Friday, September 25, 2009

Courage and trash talk

Published September 21, 2009 at the op ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

I didn’t intend to watch the telecast of the boxing event of the season yesterday but was compelled to for two reasons.

First, everyone in the house was glued to the television, gritting teeth in frustration as Floyd Mayweather Jr. pummeled the daylights out of Juan Manuel Marquez. As early as the first few rounds of the 12-round fight, it was pretty much evident that Mayweather would win the match. Quite frankly, Mayweather looked like he didn’t even break a sweat and dominated the fight all the way.

But one had to be a complete sadist not to recognize and honor Marquez’s heart. He fought a brave battle and displayed great sportsmanship all the way through even when it was already certain that he would lose. This is what makes boxing a compelling sport. It showcases two of the most powerful emotions—on one hand, naked aggression and on the other, pure, unadulterated courage. Unlike other sports where skills and cunning are channeled into an object such as a ball, boxers put their bodies out there as the main instrument of the sport. The object of the sport is not just to score; it is to harm the other person which is why I continue to view the sports with a lot of reservations even if we can’t help but watch because it happens to be the only sport now where the Philippines has earned a distinction in.

Of course the empathy for Marquez was not merely because he was the underdog; Filipinos were on his side because of Mayweather’s camp’s unwarranted verbal attacks on pambansang kamao Manny Pacquiao. And this comprises the second reason why I felt compelled to watch the Mayweather-Marquez fight.

Like many other Filipinos, I got annoyed by Floyd Mayweather Sr.’s trash talk directed at our own national boxing champ. For those who have been living under a rock in the last few days, Mayweather Sr. accused Pacquiao last week of being on steroids or some other performance-enhancing supplements which supposedly accounted for Pacquiao’s winning streak.

So yes, I wanted to see if Mayweather really still had what it would take to face Pacquiao. Mayweather’s camp has been itching to square off with Pacquiao although certain quarters insist it’s mainly for the money. Mayweather, renowned for flamboyance, is reportedly broke and a fight with Pacquiao would bring in the moolah. In this context, Mayweather Sr.’s verbal attacks on Pacquiao make perfect sense; they need to provoke Pacquaio’s camp into accepting the challenge.

I am not an expert in boxing so I will not hazard a technical analysis comparing the skills of Mayweather and Pacquiao. But this I can say with certainty: Mayweather is not the castoff that many quarters portray him to be. A lot of it is posturing and attitude, of course, but it cannot be discounted that he is a great technical fighter. He remains a formidable boxer to reckon with. His unanimous win over Marquez yesterday announced in no uncertain terms the fact that the man was back from retirement.

Marquez was supposedly an intelligent boxer but he seemed confused during the fight, unable to counter Mayweather’s constant change of tactics. People expected Mayweather to use his size advantage by pinning Marquez against the ropes and bullying him around but he chose to keep the fight in the middle of the ring.

Like I said, the fight seemed like a foregone conclusion even in the early rounds. It was all over by the sixth round and it looked like Mayweather was just toying with Marquez during the second half of the match. He was even caught on camera several times slyly grinning at Marquez.

The highlight happened at the end of the match, as BO sports commentator Max Kellerman asked Mayweather when he would fight celebrated boxer Shane Mosley and Manny Pacquiao.

Thereupon, Mosley materialized in the ring. It started innocuously enough. Mosley looked like he just wanted to offer a congratulatory handshake. But it spiraled out of control when Mosley challenged Mayweather to a fight and they started trash talking each other. Mosley had been urging Mayweather to a match in the last four years and Mayweather had been dodging him because some quarters insist that he (Mayweather) pick boxers he would most likely beat.

For a moment, it looked like the two boxers would come to blows right there and then. A flustered Kellerman had to end the interview and cut the feed.

Trash talk is something that one has come to associate with professional wrestlers; they who strut around in bizarre costumes, wear make up that puts members of the 1970s rock band Kiss to shame, and spew all kinds of outrageous taunts designed to provoke and shame their opponents. Because of these strange behaviors from professional wrestlers, what used to be regarded as a honest-to-goodness sport has degenerated into some kind of theater of the absurd and the perverted.

But as the Mosley-Mayweather exchange—and the trash talk of Mayweather Sr. directed at Manny Pacquiao earlier—showed, even boxing seems destined to go the way of professional wrestling. This is because people in boxing seemed to have suddenly become so engrossed with the frills and ego-boosting aspect of competitive sports—the quest for crowns and titles. Pacquiao is the current pound-for-pound champion of the world (Marquez was supposed to be second), and it is a title that used to belong to Mayweather.

This can be expected in a situation where gigantic egos begin to dominate the scene and people lose sight of what sports are supposed to be about.

I think Mayweather Sr.’s accusations should be dismissed as ramblings of a grumpy old man. After all, he is the same guy who had earlier predicted that his ward Oscar de la Hoya would beat Pacquiao to a pulp. That turned out to be a dud. The Nevada State Athletic Commission, which regularly tests athletes before and after a fight, has issued a categorical statement saying Pacquiao is clean and has never tested positive for steroids, marijuana, cocaine or other supplements. Threatening Mayweather Sr. with a libel suit is precisely what Mayweather Sr. wants—a shot at being controversial once again. Let’s ignore him and remember revenge is a dish best served cold.

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