Earlier this month, trainer and de facto spokesperson for eight-division champion Manny Pacquiao, Freddie Roach, dismissed Chris Algieri as a “boxer who has a good jab, but is nothing special. Pacquiao is going to have to press him a bit and will probably knock him out.”
If the pre-fight hype follows form, you can expect Roach to beat the kayo drum louder and louder in the coming weeks as the fight draws near. Equal parts coach and boxing holy man, Roach preaches knockouts to Pacquiao’s flock of fists.
But the sheep have gone astray.
The hype pattern from Freddie is firmly established during the Congressman’s stoppage drought that goes all the way back to the November 2009 meeting with Miguel Cotto.
Before Pacman’s last fight against Bradley: "I don't know the Bible well, but I've had people research it for me. There's a lot of war, a lot of violence, a lot of killer instinct in there. It's been four years since he had a knockout, and I told Manny, 'That's why your paydays are getting are lower and the pay-per-view audiences (have dropped off some). That's what people really wanna see, they wanna see knockouts."
To reporters before the Rios fight: “We’ll definitely go for a knockout. Manny still gets what it takes to regain his status and that what we will be proving in this fight against Rios.”
Heading into the fourth fight against Juan Manuel Marquez: “It has to be a knockout. That’s what we are working on in the gym.”
In training for the first fight against Tim Bradley in 2012: “Well I think Manny will have a spectacular win. The fans want to see a knockout; I want to see a knockout.”
And before the third fight with Marquez: “I want Manny to knock him out.”
You get the point.
As fight fans know, even when the boxing gods smile upon us and give us good judges, decisions can be problematic. Truly great stories need solid endings. Countless many of the great fights in boxing history owe their legends to the definitive stoppage that ended them. Before Pacquiao’s power paucity began, he made a name for himself by moving up in weight and taking his power with him against Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, and Miguel Cotto. Since Pacquiao’s banner 2009, his signature moment is lying face down on the canvass from a Juan Manuel Marquez counter right that landed as Manny was moving forward looking for the kill.
A knockout is much more than a statistic; it represents a fighter becoming injured so severely, whether to the body or head, that they become virtually defenseless. In a more callous age, it would signify a pugilist’s total undoing. Now divorced from its macabre history, a knockout is now something a boxer can almost always survive, though not without potentially suffering from concussion or bloody urine. There's no way to sugarcoat the violence of boxing as something other than what it is: a test of mortality.
The reason Freddie Roach won't stop talking knockout is that the human drama of boxing is strongest when there is one. And with compelling drama comes great reward. You have to wonder how much more attention boxing could be getting from casual fans if the two biggest players in the Grand Theater of boxing, Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, were consistently hurting their opponents in the ring.
Almost perfectly coincidental with Pacquiao's apparent mercy inside the ring is his nascent political career in the Philippines. The same year Manny was elected to Congress in 2010, he fought boxing's villain du jour in Antonio Margarito. Outweighing Pacquiao by seventeen pounds on fight night, Margarito greedily ate hundreds of Filipino power punches without going down. In the eleventh round, Pacquiao looked at referee Laurence Cole twice as if to say, “You're going to let this happen?” In the twelfth, Pacquiao appeared to carry Margarito, granting the Mexican who has been busted in 2009 for using plaster of Paris in his hand wraps a sporting reprieve from the punishment many believed he justly deserved. During the broadcast, HBO's Jim Lampley observed: “This is not Manny Pacquiao the fighter. This is Manny Pacquiao the Congressman, Manny Pacquiao the cultural icon, Manny Pacquiao the citizen of the world.”
One must remember that the reason the Filipino Fist started his career at flyweight was mostly due to malnourishment. Manny's world has turned inside out in the meantime; it's only natural that his relationship to very vehicle of his success would have changed too. His most recent fight against Tim Bradley was something of a work of art despite his inability to knock Tim Bradley down. The greatest offensive fighter of the era is still hungry to perform well despite his inability to land the big one.
Of course Freddie Roach has a financial incentive to promote his biggest client's fights with guarantees of knockouts. But for a guy who lives, sleeps, and breathes boxing the Roach does, his philosophy is bigger than his already stuffed wallet. He wants to remind Pacquiao that he only has one shot to write his legend into fistic history, and each knockout is an exclamation point on the most accomplished résumé in boxing today.
Chris Algieri is a tall, slick boxer with a defensive style that poses a challenge to an aggressive fighter like Pacquiao, and maybe not a prime candidate to bust Manny’s slump. This would not have mattered to the version of Pacquiao circa 2008, who would have knocked almost any fighter out, much less one far below his class like Algieri. That fighter may be gone for good, despite Freddie’s best efforts to summon the fighter back out of the politician.
--- Photo Credit : Chris Farina - Top Rank