Let not your heart sink to a stupor for Manny Pacquiao. As a fighter, he was prepared for the little death of failure long before he experienced it against Juan Manuel Marquez. Instead of evicting it from your soul, let the image sink deep inside your heart. Embrace it.
Let it be what it is: a reminder; a prompt.
There he lay, slumped over on the cold, blue floor, helpless as a babe. He sleeps now in a womb of despair; a hero has fallen. All of them must. Everyone. Let it wash over you. Even someone as strong and fierce as Manny Pacquiao can be made in an instant but a slumping pile of pitiful flesh by something as painfully simple as one thunderous right hand.
(photo by Chris Farina-Top Rank)
Manny Pacquiao knew what he was in for. He signed up for it from the very first time he cruelly bit down on his rigid mouthpiece with brutal intentions. What happened to him happens to almost everyone should they fight long enough or against good enough competition to be worth the effort, and the threat of it was with him in every second of every round of every fight. Every single punch thrown at Manny Pacquiao his entire boxing life has been a prelude to this moment.
Pacquiao had encountered these things before. They had whizzed by him. They had rattled his brain, cut flesh, sent him to the floor. They had pummeled his body, made him bleed, hurt his soul. Yet each time before this one (at least during the last two decades), he was able to soldier on back into the fray.
Not this time. This time he was laid asunder by someone who, as Ron Borges put it, was “a skillful artist in a world of butchers.”
Yes, boxing is full of these little miseries. Truth be told, it’s why we watch. We love it. Manny knows this. He had gloriously created some of the most memorable of these little testaments in recent history. We imbibed them all, including the one strikingly familiar to this one, it seems, Pacquiao’s 2009 annihilation of Ricky Hatton.
Oh, these little miseries.
But seeing a man curled up on the ground in the desperate throes of failure isn’t the only reason we watch boxing. No, that mode of thinking is incomplete. We are not sadists. Boxing mimics life, you know, and there is no greater object of adoration in life than that of resurrection. Large or small, it’s something as simple as this: we want them to get back up. RISE.
The religious connotations are easily apparent, but the motif itself is rife within our popular culture. We especially like it in our movies. We want to see Batman rise, rise, rise in the The Dark Knight trilogy no matter how insane or terrifying the obstacle before him. All hope is lost in The Lord of the Rings before Frodo somehow manages to get that ring into Mordor. Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance are hopelessly overmatched by a Death Star-wielding Darth Vader in Star Wars, but somehow he still prevails.
Yes, our greatest heroes are always those who rise to the occasion, who stand and deliver, who do what must be done despite the odds, especially when it counts most and when things seem most bleak. It’s the same in sports. Derek Jeter is down two strikes to none in the bottom of the ninth with a man on, can he get the hit? Michael Jordan has the ball with time waning, can he make the shot? Joe Montana to Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone…etc, etc, etc. It repeats itself over and over and over again. We love resurrections.
The boxing world loves them, too. Look no further than Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky franchise. How many times can Rocky get back up? How much more can he endure against bigger, stronger and meaner opponents? Apollo Creed is too fast. Clubber Lang has the eye of the tiger. My Gawd!! That Russian is on steroids!!! Still, we expect Rocky to win every single time, and if he loses we expect him to come back stronger than ever. Not because it’s easy, but precisely because it’s so very hard.
We want our real fighters to do this, too. We want to see them rise like Rocky. We demand it.
Some of them do. When Evander Holyfield fought Mike Tyson in 1996, few thought he had a chance. Tyson was as mean and scary even then, and Holyfield had lost two of his last four fights, including one by knockout to the heavy-handed Riddick Bowe. He had looked old and washed up in the process. Tyson, on the other hand, appeared unbeatable. He had emerged from prison the menacing marauder he was before his incarceration wearing quite rightfully the moniker of the baddest man on the planet. He was Iron Mike Tyson. He was invincible. We seem to forget this now.
It would be ugly, people thought. Fans, media, friends and family all pleaded with Holyfield not to take the fight. It would be a bloodletting. He might die in there. It was suicide.
Tyson moved Holyfield violently with the first punch he landed. It appeared doom and gloom for him just like they said, but then all of a sudden, it just wasn’t. Holyfield stood his ground and fought back with vigor. Somehow, the bully Tyson became the bullied, and by the end of what was probably the surprise resurrection of the decade, the unthinkable had occurred: Evander Holyfield had defeated Mike Tyson by TKO in the eleventh.
Boxing writer John Katsilometes of the Las Vegas Review Journal summed the shock of it all.
It ended inexplicably, with Mike Tyson foggy-headed and tasting his own blood. Mike Tyson, incapable of firing even a single punch in his defense. Mike Tyson, unable to recount what had just occurred; unable to even raise his voice.
Evander Holyfield had risen, and though in boxing one must fall for another to rise, the beauty of the sport was on full display that night. Holyfield’s career had come back from the dead.
Boxing history is full of examples such as this one for those who choose to find them, but this isn’t a historical analysis. This is about now and the future. It’s about Manny Pacquiao and the next step in his career. Will he rise? Will he endure? Will the boulder of failure be rolled away in the end?
It is a difficult thing, this resurrection. Only the bravest attempt it. Of those that do, many more fail at it. There is, in fact, certain greatness in the attempt itself, but the rarest and most celebrated triumph is for those who both attempt and achieve it. These are our heroes, our legends, our resurrections.
So rise if you dare, Manny Pacquiao, RISE.