Boxing as a mind sport

This is my column today.

When the broadcast of the much-ballyhooed dream match was finally started on GMA-7 at 1:05 p.m., most Filipinos tuned in to the boob tube no longer in excited anticipation of finding out the outcome of the fight. The result of the match was already all over the Internet and was already being passed on from one cell phone to another through SMS.

And as if to spite GMA-7 which bagged the exclusive rights to broadcast the fight, ABS-CBN pulled the rug under by announcing the results through a streaming advisory that accompanied its regular programming.

There are of course those who think that awareness of the outcome already diminishes the value of the viewing experience; they are the people who hate spoilers. There’s certainly less anticipation and excitement when one already knows how something is going to end. But I’m sure that when it comes to things where national pride and honor seem at stake, being aware of the outcome also brings a new dimension into the viewing experience. My friends and I watched the fight with a little less excitement, but with more confidence and yes, a lot less apprehension.

So most of us watched the match to find out how it happened. We watched to witness personally how Pacquiao overcame all the odds stacked against him. In the run up to the fight, he was the underdog. He was clearly physically inferior although he was probably hungrier and more determined. After all, he was carrying into the ring not only his personal hopes and dreams but those of millions of Filipinos as well. I am sure that all the newspapers will report comprehensive and blow-by-blow accounts of Pacquiao’s victory, so I won’t go there.

But something has to be said about the way the television broadcast of the fight was inordinately delayed and extraordinarily stretched out by GMA-7. This is nothing new of course. Our media networks’ shamelessness in this area is unparalleled.

Because they had exclusive rights to the broadcast and most Filipinos did not have alternatives anyway (the rich forked out large sums to watch the fight on real-time basis through pay-per-view or by trooping to moviehouses that had special arrangements to broadcast the fight real-time), they inundated the broadcast with commercials to the point that the commercial gaps became longer than the actual fight. Whatever happened to the regulatory requirement that prescribed the ratio of ads vis-à-vis the actual program?

And as if the lonnnnggggggg commercials were not enough aggravation, we all had to contend with watching the fight from a severely diminished television screen. The actual size of one’s television screen didn’t really matter anymore because they appropriated practically a third of the screen to product logos and ad placements. These do not include the product logos that were on the ring, on the boxers’ bodies, and prominently displayed all over the venue. I’ve never seen such variety and quantity of products displayed in one fight: From car batteries, cough medicines and muscle relaxants, deodorants, glue, door-to-door delivery services, cell phone service providers, airlines, softdrinks and beer, candies, coffee, liquor, t-shirt brands, paint to vitamins. Interestingly, shampoo, soap, and feminine products such as sanitary napkins and feminine wash were not part of them. This tells us a lot about the target demographics of the viewers.

I’ve written many times in the past about my objections to the way professional boxing is being staged today. One of them is precisely the shameless way in which these boxing matches are packaged and commercialized, even sensationalized.

Boxing matches have become less of a sports event than a commercial spectacle with lots and lots of money at stake. It has become a promoter’s event. And all these were painfully evident yesterday during the De la Hoya and Pacquiao fight. The boxing seemed only incidental in the whole scheme of things. What seemed more prominent were national honor and pride, millions of dollars (hundreds of millions of pesos!) at stake, and a lot of other commercial considerations.

Why, even the singing of the respective national anthems was not given the appropriate respect with people wildly cheering and the boxers oblivious to the anthems. In the GMA-7 broadcast, the singing of the Star Spangled Banner was interrupted by a phone interview of Manny Pacquiao. Of course it can be argued that the Americans don’t seem as sensitive about these things as we are anyway—the recording artist who sang the anthem even sang it as a stylized pop song, with hand on hip and a slouched body. On the other hand, our own Karylle even donned a fully beaded terno to sing Lupang Hinirang with as much ceremony and reverence as she possibly could—although quite frankly, it was a rendition that sounded like she was singing a love song.

It was a good thing that we already knew what the outcome was so all the aggravations were less annoying. Pacquio won anyway. I still have major objections about the way boxing is being promoted and conducted as a sport. But if there are some things that I hope would come out of the recent Pacquio victory, these would be more respect for our athletes and of course national pride.

There really should be no doubt that Emmanuel Pacquiao is a great athlete and sportsman. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the man is a very intelligent person. Kinesthetic intelligence is already a recognized form of intelligence in the world today.

Most people probably just saw the flurry of punches—the jabs, the hooks, and the undercuts that were exchanged between Oscar de la Hoya and our own Pacman—but there was clearly a lot of thinking processes that went with each punch.

In the same light, most people would only see a basketball player jump for a ball or a tennis player run to hit a ball with a racket. But in those split seconds, the kind of mental calculations that happen in the athlete’s mind is enormous: How high do I jump, what should I do with the ball, where do I land, how do I anticipate my opponent’s actions, etc, etc. All we see is the athlete doing his thing—the boxer dealing his opponent a fatal blow, the basketball player successfully catching the ball on rebound, the tennis player returning a ball with a backhand flourish.

It’s important to stress these and to highlight the fact that boxing is a sport that requires more than physical stamina and certainly much more than luck. Boxing is also largely a mental sport although of course not many among would deign to think of sports—boxing most specially—as activities that require the use of grey matter. All these were made clearly evident in the way Pacquiao overcame his physical disadvantage in height and reach by turning the match into a mental game. Clearly, Pacquio won because he was the more analytical boxer in that ring.

Again, so much will be said about what Pacquiao’s victory means to the nation. Someone made the observation that what makes Pacquiao unique as a boxer is that he carries with him into the ring the dreams and aspirations of a country. He has, time and again, tried to turn his boxing matches into occasions for national pride and celebration. He has time and again expressed the hope that his victories would serve to unite the nation. He has done it again. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to heed his call.


hector_olympus said…
hopefully then, that he should be able to unite the nation and not divide it when he follows the lead of the politicos who try to use him on countless occassions.

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