LOS ANGELES, California – When Manny Pacquiao was “about to fail” to produce a knockout victory after five straight fights on the night of June 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada, his goose was cooked.
After his failure to deck Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley, and Juan Manuel Marquez, boxing – Las Vegas boxing to be precise – was on death throes. (He fought both Clottey and Margarito in Arlington, Texas).
Four straight boring decision wins for the man who rescued professional boxing from the doldrums in the absence of exciting heavyweight bouts that used to dominate prizefighting in the 60s, 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s was not good for business.
A fifth straight decision win for the most celebrated boxer in the planet today would be fatal for the sport that has amassed billions of revenues since Las Vegas captured worldwide audience in sports and entertainment on October 2, 1980 when Larry Holmes blasted to smithereens Muhammad Ali via 10th round TKO to annex the WBC heavyweight title.
For financiers to continue hitting pay dirt and luring rich sponsors, boxing needed a spectacular knockout show from the best boxer pound-for-pound to satisfy paying bloodthirsty fans and to keep boxing’s cash registry machine ringing.
In Las Vegas – or in any part of the United States in as far as boxing is concerned – Manny Pacquiao is business; business is Manny Pacquiao. The congressman from Mindanao is boxing’s multi-billion guy and number one endorser. He is boxing’s life-support system. Each lackluster performance means a decline in pay-per-view and gate receipts in the next promotion.
On Pacquiao’s shoulders rest the titanic responsibility to fill the vacuum left behind by Holmes, Ali, George Foreman, Riddick Bowe, Andrew Golota, Evander Holyfield, Ray Mercer, Vitaly Klitschko, and Mike Tyson. Boxing skidded into all-time low when explosive heavyweight duels virtually closed shop in the later part of 1990’s. Enter Pacquiao, a mighty atom who packs wallop in both fists.
Although his baptism of fire in Las Vegas occurred on June 23, 2001 when he poleaxed Lehlono Ledwaba of South Africa in the sixth round to clinch the IBF super-bantamweight crown as a relative unknown in the US market, empty seats in major venues such as Thomas & Mack Center, Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, began to disappear when Pacquiao humiliated Erik “El Terible” Morales via 10th round TKO on January 21, 2006 at the Thomas & Mack Center to avenge a 12-round unanimous decision loss to the Mexican on March 19, 2005 at the MGM Grand.
The revenge to Morales romped off Pacquiao’s love affair with Las Vegas where he obtained a perfect 10-0 win-loss (6 KO’s) juggernaut in world title showdowns. In those victories, he became one of the riches paid athletes in the world amassing nearly a whopping $60 million in purses and shares in pay-per-view, according to Forbes Magazine
Pacquiao’s last stoppage victory came on November 14, 2009 when he grabbed Miguel Angel Cotto’s WBO welterweight title on a brutal 11th round TKO at the MGM Grand.
Since then, he logged decision victories against Clottey (12-round WBO welterweight title), Margarito (12-round WBC light-middleweight title), Mosley (WBO welterweight title), and Marquez (WBO welterweight title).
Hounded by calls for his retirement owing to a mothballed fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. and alarming decline of his knockout percentage, Pacquiao was obliged to put to sleep Timothy Ray Bradley Jr. in their 12-round battle for the WBO 174-lb jewels to preserve the chain of command prior to a possible fisticuff against Mayweather Jr. and to protect his market value as boxing’s only 8-division champion in history. Most of all, to ignite sparks in fight business in danger of being walloped by recession.
If he couldn’t put up a spectacular performance against Bradley – a knockout in his 60th professional fight – a changing of the guard was imminent. No one has the monopoly to bankroll millions of dollars without putting up a hair-splitting show.
Since Bradley’s “a good guy,” according to Top Rank boss Bob Arum during the post-fight press conference, “it’s okay” (if Pacquiao’s WBO welterweight belt changed waist).
Young and eager to prove his win against Pacquiao wasn’t a fluke, Bradley will now aim to give the sport a new lease in life by knocking all his next challengers if he hurdles Pacquiao in their November 2 rematch.
For Arum, et al, when one door closes, another door will open. Arum’s love for Bradley is not a secret. Immediately after Michael Buffer announced the split decision verdict, Arum didn’t hide his excitement as he congratulated the newly crowned champion like a father shaking the hand of a graduating son accepting awards on stage.
Pacquiao, who vowed to deny the judges the chance to decide the outcome of his rematch with Bradley, may not have realized that the judges who scored a split decision for Bradley after he failed to send the unbeaten American to dreamland, did not rob him of his WBO title. The “punishment” was necessary under law of supply and demand.