Let me tell you how it will be
There’s one for you, 19 for me
’Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the Taxman
--Lyrics from a George Harrison-written song on the Beatles’ Rubber Soul album
Manny Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KOs) challenges WBO welterweight champion Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley (31-0, 12 KOs) in an HBO Pay-Per-View bout on April 12 at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, and the gist of most of the questions directed by inquiring media minds toward the Filipino legend ran toward what might be described as standard boxing matters. The give-an-take exchanges during Tuesday’s half-hour-long conference call with Pacquiao went something like this:
Q: Are you concerned that you could again get stiffed on the scorecards like you did in your first fight with Bradley? (Bradley was awarded a hotly disputed split decision, also at the MGM Grand, on June 9, 2012.)
MP: “I’m not thinking about the judges. What I want to do is focus on strategy and techniques that we practiced in the ring.”
Q: Does it bother you that Bradley is dropping broad hints that, since your first fight with him, you’ve lost your “hunger” for boxing and “killer instinct” to finish off opponents in trouble?
MP: “The more he says that, the more it inspires me. It’s good for me. But not for him, I think.”
Q: Did you think you were too far ahead on points to possibly lose a decision, and were you shocked when those two judges (Duane Ford and C.J. Ross) turned in cards favoring Bradley?
MP: “I’m not angry. After that decision was announced, I understood that no one is perfect in this world (a reference, presumably, to Ford and Ross). Sometimes mistakes are made. It’s part of boxing.”
Q: Having been a victim of malfeasance by pencil once before, do you feel any additional pressure to score a knockout this time and take matters out of the judges’ hands?
MP: “We’re not focusing on a knockout. Our focus this time is to put on more pressure, to be more aggressive, to throw a lot of punches. If a knockout comes, it comes.”
Pretty tame stuff, all things considered. Then again, Pacquiao never has been the sort to recklessly run his mouth before, during or after fights. He is, by all accounts, gentlemanly in his demeanor and, let’s not forget, he’s also a politician, a member of the Philippine Congress with aspirations of someday becoming his nation’s president. Good manners and rough-and-tumble political instincts seldom are mutually inclusive, but it probably helps those seeking to gain or retain public office if they maintain at least a veneer of humility and the proper social graces.
What has largely gone unsaid in the run-up to this fight, the outcome of which could drastically influence whatever remains of the 35-year-old Pacquiao’s boxing career, is the identity of the most fearsome opponent he actually is facing. The scary dude in question is the same one who long ago flattened the great Joe Louis harder than Rocky Marciano ever could. As he did when he went after the “Brown Bomber,” that foe is targeting “Pac-Man” with a blistering, two-fisted attack, throwing wide haymakers from near and far.
Put it this way: Bradley might be one tough cookie inside the ropes, but that shadowy presence – be he based in the U.S. or in the Philippines -- is even more relentless, forever boring in with stinging shots to a prosperous fighter’s bank accounts. What is it that Louis once said? Oh, yeah. You can run, but you can’t hide.
Not from the Taxman, anyway.
Including endorsements, Pacquiao has earned more than $300 million, which certainly seems like a lot of money, and is a figure even more impressive when you consider that, as recently as 2010, the per-capita income in the Philippines was just $2,000, among the lowest of any Asian country. If the PPV numbers are as healthy as Top Rank founder Bob Arum anticipates, Pacquiao’s take for the second twirl around the ring with Bradley could add $15 million-plus to his presumably bulging coffers.
But really rich people aren’t exempt from the kind of money problems that confront less-well-paid workers everywhere, except that theirs are on a much grander scale. The Internal Revenue Service here and its Philippine counterpart have homed in on Pacquiao like heat-seeking missiles. As of December, the IRS was pursuing Pacquiao for $18.3 million in unpaid taxes, with $11 million of the debt relating to the very years (2008 and 2009) that the fighter promised the Philippine government he had fully paid his tax obligation to the United States.
If tax officials in the Philippines are to be believed, Pacquiao’s past-due tax bill there is even more staggering: $50 million.
Asked if his tax problems might be blurring his focus on the task at hand as the rematch with Bradley approaches, Pacquiao insisted it’s no big deal.
“I’m not going to worry about that,” he said. “I didn’t hide anything, and I hired a very good accountant.”
That accountant had better be world-class sharp because, well, the ones Louis sought out to alleviate his crushing tax debt to the IRS were more overmatched than the members of the Bum of the Month Club he so casually dispatched during his long heavyweight championship reign.
One month after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Louis gave his entire $65,200 purse (around $700,000 in today’s money) from his first-round knockout of Buddy Baer to the Naval Relief Fund. Less than three months later, he gave his entire $45,882 purse for his sixth-round stoppage of Abe Simon to the Army Relief Fund. Louis then put his boxing career on hold to enlist in the Army as a private, earning $21 a month.
When hostilities ended, Louis, despite his patriotism-inspired contributions to the American war effort, found himself owing the IRS $500,000. Compound-interest penalties regularly inflated that amount like the clicking meter of a taxi ride that never ends, and Louis died a broke and broken man. Overly trusting, ignorant of things like tax shelters and municipal bonds, and generous to a fault, it has been estimated that one of boxing’s most dominant champions received only $800,000 or so from the estimated $4.6 million he earned during his ring career.
Not that the same fate awaits Pacquiao, but there is another old saying, this one coined by Spanish philosopher George Santayana: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Attempts at slipping those big shots from the Taxman have already influenced where Pacquiao plies his trade, and likely will continue to do so, most probably for the remainder of his ring career. His most recent bout – a 12-round unanimous decision over Brandon Rios on Nov. 24 -- took place in Macao, China, in large part because of the top marginal tax rate there is 12 percent as opposed to the United States’ newly increased top rate of 39.6 percent. That meant that Pacquiao pocketed an extra 28 cents on the dollar, a not insubstantial amount and especially appealing to anyone facing his burgeoning tax problems.
Somebody on the conference call asked if Pacquiao would consider fighting in New York City, either at Madison Square Garden in midtown Manhattan or Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. Pacquiao said sure, he’d like that, if it made financial sense for him to do so.
That response provided Arum with an opportunity to jump in and explain the tax-code-influenced economics of boxing, which largely dictates who fights whom, and where.
“Manny is a foreign national,” Arum explained. “If he fights in New York, he has to pay state tax, city tax, unincorporated business tax. It comes to 14 percent. Because he’s a foreign national, he can’t take a credit for any of those taxes. The penalty for him fighting in New York (instead of Nevada, which has no state tax), if Manny’s earnings are $20 million, is as much as $3 million.
“It’s conceivable if somebody is going to make up the difference, that we would fight in New York. But why should it come out of (Pacquiao’s) pocket?”
The same rationale helps explain why Floyd Mayweather Jr. is fighting Marcos Madaina at the MGM Grand on May 3, instead of the Barclays Center, which had also sought to host that bout.
When Pacquiao fought Rios, someone – uh, that would be me – suggested he would have to overcome the “mother of all distractions,” namely Typhoon Haiyan, which had struck the northern Philippines on Nov. 7, killing 5,000 of “Pac-Man’s” countrymen and leaving hundreds of thousands more homeless, hungry and desperate.
Perhaps Pacquiao’s concentration is so riveted on Bradley that the dark tax cloud that is hovering over his head won’t be the granddaddy of all distractions, and one that could prove more nettlesome than that which drifted in with Haiyan. But Bradley is a better overall fighter than Rios, and Pacquiao is 35, after all, an age when the reflexes of many elite fighters slow just enough to make a difference.
The only thing that seems absolutely certain at this point is that Pacquiao will not enter the ring to the sounds of George Harrison’s amplified voice singing of the Taxman reaching deep into his pocket.