There are two key points to make regarding the event staged in Macau, China last night. The first involves extolling the fighting virtues of Manny Pacquiao. Against a seven-to-one underdog in Chris Algieri, Pacquiao had a field day, performing with the relaxed confidence of a master sniper in a fairground shooting gallery. The Filipino’s blinding handspeed, high-activity rate, pin-point accuracy and accomplished footwork clearly exposed the relative deficiencies of not only the challenger, but also of his inexperienced and misguided corner team. Scoring six knock downs en route to the widest decision he has ever earned, Pacquiao made it clear that, even at age 35, he remains one of the two best welterweights on the planet and an elite prizefighter all around.
The second point to make is that such a dominant display can only happen when one of the top talents in the sport clashes with an unworthy foe. As clear-minded and eloquent as he is, Chris Algieri should be the first to admit—if only post-facto—that he never really belonged in the same ring as Manny Pacquiao. And no matter how badly Max Kellerman and Jim Lampley tried to rationalize the encounter during the broadcast last night, a large number of fight fans knew from the moment the match was signed that the encounter was little more than a cash grab designed to part Asian punters and PPV buyers with their money.
We pointed out more than a year ago that Manny Pacquiao’s career ran the risk of being derailed in precisely this way. When we first learned of Pacquiao’s Macau debut, which occurred against Brandon Rios a year ago, we wrote:
“If successful, the Macau event will give way to more such occasions in which Pacquiao faces not-quite-elite talents in winnable, amusing encounters that generate some much needed income for Top Rank.”
Twelve months later, here we are, with another uncompetitive fight, with fans taking turns adulating Pacquiao and deriding his level of opposition, with the hardcore aficionados wondering when, if ever again, will we see Manny facing a genuine threat. Last night in China, the skill gap between Pacquiao and Algieri was so vast, all that was missing was the champion turning to the audience and quoting Maximus Decimus Meridius: “Are you not entertained? Is this not why you are here?”
Unlike Russell Crowe’s character, however, Pacquiao is not jaded to the degree that he would show contempt for his audience or his prey. Not yet, anyway. This despite the fact Algieri may well have been the most accommodating rival Manny has ever faced. For twelve rounds, Pacquiao stalked as Algieri backpedaled, with the Filipino firing away with sharp combinations and accurate power punches. His left hand missile exploded often on the American’s face, and his right hook rocked Algieri’s world on more than one occasion.
Out of the six knockdowns, two were blamed by Algieri and the HBO crew on the wet, slippery canvas, but this argument was rendered moot by Algieri’s inability to win a single round, doing little offensively or otherwise. Infrequent right hand leads landed on Pacquiao’s face, but they did little to dampen Manny’s offensive showcase. Lacking the tools to compete against an elite talent, Algieri’s valiance in rising from the canvas and from his stool every single time, when he could’ve easily chosen to check out, should be commended. The 30-year-old challenger earned his paycheck with his bravery, if with nothing else.
Regardless, if someone is going to emerge shamed from the Algieri debacle, it won’t be Chris himself. He took a fight against Manny Pacquiao for the biggest purse of his career, which is something most people in his position would do. He got thoroughly dominated for it, but there is no shame in losing to a talent like Pacquiao, and all those left crosses and right hooks he absorbed last night should be more than enough retribution for his daring.
While it would make sense to take all the blame for the Pacquiao vs Algieri mismatch and split it into two equal-sized giant boxes, wrap them up, and ship one each to HBO Sports and to Bob Arum’s residence, the truth of the matter is this isn’t the first time the network and the promoter have staged a money grabber, and it certainly won’t be the last. And anyway, the only sound these entities with so much power over professional boxing pay attention to is the cling and clang of the cash register. Going by the crowd that gathered in Cotai, that register was ringing all night long.
So that leaves us with Tim Lane, Algieri’s trainer, who last night emerged as a comedic genius thanks to a particularly perverse combination of timing and delusion. After nine rounds of one-sided domination, despite the HBO crew’s desperate attempts to paint the bout in a competitive light, Max Kellerman brought Lane to the booth for an interview, trying to squeeze an explanation out of him as to why Algieri was doing so badly. “Chris is going to put him to sleep in a few minutes… I’m gonna let him out of his cage,” the trainer said, apparently with a straight face, just as Pacquiao sent Algieri to the canvas with yet another left hand missile to the jaw.
Some will argue it’s wrong to revel in the misfortunes of others, especially when they were just trying to do their jobs under dire circumstances. After all, it’s obvious Team Algieri overestimated their charges’ qualities almost as much as they underestimated Pacquiao’s. Nevertheless, Pacquiao’s domination of Algieri left many hardcore fans with a bitter aftertaste that must be chased down with something, anything. Lane’s pathetically optimistic comments are there for the taking, and we choose to take them, because to do otherwise would leave no one to mock, no one to blame, no one to point the finger to.
And this would inevitably lead to introspection, leaving fight fans with the annoying feeling that perhaps us, the spectators, are also responsible for this excuse of a fight. Once again, we bought into the hype, we tuned in with a faint twinkle in our eyes, harboring the weakest of hopes that maybe this time would be different, only to get burned again. By night’s end we tuned out in disgust, just like we did when Pacquiao fought Clottey, and Margarito, and Mosley, and Rios. Algieri now takes his place in that list of unnecessary mismatches, which won’t stop unless we stop indulging our irrational expectation of a fair fight between a mauling lion and a three-legged gazelle.
Until the PPV numbers arrive we won’t know for sure how many of us actually indulged. But anything resembling a healthy number will surely give way to the next such match. “We’re talking to Mayweather,” Pacquiao’s team will say. “If he gets the knockout, Floyd will have no choice but to fight him now!” the media will cry. Maybe Pacquiao will film another TV ad flashing his million-dollar smile taunting Floyd, or he’ll start blogging at www.IWantMayweather.com, or Arum will once again assure us he was lying yesterday but today he’s telling the truth. Maybe Lampley will break down in tears in his next episode of “The Fight Game” as he exhorts the parties involved to finally get the match made.
And that’s fine, as they would only be doing their jobs. People have to make a living, after all. But we shouldn’t allow ourselves off the hook so easily. The Pacquiao and Mayweather industries feed off each other, and both are fueled by fans’ longing for The One That Never Was. As long as we keep paying attention and giving them our dollars, the Mayweather and Pacquiao circuses will keep rolling, laying waste to yet more undeserving challengers and wasting our Saturday nights. It’s something worth keeping in mind. –Rafael García