(Sorry, but maybe this blog would alleviate some of the sorrow from the shocking knockout. A massage and a movie weren't enough.)
May 2, 2009. It was my first time seeing a Manny Pacquiao fight live in Las Vegas. The fight’s stature was nowhere near the one I also watched live at Araneta Coliseum in July 2006 (versus Oscar Larios). This time, it was against a legit boxing superstar, one that posed a serious threat : Ricky Hatton. And it was happening right in the mecca of boxing. I was on vacation in the US at that time, so why not make the trip to Vegas to watch the fight? Figured it would be fun.
The electricity of the crowd was unbelievable. There’s nothing that compares to seeing a big fight live, in all honesty. I wish everyone could experience it so they’d know what I mean. Anyway, us Filipinos were the minority, as about 75% of the crowd were noisy, beer-guzzling Britons who came all the way from England to cheer their mate Ricky. It gave me goosebumps everytime the thousands of Britons sang in unison “There’s only one Ricky Hatton! One Ricky Hatton! Walking along, singin’ a song, walking in a Hatton wonderland.” They did that probably a hundred times during the course of the event and each time it gave me the shivers. Seriously. And if a fight broke out (they were consuming alcohol, remember), I was planning the Pinoys’ escape route. We were absolutely outnumbered.
Fortunately, Manny took care of business for us. He knocked Hitman Hatton down twice in the very first round. In the next, he scored the most scintillating knockout I’ve ever seen, as he snapped Hatton out of his senses. Lights out. The crowd was stunned. The boisterous Brits were hushed. Even Pinoys were shocked at the sudden ending, but after a while the Pacmaniacs regained their senses to let out their cheers of triumph. Hatton, while all these were going on, lay motionless, expressionless on the canvas. He was out cold. Seated on the upperbox section, I could only see his face on the jumbotron, but I knew he was in bad shape. And from afar, he looked to be dying.
It was a surreal scene from a cruel sport. The knockout got replayed countless times at the MGM Grand arena, and each time the Pinoys cheered lustily. The Brits, who traveled thousands of miles and spent thousands of dollars (or euros) to witness the fight, were just as stunned as Hatton. It was like pressing the mute button on your max-volume stereo. The transition from loud to silent was swift. I felt for the British fans. It was devastating. Draining. That’s the beauty of boxing. Every fighter has a chance to end the fight with a single punch. On that night, I sure was glad it was Manny who landed that punch. It was the Pinoy fans’ turn to scream their lungs out. My uncle Cesar, my companion for the Vegas trip and an avid boxing fan himself, quickly went up and down the aisle while waving the Philippine flag. Me? I was content cheering from my seat, well aware that we were surrounded by disappointed and maybe dissed Brits.
It was a long, slow walk back to our hotel. A lot of fans approached us (I was wearing a Pacquiao jacket) and offered their congratulations. Some drunk Brits were a bit edgy – bordering on being sourgrapes – but they stayed nice. Some “neutral” American fans also praised Pacquiao (“he’s f*cking fast”, “too good”), but told me what they really want next is another fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, because if there was someone who gave Pacquiao fits, it was Marquez.
I nodded in agreement before acknowledging their congratulations.
One of my fave fighters of all-time is Roy Jones, Jr. Former cruiserweight, light heavyweight, heavyweight, and pound-for-pound king. He had the speed, the power, the showmanship, the rap-star attitude. He was first brought to my attention in 1997 by a highschool classmate who’s still a close friend to this day, Raymond. He’s my boxing buddy. To put it simply, we talk about boxing a lot. Before each fight, we discuss it. After each one, we dissect it. Every fight. Not just Pacquiao, Donaire or any Pinoy’s fights. Every fight by boxers we know (and we know loads of them). We could spend a whole night and finish a lot of beer just talking about boxing (our barkada would attest to this, if we are seated next to each other, the topic almost always is boxing). We don’t ever get tired talking about boxing and basketball, aside from highschool stories that seem to be on loop because they get told over and over and over again.
Anyway, Raymond and I followed Roy Jones’ career, from his rise to his peak to his decline. We talked about how Pacquiao was also bound to decline, like any other fighter. We knew he’d lose some speed and quickness. We knew he’ll have a decrease in power and reflexes. We knew he’ll fade. It was inevitable. And because of that, we sincerely wished that Manny would retire before his decline comes. Sort of going out on top. Avoid the pitfalls of being number 1, and knowing when to leave. We didn’t want Pacquiao to follow the path of Jones, whose legacy has been tarnished by a series of knockout losses because he fought way past his prime. We wanted Pacquiao to tread in the footsteps of Rocky Marciano or Ricardo Lopez, boxers who retired undefeated. Or perhaps like Barry Sanders of the NFL, or Bjorn Borg of tennis. Athletes who retired at their prime, and said no to the lure of a comeback.
Manny’s decline would come. We just hoped he’d realize it sooner than later. Because the Filipino in us would hurt to see that day.
For the record, I had Juan Manuel winning Pacquiao-Marquez II (114-113 on my unofficial, relevant-only-to-me scorecard), and had the third fight a draw (I gave all the close rounds to Pacquiao). Could have gone either way, but both fights were awarded to Pacquiao. When I voiced this opinion, I got some flak from fellow observers, but I defended my point of view in a blog (Pacquiao-Marquez : The Morning After). We were all giving our opinion, anyway. If I could back up mine by providing information, then do so with yours.
Alas, Pacquiao vs. Marquez 4 happened. I didn’t like the fight, but as a fan I had no choice. We don’t make the fights. Top Rank does.
Before the fight, Raymond (boxing buddy) predicted a Marquez win. I didn’t agree, but also didn’t disagree. I was neutral. I was in no mood to analyze a fight I didn’t really want. Whatever happens, it will be fine with me. Anyway, Raymond said this time JMM would finally win.
We never thought Marquez would win this way.
The initial shock came in the 3rd round, as Pacquiao went down via a Marquez looping right. WOW! It hasn’t happened that long, I wasn’t used to it anymore. Pacquiao can get knocked down?? Suddenly the physics of boxing reintroduced itself : two boxers collide, one could go down. Even Manny Pacquiao. Good thing he quickly got back up.
After the knockdown, I realized Manny needed to win by knockout. He couldn’t simply win a decision and have the naysayers point out he was floored by Marquez. He needed a knockout, or knock Marquez down at least twice to have the upperhand in bragging rights. It’s just the way it is in this rivalry – win while shutting up the critics.
Manny evened things by scoring a knockdown in the 5th, and he looked good as the fight wore on. Marquez’s nose was bleeding badly, and it was a matter of time until Manny capitalized on it.
Until 2:59 of the 6th round. Until the punch. That punch. The punch that broke millions of hearts. Including mine.
I actually didn’t see the punch clearly, as I was already anticipating the bell to end the sixth round. But then just as the bell rang, Pacquiao crumpled to the floor, facedown. Here were my thoughts as each second passed since Manny went down...
1.... (Shocked, speechless. Flashback of Sergio Martinez knocking out Paul Williams.)
2.... (Oh my God! He’s not moving! Manny, move! Manny, get up!)
3.... (Oh my God! Oh my God! He’s not going to move. He’s out! He’s out!)
4.... “TULOG ! Tulog si Manny ! Tulog si Manny !” (Still in disbelief.)
5.... Bayless waves off the count and the fight. Marquez celebrates. Filipinos turn silent.
Shocked. Stunned. Crushed. Devastated. Dismayed. Dazed. Flabbergasted.
Searched for more adjectives at Merriam-Webster’s, because I ran out, here : Shaken. Traumatized. Astonished. Astounded. Staggered. Overwhelmed. Upset. Ravaged. Wrecked. Distressed. Ruined.
Shattered. The scene shattered many hearts. Shattered a lot of pride. Shattered a lot of dream fights. Now I knew how the Britons felt like after the Hatton fight. If I loved seeing Hatton's knockout over and over, this time I kept my eyes off the TV when they showed the replays of Marquez's perfect right straight that Manny just walked into. It was a complete reversal of the Hatton fight aftermath. And if some giddy Pinoys made a lot of Youtube videos mocking fun of Hatton, this time let's expect a lot of videos and what-have-you's poking fun at Pacquiao. What goes around comes around. It is what it is.
Perhaps Manny spoiled all of us, that's why we're this shocked. We knew he could lose every time he stepped on the ring, but we never anticipated something like this to happen. He was THAT good.
Perhaps Marquez was ripe for a breakthrough victory against his nemesis. He always felt he got robbed. This time, it was his turn to bask in glory. He deserved it, as he deserved the previous 3 fights if he only got the decisions. This time, it was clear-cut, no-contest, undisputed. Marquez can now lay claim to be the better boxer. You can call it a lucky punch (I don't), but we can't deny his technical boxing skills and determination to win. Training four months and chasing a fourth fight with Pacquiao even though he got the raw end of the judging the previous three, now that's dogged determination.
Pacquiao-Marquez 5? Bob Arum says, why not? Manny, understandably, says, why not? Juan Manuel says he would think about it. The Filipino in me says, "go for it", but the boxing observer in me says "no thanks". I want Manny to avenge this terrible loss, but Marquez has always been the antithesis to Pacquiao. After four battles, Manny still hasn't solved Juan Manuel. Marquez, it looks like, has solved the judges by rendering them useless. (If I were Marquez, I'd ditch it. Nothing more to gain, everything to lose in a fifth fight. Only money will be the factor.)
Funny, but people have written off Pacquiao-Mayweather happening, while I see it as Manny's last resort. If Pacquiao is to overcome this KO loss, it would be winning against Mayweather. The fight could happen next more than ever because of two things : 1.) Mayweather would now think Pacquiao is very beatable, and 2.) Pacquiao, due to his back-to-back losses, will no longer insist on a 50/50 split and would settle for less. For the record, I don't like the matchup but it's an itch that needs to be scratched. I've said it before and I'll say it again : I don't think Manny would win against Floyd, but of course I'd root for Pacquiao. (Now, don't start questioning my loyalty to my country. I'm just sharing my opinion as a boxing fan. No more, no less.)
This loss is definitely a blow to us Filipinos. People might say, "it's just boxing", but because of Manny Pacquiao, boxing is not just boxing anymore. It hurt. Definitely. But the good thing is, Manny will recover from this one. Whether he's the same fighter after this (brutal knockouts often change a boxer's psyche) remains to be seen. What I'm sure about is that Filipinos will still support him. I know I will.
It will be tough to overcome, but hey, Nonito Donaire has a fight this Sunday. And I think our recovery will be pretty quick with his win.
Manny, thank you. We're still proud of you. Whatever you do next, we hope for the best.
We've accepted it, we just wish that knockout never happened.
We took that punch with you.
Rush of Blood to the Head
We all have something to say. If I get the rush and find a keyboard, I blog mine. Anything and everything under the sun. And stars.