It seems these days even Manny Pacquiao is underwhelmed by the prospects of fighting Chris Algieri. Since agreeing to fight the nube of Long Island, Pacquiao has taken the job as coach of the KIA Sorrentos of the Philippine Basketball Association and then drafted himself in the first round. When the Sorrentos were playing practice games, however, Manny was too busy overseeing a billiards competition in General Santos City.
Following the twists and turns of Manny Pacquiao’s myriad interests often leaves the impression that the boxer turned Congressman turned coach is playing out a series of childhood fantasies like Tom Hanks’ character in Big. Now the same man who once held up his first fight against Tim Bradley to watch the conclusion of a Celtics-Heat playoff game has accepted a job coaching hoops and then, let’s reiterate this whopper, drafted himself as a player in the first round.
Apparently, being a sitting Congressman with greater political aspirations and fighting two fights a year isn’t keeping him busy enough. With each morsel of news regarding Pacman’s extracurriculars, boxing fans are finding themselves in similar position to Jinkee Pacquiao circa 2010: aren’t we good enough for you? The mind boggles thinking of how the US cable news talking heads would treat an American congressman with such a hearty collection of pursuits. Suffice to say, the reaction wouldn’t be quiet.
Pacquiao’s last go-round the squared circle against Tim Bradley was a brilliant exhibition of the skill that is responsible for his fame and gave hope that the man who was once widely regarded as boxing’s pound for pound king still had enough gas in the tank to go out on top. If the man is bored, you’d think he could fight more, right?
There’s always a chance that after almost twenty years and 63 pro fights the Filipino Fist is worn down by the rigors of training and the constant discipline the sport demands. As we’ve seen, he’s not so easily pinned down to one activity. First-hand accounts of Pacquiao describe him as living a routine of ADHD-like behavior, flittering from one distraction to the next with the same dexterity and infectious joy we see him bound about the ring with. In other words, he’s no Bernard Hopkins.
In reality, I suspect Pacquiao to be no different than the flamboyant characters of the sport’s history like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and countless others. After all, they share a similar background of childhood trauma and poverty that made conflict within the gentleman’s Queensberry rules pale in comparison to the conflict they encountered almost everywhere else. And when they made it and achieved the attention they craved so badly, they often find its powers overwhelmingly addictive and fear it fading from sight.
One of Pacquiao’s most endearing and fatal traits is his innocence. It really matters to him to be loved by his people to such an extent that it may someday undo him. Look no further than one of Pacman’s many singing moments on YouTube. He has a terrible voice and he knows it, but he is rewarded when people eat it up and love him for it.
To fight the bad intentions left in the wake of chronic drug abuse, Mike Tyson turned his story into a one-man show as a way to repair his relationship with the consumers of pop culture. It’s a revealing act by a man raised by his own fame, and one the Pinoy puncher may be unwittingly mimicking by launching a basketball career at age 35. For better or worse, Pacquiao, like Tyson, craves public approval in a way that is discomfiting to anyone well-versed in the tabloid dramas of the rich and attention needy. Player/coaching basketball is another avenue for Pacquiao to feel the love and give back to his countrymen.
Despite the fact that the average height for the Filipino male is 5’4” and that Coach Pacquiao is by far the most accomplished athlete in the country’s history, the national sport remains basketball. Rafe Bartholomew’s book Pacific Rims details the unlikely marriage of basketball and Filipinos, describing “kids playing basketball in their flip-flops, or on their bare feet, and people building their own basketball courts out of whatever materials they could get their hands on. It was this sort of passion—that they would play the sport by any means necessary.” Since launching a political career, Pacquiao has often been compared to the illustrious Pinoy baller turned statesman, Robert Jaworski.
You can’t escape the many parallels between the Pacquiao’s prodigious activities outside of the ring and his lack of determination inside it. He hasn’t ended a fight by knockout since he was elected to Congress. On the night he waited until the Celtics-Heat playoff game was finished, he seemed to let up on the gas in the late rounds in apparent confidence he had enough points in the bank to top Tim Bradley. According to two judges ringside, he had not.
Staring across the ring from Pacquiao come fight night will be a man with only one thing on his mind. Chris Algieri has a career in nutrition and health and was kicking the tires on medical school before ramping up and focusing solely on his boxing career. He still lives with his parents on Long Island, but that may change after he brings a guaranteed $1.4 million for fighting Manny in November. Algieri may not be able to hurt Pacquiao, but his fight last spring against Ruslan Provodnikov proved he has a slick, awkward style and a sturdy chin.
I’m sure Algieri is delighted to hear about Pacquiao’s burgeoning interest in basketball.