“Pacquiao. Is going. To get. A good. Ass. Whoopin’” part 3

-Roger Mayweather, the world’s most accidentally hilarious   trainer in the history of the sport.

 

 

Pt. 3of 5: Spectacle and Speculation – 2008 – 2011

 

 

Under the supervision of Alex Ariza, Pacquiao was able to not only put on the additional muscle and size needed to compete in the three or four divisions above Super Featherweight, but to do so on exactly the timetable that was required for Team Pacquiao’s aspirations. The transformation was, in fact, astonishing.

Since Mayweather’s retirement in 2007, Pacquiao was the heir apparent to the pound-for-pound throne. However, without a superstar-quality pay-per-view audience, the title doesn’t mean that much to a fighter. Particularly without a Floyd Mayweather, the road undeniably went through De La Hoya.

Now to be clear, Pacquiao wasn’t simply hoping a few successes would magically garner the De La Hoya fight. He was absolutely a champion in the lower divisions, and a boxing star in his own right. In fact, there had been talk of moving to Lightweight (135) before the second Marquez fight, and even though it was heavily disputed, the public still perceived a win as a win for Pacquiao. He was fast, exciting, and strong enough to score knockdowns against Super Featherweight opponents. In short, he could sell tickets, and anyone you asked would have said that if – and that was a gigantic if – Pacquiao could actually make it to Welterweight, and if – another huge one – he could actually compete, then maybe – and that’s the biggest of all – he could make a fight with De La Hoya.

Regardless, he had to make it through a tough Lightweight champion in David Diaz. Diaz had beaten Erik Morales for the Lightweight title in 2007, and Pacquiao was the next in line as he would bring the most money to the table. At 27 and already a veteran of 51 grueling fights against top quality, punishing opposition, his exposure by Marquez and close fight with Barrera were taken as possible signs of a flagging career. Indeed, as the first bell rang for the Diaz fight, Jim Lampley – HBO’s legendary voice of boxing commentary – remarked to hall of fame trainer Emanuel Steward:

“Clearly in the hearts of fans who love exciting boxing, Manny Pacquiao is number one in the world, but his last couple of performances have showed the beginnings of possible signs of deterioration. Is he number one pound-for-pound? He’ll try to make a statement here.

Emanuel Steward responded:

“But, you know, looking at Manny, to me I’m just amazed that this guy is fighting at…for his fourth different division championship, and look at his body! I mean, usually when a smaller guy moves up in weight divisions, you usually see a lot of fat or something like Duran – he looks perfect! Looks like he was born to be a Lightweight.

Of course, it is said that punchers are born but not made. However, it would appear that Lightweights can be created at will from virtually any stock provided they have a strength and conditioning coach like Alex Ariza.

This warrants a little back story on Duran: Roberto Duran is widely, if not undisputedly, considered the greatest Lightweight of all time, not to mention he almost always makes the top ten pound-for-pound. He was an absolute monster in the ring, and after beginning his career at 126, he shortly made the jump to Lightweight where he would spend eight years storming through the division like a rotor that broke off of a passing helicopter and smashed into a clover field full of bunnies.

His two most significant fights until he moved up high enough in weight that he resembled the progressively larger wad of chewed bubblegum described by Stewart were both very high profile. The first was a defeat Ken Buchanon for the Lightweight title by rupturing one of his testicles with a low blow – thrown after the bell and with a complete and utter contempt for the referee who was literally standing right in front of him and yet somehow missed the call – that Ken Buchanon says that he can still feel every morning when he gets up.

The second was a step up to Welterweight where he challenged Sugar Ray Leonard. In the weeks leading up to the fight, Duran called Leonard every filthy thing he could possibly think of, openly challenged his punching power and his manhood, said he was going to have his wife after the fight because she wanted a real man, and suggested that his children would be best served by a mental institution for the terminally effeminate for having been produced by a body part of Leonard’s that would have worked better if it were on the receiving end of the event. He then proceeded to slap Leonard around the ring like an interim girlfriend, take a unanimous decision off him for the first loss of Leonard’s career, and when Leonard went to shake his hand after the fight he smacked it away, called him a fag, and stormed around the ring announcing to Leonard’s family sitting ringside, everyone on press row, everyone in the building within earshot, and the entire television watching population of the US, Mexico, Panama, the South American continent, and a good deal of Europe, Asia, and upper Africa, that the reason he won had more to do with the contents of his cup than his gloves.

This is the type of “individual” Steward was referring to, and for a fighter like him to have to put on a bit of blubber to challenge Marvin Haggler at 160 for the Middleweight title – which he lost, incidentally – one would expect something at least remotely similar from a kid who started in a division that can’t be broadcast on television without a fish eye lens on the camera.

What was more terrifying for the division, was that Pacquiao didn’t just beat Diaz. He destroyed him. For nine rounds he battered him around the ring, constantly pushing Diaz back even though he should have been the smaller man, and if anything, was faster and more powerful at Lightweight than he ever was at the lower weight divisions.

For the rest of the fight, Lampley and Steward continued to marvel at the spectacle of power and speed they were beholding, until somewhere around round seven the topic turned towards how someone needed to stop the fight because Diaz is the type of guy who would fight until he died in the ring. Towards the end of round eight, Steward and Lampley’s “commentary” had risen to a volume that was clearly intended to get the attention of either Diaz’s corner, the ref, the doctor, or possibly Jesus if he was free that evening, and when Diaz finally went flat out on the canvas from a shot that would have cracked the orbital bone of a triceratops, the best Stewart could muster was “That was completely unnecessary…”

That performance garnered the coveted De La Hoya fight, which was to take place at Welterweight. This would mark his third fight in nine months, all within the 2008 calendar year, and spanned from Super Featherweight to Welterweight – the identical 17 lbs. of weight increase in the identical weight classes that took Mayweather seven and a half years to jump before he got his De La Hoya tilt at 154. Once again, Alex Ariza was called upon to reincarnate the body of Manny Pacquiao, and the results were stunning. But for their height difference, Pacquiao looked the stronger man. In fact, his calves in particular had become so large that he was having consistent cramping issues in sparring. This was an issue that would plague him through 2011.

Pacquiao dispatched De La Hoya in eight rounds, pummeling him virtually at will, until Oscar finally retired on his stool with an eye that looked like a breast cancer awareness softball.

Naturally, this established Pacquiao’s reputation as the number one pound-for-pound boxer in the world in Floyd’s absence, and brought about calls for Mayweather to come out of retirement to fight him. When it became clear he would not, Pacquiao made his next fight with Ricky Hatton – the same superstar Mayweather KO’d after his fight with Oscar.

Pacquiao hit him with a punch in the second round so hard that Hatton nearly came off his feet. It was knockout of the year, and one of the most devastating KO’s that had been seen in the ring against a top level fighter in recent memory. The nearest thing I could think of was the punch Earnie Shavers – the hardest puncher in heavyweight history – hit Larry Holmes with that sent him smacking into the canvass like a load of silly putty dropped out of a forest fire airplane’s tanks onto the asphalt of a hot Walmart parking lot. Unlike Hatton, Larry was able to get up.

Sensing a gigantic pile of cash on the horizon, Mayweather decided to make a return to the ring, and he chose as his opponent for his two-year tune-up none other than Juan Manuel Marquez. The fight is actually a little depressing to watch, because Marquez is a great, great champion, and Mayweather throttled him around the ring like a chew toy rolled in dead animal. After knocking him down in round two, Mayweather put on a boxing clinic so profound that, after it was all over, they had to use a Spanish speaking cameraman as an interpreter until the professional turned up because barely anyone even knew where Marquez was.

It was at this time that the Mayweather/Pacquiao negotiations began for what was guaranteed to be the highest grossing fight of all time. Not only were the two fighters at the top of their game, magically in the same weight division, and both staking legitimate claims for being the best fighter on the planet, but the style matchup of a huge puncher/fighter and the greatest defensive fighter/counterpuncher in the history of the sport was almost too good to be true. This wasn’t just “a” fight, nor was it “the” fight. It was “THE” fight; and it’s where things began to get weird.

If it hasn’t already occurred to you, at this point in time it began to dawn on even the dimmest minds that Pacquiao’s tear through three divisions and several hall of famers in what would be considered by any standard to be, well, not within the bounds of things that one considers or has standards against which to compare it. Sure, it was exciting, but this wasn’t the public’s first exposure to an athlete having a stratospheric increase in physical abilities in an extraordinarily short period of time. The BALCO scandal had already occurred seven years ago in 2002, and Barry Bonds was indicted on federal perjury charges in 2007.

Phrases like “hat size increase”, “…can only be detected by blood testing”, and “Sammy Sosa can kiss my Puerto Rican ass”, were common dinner table conversation starters, and the public was becoming increasingly wary of heroic and physics-defying performances. On the other hand, there were also a litany of excuses and theories concocted by staunch fans, designed to appease cognitive dissonance by teasing out an endless parade of non-disprovable loopholes by which total absolution could be conferred. When one finds oneself employing the same techniques biblical scholars use to hand wave patently discrepant genealogies of Christ’s lineage, you would think a certain light bulb would flick on inside a certain organ, and I’m not referring to Roberto Duran.

In other words, it was on everybody’s mind. Mayweather’s comment was “you don’t go from being ordinary to extraordinary,” and he’s right. Pacquiao was exceptional, no doubt. However, there had never been a single instance in the history of boxing where a fighter was able to move up in weight – particularly to that degree – without compromising some combination of hand speed, foot speed, or power, much less getting orders of magnitude stronger and faster. It’s simply not the way the sport works, and it’s bordering on supernatural to even maintain one’s level of performance while moving up in weight. Even Mayweather, a fighter with an immaculate record of superstar performance dating back to pictures of him as a toddler wearing the boxing gloves of either his one-time Sugar Ray Leonard opponent father or world champion uncle Roger (upon whose quote this piece is based), had evolved from a deadly combination puncher to a calculated shot place as he moved up, and if anyone could be believed to maintain his physique it would be him.

Nevertheless, negotiations for the Mayweather/Pacquiao superfight appeared to be all but done. There was only a single issue standing between both men and a $40 million payday for at most an hour’s work.

Blood testing.

Mayweather refused to budge on having both of them subjected to random Olympic-style blood testing, to be commenced immediately after the first press conference to announce the fight. When interviewed about it initially, Roach said live on ESPN that, as far as he was concerned, they can take blood out of his fighter any time they wanted. That position quickly changed.

As the week wore on, information about the mysterious hold-up in what should have been a done deal began to surface. It appeared that the camps were arguing over the inclusion of a cutoff date for any type of blood testing starting two weeks before the fight. Why this would be necessary was unclear to the point of being bizarre. The response offered by Freddie Roach was that Pacquiao was afraid of needles, and furthermore, after he had his blood taken he didn’t feel right for a few days. As this testing could possibly occur close to the fight when Pacquiao was doing his most important work, it was therefore imperative that the cutoff be included to ensure both fighters came in at 100%.

There were several obvious cognitions that fairly well pole vaulted into concrete retaining wall of the mind:

  1. You fight people for a living. How does the medical equivalent of a bloody nose except without being punched in the goddamn face seriously affect your performance?
  2. You’re covered in tattoos, dude.
  3. Million. Dollars. You are a professional fighter, and you are throwing down the gauntlet for a tablespoon of blood that may or may not be taken within two weeks of the fight.
  4. I would fight Mayweather tomorrow for $40 million, and they can take blood out of my left nut between every round live on HBO for all I care.

And of course, 5. All fighters are blood tested within a week of the fight…

It’s called an HIV test, and it’s mandatory. I am not making that up, and anyone you ask will tell you the same. So in essence, his narrative boils down to the following:

If you take my blood within a few days of the fight to test for AIDS it’s no problem, but if you take it to test for EPO – and this is hilarious – it’s “going to have an adverse effect on my performance in the ring.”

Now that I believe.

The window was slowly negotiated down to a week, but in the end, the fight fell apart and everyone walked away. Both sides blamed each other, and the Pacquiao party line included such things as “Manny had blood taken the day before the first Erik Morales fight, and look what happened.”

That is correct too. He definitely got his ass whooped by Morales, and I’m glad that they started to out with some truth in the end. However if a thimble full of blood was what allowed Morales to bitch-counter him all goddamn night long, then it stands to reason that the two-inch cut Pacquiao suffered in the mid rounds from a headbutt should have killed him right there in the ring.

After the tremendous depression and astonishment waned, both men selected their next opponents. Mayweather decided to fight Sugar Shane Mosley, and everyone agreed it was about time. Mosley was a fantastic fighter with quick hands, an iron chin, and incidentally happened to have staked his stardom on defeating De La Hoya twice. Mosley, already in his late thirties, was perfectly happy to take the blood tests, and for Mosley that was actually saying something.

When Mayweather was insisting on blood testing, his guidelines didn’t just fall out of the blue. He had consulted one of the world’s foremost expert in PED usage and test avoidance for elite athletes. His name was Victor Conte, and if that name is familiar to you it’s because he was the man at the center of a scandal involving a little business he’s put together – BALCO. As soon as Team Pacquiao asked for the two week cutoff, Mayweather was on the phone to the one man on the planet who could definitively respond to that request. It likely went something like this:

 

Mayweather: Hi Victor, this is Floyd.

 

Conte: Um, wow. Hi. What can I do for you?

 

Mayweather: I wanted to ask your opinion on some of the blood testing stuff. Manny Pacquiao is requesting a two week cutoff before the fight because he quote “doesn’t feel right for three days when he has his blood taken.” What do you think?

 

Conte: …

 

Mayweather: Hello?

 

Conte: Get a book of Asian racial slurs and tell Shane I said hello.

 

Oh, I didn’t mention that? Yeah. Shane Mosley was one of the boxers busted in the BALCO scandal. It turns out that he was religiously doping during both De La Hoya fights, and in both cases he won by a razor thin split decision. Made his career, in fact.

So when Mayweather approached Mosley about making a megafight, there was no question as to whether or not the blood testing protocol would be imposed, and Mosley gleefully agreed. Why, do you ask? Because it was going to be one of the biggest paydays in his career, and on the back of the performance he turned in knocking out a devastating puncher and granite-chinned monster named Antonio Margarito, there was serious public interest because Mosley had clearly demonstrated that he was an extremely dangerous and skillful challenger, not to speak of him now being the lineal Welterweight champion of the world.

Essentially, as far as Mosley was concerned,

 

  1. He would fight Mayweather tomorrow for $40 million, and they could take blood out  of his left nut between every round live on HBO for all he cared.

 

This type of response is the entire business strategy of the professional fight game in a nutshell. It makes, as Floyd says, “dollars and sense.”

The infuriated Team Pacquiao decided it was time to make a bold statement in the Welterweight division, and chose a fight with the extremely skilled and dangerous Miguel Cotto in an attempt to force the issue for Mayweather owing to public pressure.

Now there are fighters and there are fighters in this world, and Miguel Cotto was a large, mean, accurate fighter who could box inside, outside, brawl, and basically do it all. He was one of the most avoided fighters in the sport, and for years was undefeated and tearing through the division. He only suffered one defeat, and it came on the back of a unanimous decision he had scored over Shane Mosley.

Miguel Cotto/Antonio Margarito was a fight that was made in 2008 for no other reason than nobody in their right mind wanted to fight either one of them, so they just fought each other. As neither of them was a pay-per-view star, neither Pacquiao or Mayweather even bothered. It was a great fight, and for the first eight or so rounds Cotto basically hammered him with every shot in the book about fifty times, and then another half a dozen I’d never seen before. The fact that Margarito was still on his feet was nothing short of a miracle, but by round eight it appeared that the hard punches inside were starting to take their toll on Cotto. As the fight wore on, Cotto was reacting worse and worse to every shot, and Margarito’s punches were thudding off of Cotto like he had bricks in his gloves. By the eleventh round, Cotto’s face looked like someone had battered it with a metal chair, and before the end of the round the fight was stopped when Cotto collapsed, blood streaming from his grotesquely swollen face.

After that, nobody on the planet wanted to fight Margarito except for one man with an exceptionally gigantic pair of huevos.

Sugar Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito stepped into the ring on January 4th, 2009. For all his courage, the disparate results against Cotto (Mosley lost a close decision) ,and the fact of Mosely’s advanced age for a fighter had everyone concerned for his health, if not his life. Margarito on the other hand had experienced an unexpected and extremely rapid rise in the division, and after a fairly unremarkable career and tough loss a few years back in a championship fight, had all of a sudden started killing the best Welterweights in the division. Particularly after Cotto, it seemed that the man was absolutely inhuman, and his punches were landing with the impact of a sledgehammer.

Mosely, to the profound  shock and elation of the entire boxing world, not only won the fight, but scored a dramatic 9th round KO that will go down in history as one of the greatest swan songs in the sport – and also garnered him the reward of fighting Mayweather , the biggest cash cow ever to lace up the gloves.

There is a wrinkle, however, in the Mosely/Margarito fight. Margarito hadn’t seemed quite himself in the ring even from round one, and as he was walking into the ring, HBO’s Jim Lampley commented that they had received a strange report that something was found underneath Margarito’s handwraps that had been discovered by Mosley’s trainer Nazeem Richardson when he was carefully observing the wrap job.

 

Brother Nazeem will tell it better than I can:

 

“When they refer to them rewrapping his hands three times, thats because of the amount of tape he was putting on his skin. Before any gauze or anything he was putting an enormous amount of tape on his hands, around his thumbs, and down his wrists. And I told them based on the rules of California that was illegal. So they went to tell me how he had a previous injury, and I was like ‘that has nothing to do with the rules man.’ So that’s how the commissioner was called into the room.

 

What had happened was, he had cushions that he puts on his knuckles as they’re wrapping the hands. And when they went to put the cushion on – they had it on one hand already – and I thought the commissioner had checked it but I didn’t see him. So I asked him, I said ‘look son, I want to check that cushion.’ So they allowed me to test the cushion and I said ‘yo this is pretty hard’. So I asked the deputy commissioner to feel it and said’ this is hard.’ And he said ‘it feels alright to me’, and I said’ well it don’t feel alright to me.’

 

So I got the commissioner, and he came in and checked it and he said ‘yeah that is pretty hard.’ Then they peeled it open, and down in the middle he had a square block of old gauze wrapped with plaster on it. And when I took it out and let the doctor see it, the doctor said ‘this is the same stuff we use in the hospital to make casts.’

 

I told them I wanted the other hand unwrapped. They said, ‘we approved this hand already.’ And I said ‘well, what, we wait till the fight is over and then we check the hand and we find out it’s on there?’ So the commissioner said,’ you’re right.’ He said,’ I’m going to peel the wrap’. And when they unwrapped the other hand they found another block.

 

I refused to give the blocks to the commissioner. I called Shane Mosley’s lawyer over here. I told them I’m only releasing them to Shane’s lawyer.

 

This sport is dangerous enough as it is when you follow the rules. When you go outside the rules it can be fatal.”

 

When they asked Shane later what he thought when Nazeem Richardson told him about the blocks, he said “I took it to mean {Margarito} was scared.”

 

Margarito was suspended for a year, and the first thought that came to everyone’s mind was the state of Cotto’s face after the Margarito fight and how much harder Margarito was hitting in the late rounds. If true, as the light weight gloves broke down as the fight progressed, the plaster block would have been hitting more and more solidly against compacted or destroyed lining.

 

Upon review, the picture of the gauze with the block of plaster in it had a blood stain on one side that exactly matched the blood seen on Margarito’s left wrap as he was being paraded around the ring. When asked in an interview whether he thought Margarito used loaded gloves against Cotto, Jim Lampley responded:

“I’ve talked to people all over this sport. I can’t find a single expert – not one single expert – who isn’t Mexican, who doesn’t think Margarito used loaded wraps.

Freddie Roach was interviewed as well. He was particularly upset because he had been grooming a boxer a few months back who had sparred with Margarito, and Margarito had broken his orbital bone- the bone around the eye socket – in the sparring. Breaking an orbital bone is usually the result of taking many, many hard shots to the face over the course of a long fight, and your opponent has to possess extraordinary power.

Roach said he was astonished by his power, and said it ended the poor guy’s career. He said Margarito should be banned from boxing for life, and that anyone who does something that gives a fighter an advantage like that is endangering the life of other fighters, and it’s basically attempted murder.

Of course, all of this was known when Pacquiao made the fight with Cotto. It was apparent from the first bell that Pacquiao was the smaller man by far, and the monstrous Cotto traded shots with him for several rounds. However, Pacquiao was able to knock the bigger man down several times early in the fight with extremely hard shots inside, and late early in the 12th round, Cotto’s face battered and swollen, the referee stopped the fight.

Negotiations for the Mayweather fight resumed, but again they went nowhere over the blood testing. Both men moved on, and after defeating Joshua Clottey at 154 (yes, he was still climbing up in weight), Pacquiao decided in mid-2010 that it was time to make another statement. Freshly returned from his suspension, Antonio Margarito agreed to fight Manny Pacquiao in November of 2010 at a catch weight of 150 lbs. for a Junior Middleweight title.

Compared to the 5’6’’ Pacquiao, the 5’11’’ Margarito brought up memories of Roy Jones Jr. challenging John Ruiz for a Heavyweight belt a decade before. In the pre-fight interviews, a video surfaced of Margarito and several of his friends laughing and pretending to wrap a cinder block onto his hand. This did not sit well with the public.

Although Margarito made some headway early in the fight, Pacquiao established his superior hand speed and foot speed after a few rounds. He was even able to back the larger man up at times, and by the tenth round Margarito’s eye was grotesquely swollen. Although the doctor was considering stopping the fight, the corner convinced them to let it go on. Pacquiao had been hurting Margarito all fight, which was surprising given how much punishment Margarito had been known to absorb. The only time in recent memory when someone had decked him was when Mosely – a fighter well known for his huge right hand – had KO’d him. Pacquiao clearly could have finished him off any time from round 10 onward, but in the 12th it was clear that he was backing off as Margarito’s eye was clearly damaged beyond just superficial swelling. At one point he even stopped and looked at the ref to try to get him to stop it.

After the fight, Margarito went to the hospital. His orbital bone had been broken by the repeated sharp shots of the new Junior Middleweight champion of the world.

Mayweather and Pacquiao would try several times to get a fight made, but it became despondently clear to all concerned that the fight would never happen. Mayweather fought several young contenders, and Pacquiao fought and knocked down Shane Mosley in his next fight. It could have been stopped if Pacquiao had pressed it, but again, he backed off in the later rounds for fear of severely injuring his opponent.

At that point, it seemed that there was no other fight to be made, and Pacquiao was considering retirement. There was just one more bit of business to finish. In late 2011, an old friend had made his move to the Welterweight division to challenge Manny Pacquiao.

The third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez was set for November 12th, 2011.

Ben Tomkins
Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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