Column: Manny Pacquiao’s lesson in legitimacy

I got rather interesting feedback about this column; I got the sense some readers had stumbled into my column because it was about Pacquiao.

Published on March 18, 2008

A crisis it isn’t, but there is no denying the reality. A cloud of doubt hangs over boxing icon Manny Pacquiao’s split-decision victory over Juan Manuel Marquez. Can Philippine politics learn anything from Pacquiao’s legitimacy issue?

A large fistful, actually, starting with the following paradox: Pacquiao deserved his win, because the fight could have gone either way.

I had wanted to put together an argument for a media boycott of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s deputy spokesperson, Lorelei Fajardo, whose media relations philosophy can be summed up simply enough, as deliberate ignorance. (Like Scott McClellan, formerly of the Bush White House, Fajardo is deployed to meet the press precisely because she is out of the loop.) But this will have to wait.

I am a boxing fan, and it is not often that one can come to the defense of a warrior like Pacquiao. Allow me.

First, a not unreasonable assumption. I think we can all agree that the Pacquiao-Marquez rematch was a close fight. The judges’ scorecards tell us just how close. (We can find a facsimile of all three scorecards on fightnews.com.) Duane Ford scored it 115-112 for Pacquiao; Jerry Roth had Marquez winning by the same margin, 115-112. Tom Miller broke the tie, calling it 114-113 for Pacquiao.

Second, a simple declaration of fact. Other viewers scored the fight differently. The Inquirer’s assistant sports editor, Francis Ochoa, writing a running account for our online affiliate, INQUIRER.net, called it 114-113 for Marquez. Joaquin Henson, of the Star, annotating the newscast at ringside, scored it 114-113 for Pacquiao. Scott Christ of the excellent Bad Left Hook sports site (badlefthook.com) saw it for Marquez, 114-113. Robert Morales of LA’s Daily Breeze (dailybreeze.com) scored it 114-113, for Pacquiao. The list of changing fortunes, the back and forth of which reminds me of the fight itself, goes on and on.

(Listening to the sometimes spotty live coverage on dzBB, I scored it 115-112 for Pacquiao. Watching the much-delayed TV newscast on Sunday afternoon in the newsroom, however, I changed my score to 114-113, deciding that the fifth round actually went to Marquez.)

Third, a word from Freddie Roach. As some readers of my Newsstand blog may remember, I covered Pacquiao’s training camp in Los Angeles three years ago. Among other things, I came away with great respect for Roach, the former featherweight turned Hall of Fame trainer. (A movie can be made from Freddie’s life, but his brother Pepper, another former featherweight, is actually the more colorful character. A third brother, Joey, who also fought as a featherweight, is out of boxing altogether.)

Since that time, I have always thought of Roach as both jealously protective of but scrupulously fair with his wards, world champions included. His comments immediately after the fight last Sunday are characteristic.

“It could have gone either way. Manny chased him around the ring too much. He didn’t cut off the ring enough, but Marquez may have had something to do with it.” And again: “[Manny] was more disciplined in training than in the fight … [Marquez] changed styles, threw more punches, moved right and went for the knockout. He was a lot busier and put up a hell of a fight.”

That last flurry of points is the exact same argument of those who think Marquez, who recovered from a brutal knockdown in the third round, should have won the fight outright.

The argument against Pacquiao is bolstered by the fight statistics compiled by Compubox. Pacquiao threw 619 punches, over a hundred more than Marquez did (511), but the Mexican boxer connected more often (172-157). Marquez had more “power connects” too (130-114). “Pacquiao won the judges’ nod based largely on the third-round knockdown, but the Compubox statistics backed Marquez’s assertion that he should have gotten the nod,” the Compubox report reads. (It can be accessed on boxingscene.com.)

But boxing fights today are not won or lost on the number of punches that connect; they are won or lost on the number of rounds the fighters lay claim to. Precisely to minimize subjectivity, boxing’s scoring system has been radically simplified. The fighter who carries a round gets 10 points; the opponent gets 9. A knockdown means an additional point deduction. (Unlike in the 3-knockdown first round of the first Pacquiao-Marquez fight, all three judges scored the third round correctly this time, calling it 10-8 for Pacquiao.)

The Compubox report notes the per-round counter-argument: “Despite the above arguments in Marquez’s favor, if a judge had based his card solely on who connected more on a round-by-round basis (which they don’t), Pacquiao would have come out ahead 6-5-1, or 115-114. Incidentally, the even round occurred in the third …”

I thought each fighter won six rounds, with Pacquiao edging Marquez only because of the additional point from the third-round knockdown. In other words, it could have gone either way, but by the rules of the game it went in Pacquiao’s direction. No, it wasn’t a convincing win. It certainly did not put paid to the two boxers’ “unfinished business.” And it did nothing to improve Pacquiao’s pound-for-pound rankings. But do all these make his victory illegitimate? Our answers tell us more about ourselves, and about what we think of the fighters, than about the fight.

As for Pacquiao’s political patron: The President’s continuing crisis of legitimacy stemmed from her felt need to post a convincing victory in 2004. Her troubles started when she became unwilling to risk a close decision.

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