the boundaries of the sport. Babe Ruth is the classic example; it kind of hurts me to say it, but Derick Jeter is a contemporary one. Pacquiao is definitely in this category: a devastating boxer in a number of weight classes, he possess an almost thoroughly unprecedented combination of speed and power, as well as a charming, smiling demeanor. Pacquiao is a true national hero in a way that it is hard for Americans to understand—possibly because there hasn’t really been anyone who fit the bill for the entire nation since the aforementioned Bambino. Filipinos are probably, as a nation, far more heavily invested in Pacquiao than Dominicans are in Pedro Martinez. Pacquiao’s post-fighting career will almost certainly take him into elected office; he has made movies and lately has been talking scripts with Sylvester Stallone; and his band was scheduled to play in Las Vegas immediately after the fight, regardless of the result.

Additionally several fates rested on the outcome of the contest. A victory for the Pacman would cement his place as one of the all time great boxers and set him up for a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr.; while a loss would certainly signal the beginning of the end of his fighting career and everything that it had meant. Miguel Cotto, Pacquiao’s opponent, was well known and respected in fighting circles, but not to the general public: a victory would put him in a position to become one of the most prominent faces of boxing.

Furthermore, boxing itself is a sport in obvious crisis. In addition to being hurt by the limitations of the pay-per-view market, it is currently fighting for those pay-per-view dollars with mixed martial arts events, whose growing popularity is eating away at boxing’s fanbase. Boxing needs superstars to connect to the general public, preferably in the heavyweight class, and no heavyweight has drawn much attention since Mike Tyson. Welterweight Oscar de la Hoya had pretty much been boxing’s meal ticket until he got dismantled by Pacquiao in a non-title fight; if Pacquiao could win a title as a welterweight against Cotto, the resulting fight against Mayweather would have the chance to be a defining fight for a new generation of boxing fans. Indeed, regardless of the outcome, if Pacquiao vs. Cotto was in any way a particularly good or interesting fight it would do a good deal to assure boxing’s immediate future and forestall the kick-boxing/jujitsu/grappling masters at the gates.

So, in regard to all these questions, the fight contained the thrill of an election: we had entered a phase of total uncertainty, but, at the end of a defined interval, we would, necessarily, have answers.

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