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Good vs. evil and a fight that must happen

25
Nov

After Manny Pacquiao completed his destruction of Miguel Cotto, HBO’s Larry Merchant interviewed Freddie Roach at ring center and, with the sound piped throughout the arena, asked Pacquiao’s trainer, “Who would you like to see him fight next?”

“Well,” Roach answered, “the whole world wants to see him fight (Floyd) Mayweather — I mean, I want Mayweather.”

On the heels of those last three words, the crowd went nuts. In professional wrestling parlance, it’s known as getting a “pop.” Roach’s comment and the crowd’s reaction felt a bit like a scene out of the WWE, quite frankly. And that just happens to be an arena with which Mayweather is intimately familiar.

In wrestling, there’s traditionally a “babyface” and a “heel.” In boxing, it isn’t usually that clear-cut. Boxers don’t typically play characters, and they certainly don’t hit other boxers over the head with coconuts to guarantee they’ll get the boos they’re looking for. Rarely in boxing do you have a well-defined “good guy” taking on a well-defined “bad guy.” More often, it’s a clash where rooting interest is determined by ethnicity, maybe a clash where one guy is a big star and the other isn’t very well known or perhaps a clash where the personalities aren’t particularly identifiable and the fans are rooting for a good fight more than they’re rooting for one specific fighter.



But if and when Pacquiao-Mayweather happens, it will be a fight worthy of Vince McMahon’s promotional predilection. This is good vs. evil, with the roles as plainly laid out as Hulk Hogan vs. the Iron Sheik.

Pacquiao is as likable as they come. If you hate him, you must hate puppies and ice cream. He’s one of the most famous people on the planet yet he remains a man of the people, a smiling, singing superhero (in or out of his Wapakman costume).

Mayweather, meanwhile, wears the black hat proudly, even if some or all of his public persona is an act. His ego knows no bounds. He derides the financially strapped in the midst of a massive recession. He makes a mockery of the weight-making process to get an unfair advantage he doesn’t even need. He disparages Brian Kenny while Kenny argues circles around him. Mayweather has adopted the time-honored tradition that runs from Gorgeous George through Prince Naseem of making sure people are tuning in, even if they’re doing so primarily in hopes of watching him get his comeuppance.

For several of his recent fights, particularly those covered by HBO Countdown shows or 24/7 series, Mayweather has played the antagonist and let his opponent play the protagonist. From Arturo Gatti to Oscar De La Hoya to Ricky Hatton to Juan Manuel Marquez, Mayweather let the public’s desire to see the “good guy” win fuel pay-per-view success. But while Gatti, De La Hoya, Hatton and Marquez all had their distinct “babyface” qualities, none of them wore the white hat with as perfect a fit as Pac-Man does.

There’s just one possible hitch, as HBO blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley points out.

“I think Pacquiao wears the white hat against anybody,” Lampley said, “with the sole caveat being he’s not an American citizen, and there a significant number of fans who are American and will root for any American against any foreign-born opponent. So Manny’s good-guy status in the fight is mitigated by the fact that it’s taking place on American soil, we are viewing it through American filters and he’s not the American guy in the fight.

“But I don’t think that Floyd will really step very far toward using that as a competing good-guy platform. Because 24/7 cameras will be there and Floyd’s Floyd, my instinct is that he’s going to go ahead and grab the villain role around the throat the way he has in previous promotions.”

One question the public has is how much of that grabbing of the villain role comes naturally to Mayweather, and how much of it is well-thought-out theatricality.

David Mayo, a frequent RING contributor who covers boxing for Mayweather’s hometown Grand Rapids Press, knows the fighter who calls himself “Money” quite well and believes there’s a fair amount of separation between the public and private personas.

“A great deal of it is an act,” Mayo said. “I think he’s fallen into that character in a public way where sometimes he has a problem getting out of it, but certainly I don’t think anyone who knows him believes that’s exactly who he is. He just seems to fall into a role just like an actor does.”

So is there any part of Mayweather that has misgivings about playing the bad guy and wishes people would love him instead?

“I think maybe that used to be the case, but I believe he’s completely indifferent to it now,” Mayo said. “I think he realizes we’re not looking for an altar boy; we’re looking for a guy who wins fights and creates controversy and can back up what he says, and to date he’s been able to back up what he says.”

Lampley doesn’t claim to know Mayweather personally well enough to say for certain what’s real and what’s fake, but his presumption is that Mayweather, being an intelligent guy, has largely taken control of his image and shaped it to his liking.

“I think he’s constantly experimenting with the chemical mix of his public image,” Lampley said. “He’s taking little steps here and there to dabble in the dark and dabble in the light, and mix and match and figure out which path he likes at any given moment. And I think he’s capricious about it. It can come from some inner urge at 2:00 in the morning — tonight I don’t want to be the bad guy, tonight I want to be the good guy. Or perhaps he’s calculating it the whole time. I think this will be a day to do this, and tomorrow will be a day to come back in the opposite direction. Lots of public figures have benefited from such constant reinvention. Madonna’s a great example. And I think there’s a little of that kind of playful manipulation in Floyd. He’s sort of his own public relations firm, for better or for worse.”

The pay-per-view numbers suggest it’s been for the better. Prefight projections on the De La Hoya fight put it anywhere from 1.5 to 2 million buys, and it reached 2.44 million. The Marquez fight was expected to sell to around 600,000-700,000 homes, and it topped 1 million.

And the bad-guy character has served to benefit Mayweather in one other way: He can get away with fighting in his usual defense-first, low-risk style. After all, if the fight stinks, the public will just hate him that much more, which is part of his goal. If Pacquiao puts on a boring performance, his marketability takes a hit. If Mayweather puts on a forgettable boxing clinic, his supporters will love it and his detractors will hate it and tune in next time to hate it some more.

Since we’ve seen Mayweather in good guy vs. bad guy confrontations before, it goes without saying that Mayweather-Pacquiao is not the first case of this history. But you could argue that it would be the most pronounced. There is, however, plenty of competition for that honor.

Every title defense Jack Johnson made was portrayed as black vs. white in the racist sense rather than the headwear sense. Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling was arguably the biggest boxing match in American history if you look at what it meant to the people and what percentage of them was emotionally invested in it, and it was sold on the notion that Schmeling was aligned with Adolf Hitler (even though the former heavyweight champ never actually supported the Nazi regime). “The Rumble in the Jungle” between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman became a good-vs.-evil match, particularly to the people of Zaire. And if you’re looking for a recent example, how about the Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson fights, pitting the underdog religious warrior against the favored convicted rapist?

Good vs. evil is just one of many reasons that Pacquiao-Mayweather is box office gold. The selling of this fight really begins with the battle for the pound-for-pound throne, as it’s hard to argue anyone else is among the two best pugilists in the world. But aside from that, the clash of contrasting personalities is maybe the biggest selling point, particularly for mainstream fans who count Pacquiao and Mayweather among about a half-dozen active boxers that they can name.

The money on the table is staggering. Consensus opinion is that this PPV breaks the record set by Mayweather-De La Hoya, possibly by a lot. This could be a 3-million-buy affair. The two fighters separately carried a pair of million-plus-buy bouts in the last two months – something that hasn’t happened in a single calendar year in a decade — and fortunately for those of us hoping negotiations go smoothly, Pacquiao-Cotto was a huge success but didn’t hit the falsely rumored 2 million mark. Had that been true, it might have been hard to get the Filipino to accept a 50-50 purse split. But all things considered, the fighters are comparable draws and comparable talents so 50-50 makes sense, especially when they could be chopping in half somewhere in the neighborhood of $80-million in profits.

It’s clearly the fight people want to see. On an HBO.com poll last week, fans were asked, “What fight would you most like to see happen in 2010?” and the result was every bit the blowout you’d expect. Mayweather-Pacquiao drew 80 percent of the vote, compared to 12 percent for Mayweather-Shane Mosley, three percent for Wladimir Klitschko vs. Vitali Klitschko and just two percent apiece for Bernard Hopkins-Roy Jones and Juan Manuel Lopez-Yuriorkis Gamboa.

RingTV.com asked Lampley how confident he is that the fight will happen.

“144 percent,” Lampley shot back with a laugh. “Pick any number above 100. It’s going to happen. Which is not to say that it won’t be a torturous negotiation, and I fully expect to see drop-dead moments along the way, then somehow or other it’ll get done.”

Let’s all hope Lampley is right. Because if Mayweather should somehow avoid signing the contract with Pacquiao, he will find out what it really means to be hated by the boxing world.

RASKIN’S RANTS

ÔÇó This is going to be somewhat wordy for the “Rants” section, but I think it’s worth addressing: I’m disappointed by the amount of negativity being directed toward THE RING’s decision to rank Pacquiao ahead of Mosley at welterweight. To me, logical arguments can be made on either side, and I’m not really at odds with anyone who thinks it should be Mosley but understands why it’s Pacquiao. The people I’m at odds with are the ones who think it’s a travesty to rank Pacquiao first. I realize I’ve seen that opinion more because people will sooner write to complain than they will to agree, and surely many fans put there are in silent agreement with THE RING’s ratings decision. But those who have expressed that “Mosley is clearly No. 1” opinion have let their minds trick them into believing something that isn’t true: that Mosley has done more to earn the ranking.

From a rankings perspective in 2009, what Mosley did at welterweight from 1999-2002 doesn’t really count. (And if it did, then let’s not forget that he lost his last two bouts at the weight during that era.) In recent years, Mosley has had three fights at welterweight. It was enough to get him to No. 1 prior to Pacquiao’s second fight at the weight, but I don’t believe it is anymore. Mosley decisioned Luis Collazo (a very solid win), lost a close decision to Cotto (neither a positive nor a negative) and knocked out Antonio Margarito (an outstanding win over the fighter ranked No. 1 at the time). Pacquiao blew out De La Hoya and more or less blew out Cotto. Mosley is 2-1, Pacquiao 2-0, and their fights against a common opponent – Cotto — are telling. And it’s ridiculous to say Cotto was a diminished fighter by the time Pacquiao fought him. Watch their fight again (I did when HBO replayed it Saturday night). Cotto looked like Cotto for the first few rounds. He was as sharp as ever in Round 1 and perfectly competitive until the end of the fourth. He looked like a prime Cotto until Pacquiao’s punches started adding up and made him look like a spent force. When a fighter begins a fight looking like he’s in his prime and ends it looking shot, the credit has to go to the guy he was in the ring with. And if you are the type who insists on diminishing every boxing win after the fact, then wasn’t Mosley-Margarito a case of a made-to-order, slow-fisted cheater losing because he was mentally and physically diminished by what happened in his locker room before the fight?

If Mosley beats Andre Berto without controversy in January, there’s an excellent chance I’d support moving him back to the No. 1 spot. But as of now, Pacquiao has accomplished just as much at welterweight and looked better doing it.

ÔÇó How many times recently have we said, “I’m not surprised Fighter X won, but I didn’t expect him to win like that“? Andre Ward’s destruction of Mikkel Kessler was yet another case of a seemingly competitive fight turning into an eye-opening one-man showcase.

ÔÇó By the way, Mikkel, you forgot to mention in the postfight interview that the sun was in your eyes the whole time.

ÔÇó When did Larry David’s dad’s glasses become the hot fashion trend among boxing announcers?

ÔÇó Ending where I began, with Pacquiao-Mayweather: I love the idea of this fight happening in a massive stadium in Dallas. But I shudder at the thought of Laurence Cole refereeing the biggest fight in boxing and Gale Van Hoy holding a pencil.

Eric Raskin can be reached at [email protected]

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