Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Divided over a victory

This was my column on the date indicated above.This post is antedated.

Eight hours after Manny Pacquiao was declared the winner of the Pacquiao-Marquez fight, an American friend of mine sent me a message through my Facebook account. He said: “You Filipinos must be a nation of very righteous people; you bash your own champion and even side with the Mexican on a very subjective decision about a game that was too close to call.” The message was laced with barely concealed amusement bordering on disdain. I was at a loss as to what the appropriate response should have been.

I personally couldn’t make head or tails of the uproar over the judges’ decision. I truly cannot understand why we Filipinos do this to ourselves. Why do we shoot ourselves in the foot during situations that should be, at best, occasions to assert pride, or at least to make a sigh of relief that our fighter prevailed despite the odds and perhaps even to thank heavens that he pulled through by the skin of his teeth? Or, okay, at least, to suspend judgment and give others the benefit of the doubt.

Others thought Marquez clearly won, some thought that Pacquiao was still the rightful winner. But all things considered, everyone agreed it was too close to call. When pressed further, most everyone thought it should have been declared a draw. In short, there was a possibility that it could have been judged either way depending on what criteria one was biased towards. Some people are biased towards the number of punches that land on a body. Others put more emphasis on aggressive behavior, noting that Marquez was merely doing defensive counterpunching and spent more time waiting in ambush for Pacquiao. Others noted that if Pacquiao did not go after Marquez, they probably would not have traded punches at all.

The judges, however, gave Pacquiao more points and declared him the winner.

The Mexicans naturally reacted in protest. They booed and threw trash into the ring. For the longest time, Marquez has been whining about having been robbed of a victory since their first fight, conveniently forgetting that Pacquiao floored him three times on the first round of that bout. In fact, many believe it was Pacquiao that got robbed in that first fight.

And the Filipinos? Well, we went into self-flagellation mode. Rather than give the judges the benefit of the doubt, many among us threw our support behind Marquez. That would have been par for the course—we all think democracy allows us to make utter fools of ourselves when we feel like it.

But what I couldn’t comprehend was the way many Filipinos automatically dissed Pacquiao. I could not believe the extent to which many Filipinos heaped abuse on the guy. In many social networking sites, Filipinos who did not agree with the decision directed their disgust at Pacquiao—not at the judges, mind; they insulted Pacquiao, called him old, weakening, slow, a moneybag, etc. Someone I know even posted derogatory comments calling Pacquiao shameless, boastful, and a fraud. Whew.

It was as if Pacquiao had a direct hand in the judges’ decision.

It was as if it was his fault that Marquez was wily and chose to fight with his cunning rather than with his heart.

It was as if Pacquiao had personally wronged everyone for not being able to win convincingly.

It was as if Pacquiao had suddenly become much less of a boxer just because he didn’t succeed in knocking out Marquez halfway through the game.

It was as if he has failed the Filipino people because the judges saw him as the better boxer during the fight.

I was astounded by the sheer number of boxing “experts” that have suddenly sprouted in this country— “experts” who deemed themselves more knowledgeable than the judges who scored the game. Experts who were unequivocal about their opinions and even unshakeable in their moral righteousness.

I was just as astounded by the overwhelming numbers of Filipinos who have suddenly became experts in reading human behaviors. Given the numbers of people who categorically declared that even Pacquiao’s and his wife Jinky’s body language showed that they “conceded” the fight to Marquez, our justice system should have no problems trying suspected criminals —we have hundreds of thousands of peoples who can read behaviors!

But even more astounding was the way many Filipinos suddenly had a major change of heart. From being rabid Pacquiao fans, they suddenly became Pacquiao’s worst critics. Of course, many tried to wiggle out by prefacing their nasty commentary with the disclaimer that they are really Pacquiao’s fans, just that they subscribe to a higher moral order, one that gives them license to desert someone when he fails to measure up to some expectations.

Let’s make no mistake about this. I don’t begrudge people for believing that Marquez won. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion.

But I do mind when people put down Pacquiao’s stature just because the judges saw him as the better boxer. I do resent it when people put down another person in an effort to boost their own arguments.

To my mind, Pacquiao fought Marquez with all he had, he gave the game his all, he put his life on the line for the sake of the country’s honor. Surely, he deserves a little bit of respect. Surely, he also deserves the benefit of the doubt. I think we owe it to him not to diss him and make him feel like excrement for not having won convincingly.

And I do mind when people start to drop insinuations about rigging and cheating. It’s bad enough that we openly express disaffection just because someone failed to meet some unreasonable expectations. But do we really have to go so low?

A friend of mine also tweeted and posted shoutouts in Facebook expressing his belief that Marquez should have won. He was egged by a friend to watch the replay Sunday night. He did. He watched it with a more objective eye. He then retracted everything he said and was quite happy to eat his words. According to him, any trained eye could see that Pacquiao truly won the game after all. I wish more people would follow my friend’s example.

The problem really boils down to just one thing: We had too much expectations. We expected Pacquiao to win convincingly and overwhelmingly. We expected to see Marquez reduced to a pulp. We expected nothing less than a knockout halfway through the game. Unfortunately, these didn’t happen.

What people refused to see was that Marquez didn’t knock Pacquiao down, either. It all boiled down to who was the better fighter based on points. The judges made a decision in favor of Pacquiao. That should have been it.

We won. But sadly, we have already been conditioned to accept only one kind of victory—one involving bloody annihilation, preferably with a limp body and a disfigured face. We wanted the opportunity to pump our fists into the air and scream superiority. When these didn’t happen, many felt cheated and took their ire on the fighter, a scenario reminiscent of the ancient days when Romans screamed for blood and death as they watched gladiators fight.

Clearly, there was nothing wrong with the way Pacquiao fought or played the game. It wasn’t his fault that he came up against someone who decided to play the game with a cunning strategy. Why blame him for the fact that we expected more?

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