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Is Pacquiao now milking his past success?

21
Oct

Manny Pacquiao built his reputation on facing — and beating — the best-possible opponents at each step of his meteoric ascension in boxing, accepting challenges that many of the sport’s stars work hard to avoid these days. He has been what all fighters should be.

Has that changed?

The Filipino icon is scheduled to face former welterweight titleholder Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13 at Cowboys Stadium, his second consecutive fight against an unworthy opponent.

Yes, Joshua Clottey, Pacquiao’s last foe, was a legitimate contender. But he had lost his previous fight — a close decision to Miguel Cotto — and was a relative unknown. Pacquiao-Clottey wasn’t anywhere near as gripping as were matchups with Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and a trio of great Mexicans.

That fight was a showcase for Pacquiao and the new Cowboys Stadium and had almost nothing to do with the challenger, who disappointed everyone by barely putting up a fight.

And now Pacquiao is facing an opponent who was suspended for using illegal hand wraps, was pummeled by an aging Shane Mosley in his last meaningful fight and looked mediocre at best in his comeback bout against a no-name opponent.

Margarito has done nothing to deserve this fight except maintain his allegiance to Bob Arum, who also happens to promote Pacquiao, Clottey and Cotto.

Pacquiao will look as spectacular as ever when he dismantles the tough, but plodding Mexican in a manner that will remind you of the Mosley fight, which means it’ll be fun to watch. But the result is so predictable that it’ll mean next to nothing.

Is that what Pacquiao wants? To beat up fighters who have no business in the ring with him? This isn’t the Pacquiao we’ve grown to admire.

To be fair, I believe he fully intended to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. over the past year but was unable to come to terms with his prime rival on two occasions. Had that fight happened, of course, his choice of opponents would be above reproach.

But when it became clear that the super fight wasn’t going to happen, he didn’t have to turn to Clottey and Margarito.

There were better options. The most-deserving possible opponent is Juan Manuel Marquez, who has a draw and a controversial loss in two fights against Pacquiao. He would’ve loved to be in the ring Nov. 13. And several other talented fighters between 140 and 154 pounds, fighters who might be able to give Pacquiao a fight, would gladly do whatever it takes to receive such an opportunity.

I want to blame Arum but I can’t, at least not wholeheartedly.

Yes, we’re frustrated that he and arch rival Golden Boy Promotions are unable to do business at the moment. That would seem to preclude a Pacquiao-Marquez fight anytime soon. And the promoters’ inclination to keep their fights in house to maximize profits is maddening. Arum has an explanation, though: Why should he invest the time and money to build stars only to have relatively obscure opponents piggy back on his work and make millions?

I would respond by saying that the best-possible matchups, regardless of promoter, are better for the sport and everyone involved in the long run. Still, he might have a point.

Also, one could argue that Arum’s principal duty to his fighters is to generate the most money for the least risk. That’s a good short-term business model even if the sport suffers. And make no mistake: Pacquiao-Margarito will generate a windfall for everyone involved.

In the end, I place the blame on Pacquiao, who makes the final decisions.

He took extreme risks throughout his remarkable career. Between 2003 and 2009, 10 of 15 fights were against probable or potential hall of famers — Marco Antonio Barrera (twice), Marquez (twice), Erik Morales (three times), De La Hoya, Hatton and Cotto. That mind-boggling stretch made him into a superstar beloved the world over.

Now, evidence suggests, he's exploiting that success to make as much money as possible instead of giving his fans what they deserve — real fights.

Do I think he made a conscious decision to fight inferior foes? Absolutely not. It doesn’t matter, though. That’s what he’s doing. And it will hurt his legacy if the trend continues, which is likely: Arum is talking about a rematch with Cotto, who doesn’t deserve the opportunity after losing badly in their first meeting.

Pacquiao is allowed a few gimmies, if that’s what these are. We’ll forget all about Clottey and Margarito if he fights Mayweather, Marquez or another worthy foe in his next fight and goes back to challenging himself. Here’s the key, though: He has to make it happen. No one else will.

The current king of boxing has a reservation for the International Boxing Hall of Fame exactly five years after he retires no matter who he fights. He’s accomplished more than enough. Still, I can’t believe that he really wants to coast into retirement against the Clotteys and Margaritos of the world.

Michael Rosenthal can be reached at [email protected]

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