Thursday, May 7, 2015

What I Gained from Watching Mayweather vs. Pacquiao: Part I

I waited in line for over two hours. I spent $30 cash just to get in the sports bar. My brother, his friend and I had to fend for any reasonable form of seating. Many people deemed the "Fight of the Century" a complete flop. But, knowing what we all know now—would I watch Mayweather vs Paquiao again? Absolutely. Here's why...

1. The narrative: I've heard that boxing and baseball carry the best narratives in all of sports writing. With baseball there's time—due to pace of play, and space—162 games, to let a story unfold. In boxing, there's one man versus another. There is the build-up and the break-down (perhaps that's another reason I love sports). And so the story begins. 

As someone who has avoided "fight night" in the past, I suddenly felt as though I couldn't hide from all the pre-game hype. The buzz was exciting and carried many different charges to it. As I began to catch on, I found it impossible to close my ears to a multi-layered story. I asked a few questions, I got some basic answers and what I unearthed is better than fiction. The leading roles—played by Mayweather and Pacquaio is so rich, it's hard to believe it hasn't been scripted. 

In one corner, you have the classic underdog in Manny Pacquiao. Pac-Man grew up in the southern most point of the Philippines. He came from absolutely nothing, but for the Grace of God he found a sport that requires not much more. He's so good, the sport took him first to Manilla, then to the U.S. via San Francisco. (Reason #1 to cheer for him). He heads south on a Greyhound Bus to Los Angeles where he meets Freddie Roach, his trainer of 25 years. Roach, a surrogate father-figure to Pacquiao suffers from Parkinson's Disease, which is quite pronounced in the 25 years he has had it. Did I mention he's a lefty? ...(Reason #2)

The narrative of what some deemed to be "Fight of the Millennium!" (really?!) is captured in HBO Sports' Mayweather/Pacquiao At Last. It's HBO Sports at it finest—capturing footage of both boxers past and present. Narrated by Liev Schreiber, the stories within the story are punctuated by footage of past fights, music and testimonials from both "teams." To me however, the most captivating chapter is the one that features Freddie Roach inside his home in Los Angeles (start at 32:40). The viewer has already caught glimpses of what this former boxer/now trainer once looked like. It is striking and humbling to see and hear him share what meds he must take and when. Roach appears weakened, but he remains resilient. He still goes into the rink with Pacquiao to take the hits, he still oversees The Wild Card Boxing Gym—a place I want to go the next time I am in Los Angeles—and he still believes he knows what it will take for his guy to win.

David Bowie's "Under Pressure" underscores as Roach transitions on a typical day from home to work. And it also sets the tone for his calculated and careful movements. It's moving that I decided to share it with a co-worker who also has Parkinson's. I wanted her to see what someone can do with this debilitating disease. His strength, conviction and passion gave her hope. That's what a good story can do....
And in the other corner of the ring stands Floyd "Money" Mayweather, Jr. He declared himself to be the greatest of all time. He told Stephen A. Smith "no one can ever brainwash me to make me believe that Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali was better than me. No one could ever brainwash me and tell me that." It can be hard to root for the favorite, especially in a sport like boxing. It's that much harder when his self-appointed superlative is TBE: The Best Ever and when he has a strong history of domestic violence. As written in "The Last Night of Boxing Until the Next One," Mayweather calls his history of DV "allegations." "He has been convicted five times for incidents involving violence against women and served two months in jail in 2012."

The strong majority of women who were interested in the fight, couldn't help but mention this as a moral quandary. Men too. I think Mayweather's father, Floyd Senior agrees. The same article states "he wants Junior to do some soul-searching, to retire, to realize there's nothing left to fight for and no one left to fight. The longer Mayweather's career has gone, the more his history of DV has come to dominate the narrative, the more public perception has turned against him, the more he finds himself in the one fight—for appreciation of his legacy—that he cannot win."

And the beat goes on....a fight six years in the making, between two men who at 36 and 38 years of age may not have many more fights left in them, if it wasn't the story that drew you in, maybe it was....

2. The questions is raises for me
This will be in the next posting. As will...

3. The art of boxing

4. Why do you do what you do?

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