A Battle of Redemption

(This was originally submitted as a requirement for my Sports Journalism class, J196, when we were asked to write a sports column.)

When the two fighters square off April 13, it won’t be just another big fight for them. For Manny Pacquiao, it is a shot at redeeming the loss he suffered in 2012 against his current opponent. For Timothy Bradley, it is a chance to prove that he really can beat Pacquiao, after their first tiff ended controversially.

As for me, I’m still waiting for the Pacman to unleash his inner animal; the instinct that brought him the fame and fortune. The instinct that made him almost undefeated in close to a decade. The instinct that allowed him to topple Mexican pugilists Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, and Antonio Margarito, Puerto Rican Miguel Cotto, and Brit Ricky Hatton.

The instinct that, sadly, has been missing since 2010.

His last win by knockout or TKO came in November 2009 against Miguel Cotto, where he won via 12th round TKO.

But after that, beginning with his next bout, the Joshua Clottey snoozefest, Manny Pacquiao won fights by decision. It became the norm. He still is a very elusive fighter, very quick, very agile. He still had the high-level skill set enough for him to remain at least a top-five pound-for-pound boxer.

But he hasn’t finished anyone since Cotto.

How many times has it been reported in the news that Pacquiao will win via knockout in x number of rounds?

Rappler reported last week that Pacquiao’s sparring partner Julian Rodriguez predicted a fifth round knockout for the Saranggani province congressman. In Manny’s previous fight against Brandon Rios, Freddie Roach said the Filipino will triumph in six rounds. He won the fight, but he did so via unanimous decision. He didn’t even get a knockdown.

In his previous fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, his trainer predicted a win for him, tweeting, “See @MannyPacquiao put the rivalry to rest with a KO.” He didn’t specify a round, but he saw a win in sight.

We all know how that turned out: Manny’s worst loss after eating a solid counter right hook from Marquez which resulted in a knockout.

Even Roach himself said after the Rios fight that Manny could have won via knockout or TKO, but Pacquiao took it easy in round 12. The article’s headline was “No KO? ‘Pacquiao’s compassion got in the way – Roach’”.

Manny’s string of lacklustre performances – at least by Manny Pacquiao standards – has led analysts and other boxers, most notably the pompous Floyd Mayweather Jr., to write him off, to call him washed up, a has-been, a shell of his former self. They’ve said that the sun is setting on Manny Pacquiao’s career.

I see two reasons for the decline: one is age, the other is politicking. Reason number 2 seems most plausible.

Maybe the compassion he has shown for his opponents since 2010 is linked with his being a congressman. Who would want a public official who pulverizes and knocks people unconscious? Perhaps Manny was trying to preserve that image. Look at his timeline of fights. His run of underwhelming fights began the year he won a seat in Congress. It couldn’t have been age because it would be too fast a decline if age were the reason.

Politics turned Pacquiao from one-man wrecking crew, out to crush all who stand in his way, to a too-nice guy. He might be forgetting that fans are entertained by knockouts and TKOs, not lopsided unanimous decision wins. Close contests, those that may go either fighter’s way, are fun to watch as well, but those are the most controversial fights. One only has to look at Pacquiao’s history with Marquez.

A win is a win, anyway it comes. But right now, Manny Pacquiao needs a definitive win because he is at that stage where he has a lot to prove: that he is still a legitimate top pound-for-pound fighter, that he still has that killer instinct, and that he is the rightful winner of his 2012 robbery versus Timothy Bradley.

For Bradley, a definitive win is needed, or else he will just be a fighter who had his win over Pacquiao handed to him, who didn’t really win their previous encounter

For Pacquiao, a knockout alone will be his redemption ticket.

Come April 13, it will be a battle of redemption.

The Marquez Moment

Fighting is not about who’s better heading into the fight, or who’s better during that day. It’s about who’s better at every moment.

Yup, fighting is about getting the upper hand during split seconds of battle. A few years back, I was watching this show on National Geographic called Fight Science. And by the end of the series, that was what one expert said regarding fighting.

I couldn’t help but think back to that statement when I heard the news that Manny Pacquiao lost to longtime nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez. By knockout. No, that wouldn’t suffice. By KNOCKOUT.

I always had this idea that Pacquiao, being the once-in-a-lifetime living legend that he is, will also lose once in a lifetime. And I never thought he would lose this way. That travesty of a loss to Timothy Bradley was not enough, perhaps. Because that wasn’t really a loss. But his fight before that, JMM-Pacquiao III, should have been a loss.

As Rasheed Wallace says, ball don’t lie — or in this case, glove don’t lie.

I didn’t get the chance to see the fight live. What I did get to see, though, were copious amounts of Twitter updates from regular viewers like my friends, to news agencies like ANC and Inquirer, to Yahoo! Sports’ Kevin Iole. I saw serious tweets, objective tweets, funny tweets, pro- and anti-Pacquiao tweets. I saw tweets from those who complained because they couldn’t watch, I saw tweets from indifferent people.

My point is, I was very much updated with what was happening.

Check this info out from Interaksyon, showing the punch stats of the fight. Manny connected on 94 punches compared to Marquez’s 52, 26 to 11 on jabs, and 68 to 41 on power punches. Pacquiao, based on punch stats, was clearly ahead.

The difference was that JMM landed the more important power shots of the fight by knocking Pacquiao down in the 3rd round and finishing him off in the 6th.

Remember how NatGeo said that fights depend on who’s better during the moment?

To support the fact that Pacquiao was ahead in the fight, I read this from Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports:

Pacquiao was ahead and the judges saw it that way. Even my Twitter feed said so. I saw a lot of tweets saying Pacquiao was controlling the fight, that he was storming, that he was more aggressive. And that got him ahead in points. He even brought Marquez to the canvas in the fifth round.

But come the sixth, both fighters traded blows. Being the counterpuncher that he is, Marquez ducked under to let Pacquiao’s right hook go astray. And he let a looping right hook go, all his weight behind it, leaned in to Pacquiao. A hard right counter haymaker lands flush in Pacquiao’s face, sending the eight-division world champion face-first into the mat, a knockdown eerily similar to the way he knocked Ricky Hatton out.

During that brief moment, that split second of trading blows, Marquez was the better man. If there is any sport where single moments cause big changes, it is boxing.

The knockout not only changed the fight (and a possible contender for KO of the year). It may have changed Manny Pacquiao’s stellar career as well.

Pacquiao Robbed of Deserved Win

It’s a bit too late to write about Manny Pacquiao’s fight. But I will, anyway.

It was a robbery! (Do I still need to narrate what happened?)

Look,  I don’t mind Pacquiao losing. He lost his last fight versus Marquez. That was clear. But the judges gave him the victory, anyway. This despite being CLEARLY outworked by Marquez. That was a gift to Pacquiao.

I watched both fights here in the basketball court near our house. Before the final bell rang, one gets to feel the expected outcome of the public. In the Marquez fight, the area gave off a “Talo si Pacquiao” vibe. In his latest fight, the opposite was felt. The pulse of the people said Pacquiao won. Based on what I saw, Pacquiao won, though not definitively (that’s another topic altogether).

But the people don’t call the shots. If the results of boxing bouts were a government, it would be an oligarchy, with three judges controlling the results. No, it’s not a democracy. The watching masses have no say whatsoever on the result. They just have to accept it.

And since they call the shots, they judge based on what they see, in the same way as the viewers judge based on what they see and what they feel.

The problem is we don’t see the same thing. Judges sit in one place. They see the action from one angle and one angle alone for every second of the 36 minutes Pac and Bradley fought.

Not so for us. We have the luxury of seeing the fight from multiple angles and variable camera heights. We have the benefit of instant replays, slow-mo footages, and highlights. We have the upper-hand in audio because, while they can hear the crowd clearer, they don’t have commentators who give their view on what is happening in the ring.

I don’t exactly know what boxing’s standards are for a fighter to win a round, but in the UFC, the 10-point must scoring system is based on “effective striking, effective grappling, aggression, and octagon control”. When I watch a boxing match, I look mainly at effective striking and aggression. Pacquiao, I thought, wasn’t as aggressive as Bradley. The way I saw it, Bradley was starting most of the exchanges (take note on the emphasis at starting), but doesn’t follow through with it. In terms of aggression, I thought Bradley won the fight.

While he was aggressive, he wasn’t very effective with striking. In the end, Pacquiao ended up the better boxer: rounds ended with him winning the exchanges. These melees happen because Bradley was attacking Manny, but Manny’s defensive prowess shined as the American’s offense connected less than the Filipino’s defense did.

Based on these criteria, I gave to Bradley the rounds where Pacquiao did not land clean, crisp, head shots. I don’t think there were more than four or five of these rounds at the most. Pacquiao clearly won. It was a robbery.

Then again, I had the help of instant replay at the end of rounds. Also the commentary from Mario Lopez and friend.

In defense of the judges, maybe they saw something which we pay-per-viewers didn’t see. Maybe from down there, Bradley won. Maybe the judges were Americans and wouldn’t let an Asian beat them in boxing, the way they Asians are beating Americans in many areas. Maybe they were paid. Maybe the fight was fixed.

Whatever they saw, hmm, I can’t find the right words. I can just shake my head in disappointment.

Just like in a trial, where one is innocent until proven guilty, same goes in boxing. One must take, grab, seize the belt from the champion, not wait for the belt to be given to him. The challenger must be definitively, doubtlessly better than the champion. Today, Timothy Bradley fought better than most of Pacquiao’s previous opponents. But he did not do enough to win the belt. And that, for me, is what makes this split decision an absolutely horrendous decision.

A boxing robbery at its highest form.

Bullish Marquez, Sunny Pacquiao

The 1993 NBA Finals provides me with one image I'll forever remember and attribute to the Chicago Bulls' repeat three-peat in the 90s. That is the visual of John Paxson receiving a pass from Horace Grant and getting an assist from the defense with a wide-open three-pointer. It proved to be the game-winner, and a series-clincher as the Chicago Bulls beat the Phoenix Suns.

After that dagger, Phoenix called for a timeout. I remember seeing Dan Majerle in utter confusion of what just happened. They expected Michael Jordan to take the final shot, to try and win the game for Chicago. Nope. Instead, it was John Paxson who did.

The Suns were blindsided by the Bulls' decision, and a very wise decision at that.

The play was designed perfectly. The Bulls moved the ball around: Jordan to Scottie Pippen, to a cutting Horace Grant, then back out to John Paxson.

It caught the Suns off guard and the Bulls capitalized. Championship number three.

*****
Manny Pacquiao lost his fight against Juan Manuel Marquez. At least that was how everyone saw it except the judges. It was a robbery. Marquez deserved to win that belt, that fight, and the hearts of everyone.

But what bothers me the most is the amount of flak Pacquiao's been getting. He didn't perform well, he should have been more aggressive, he didn't have speed, he didn't have power. I don't mean to be an apologist for Manny, but here's my take on things.

The first three or four rounds of the fight were really close ones. I was scoring the fight on my own, in my head saying, "I think Pacquiao won that round", or "Maybe Marquez stole that round" at the end of each round. Through the first four rounds, it was really tough to pick a winner after each.

And I believe it was here when he lost his speed. Pacquiao got tagged more in the first few rounds than he did in his 12 rounds with Mosley or with Clottey. After taking those punches, he became tentative with his movements and with his punches.

And after losing some rounds here and there early in the fight, he lost confidence. He became more cautious, becoming more reserved about throwing punches he usually dishes out. He respects the power and the skill of Marquez.

But what really got him beat was the overall game of Marquez. He was more accurate with his shots based on what I saw on the screen (not what CompuBox saw). He landed cleaner shots. He even cut Manny above the eye, something that rarely happens to the defending champion.

*****
Marquez fought like those '93 Bulls, while Pacquiao, the '93 Suns. During their fight, as boxing analyst Ronnie Nathanielsz said, Manny didn't have a Plan B. They didn't expect Marquez to perform that well, and when he did, that left Manny guessing. That wasn't what he prepared for.

Like the Bulls did to the Suns in that series-clinching Game 6, Marquez confused Pacquiao.

If there was anyone to blame for Manny's dismal performance, it may probably be Freddie Roach for not scouting the opponent well. Nathanielsz said it best this afternoon. Nacho Beristain, trainer of Marquez, had a gameplan that evolved as the fight went on. He had an answer for everything thrown Marquez's way. It was on-the-fly coaching at its best.

Roach was telling Manny they were losing, but what was Manny to do? His gameplan clearly wasn't working. The orders of his corner seemed like they weren't too effective. The Marquez they prepared for did not show up. What they got instead was an even better version, one who was quicker, stronger, and more accurate.

Just like the Suns, who weren't prepared for a John Paxson shot, so was Team Pacquiao caught off-guard by a superior Juan Manuel Marquez.

The boxer, in a fight, can only prepare himself when it comes to the physical aspects of the match: his conditioning, his lifestyle, his diet, et cetera. But when it comes to strategy, the coaching staff is liable for it. The failure of Roach to prepare Manny, or at least a gameplan to counteract whatever Marquez throws at them, almost cost Pacquiao his belt.

While Manny may be held accountable for some errors on his part, a bigger portion of the blame must go to Roach and the rest of his training team or coaches.

Some say Pacquiao failed to prepare for the fight. His body looked great. The gameplan was not effective. And it is the coaches' responsibility to build a strategy to help their fighter win.

Stop blaming Manny. He did what he can, he fought a good, exciting fight. He didn't win decisively, and I still believe he didn't win the fight. But he doesn't deserve all the blame he's been getting. Marquez was just the better boxer, and Beristain was just the better trainer.