10 April 2012
Thanks to the presence of Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao's status as the best boxer on the planet is always up for debate. What can't be questioned is that he's the busiest fighter in the world when he's not actually in the ring.
Pac-Man sings, appears in movies, and owns his own basketball team. He may or may not chase around women who aren't his wife. He serves as a congressman, potentially to set up a presidential bid down the road, and generally does a lot to help the people of the Philippines in any way he can. None of this is news.
Trainer Freddie Roach has gone public with his fears about the non-boxing parts of Manny's life swallowing up the boxing side before, but usually in a way that made it seem like a minor concern instead of a full blown panic. He may have been crying wolf if he had sounded a louder alarm, because through it all, Pacquiao has continued to win. It doesn't feel like it, but as of last month, it's been seven years since Pac-Man last tasted defeat at the hands of Erik Morales - a loss he avenged twice back in 2006.
This time, though, feels different. The news that has broken over the past 24 hours about Pacquiao's charitable foundation getting sued for failure to pay thousands of dollars in shipping charges (and possibly knowingly breaking the rules over what constitutes "relief goods") comes on the heels of other bad news since 2012 began. Namely, that he housed a fugitive and made some "mistakes" with his taxes.
Maybe all of this, too, is no big deal. Longtime fitness coach Alex Ariza made it sound that way, telling Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports that, "Manny is used to distractions and stuff like that," in what may go down as a classic case of understatement. Reports also have Pacquiao giving up betting on cockfights and leaning heavily on his faith. Maybe everything swirling around him is, like people in the Boston Red Sox used to say about mercurial slugger Manny Ramirez (in a somewhat different context, but still), just "Manny being Manny."
Except that for Ramirez, eventually it wasn't. Until Pacquiao loses again, it's easy to say he can handle it all. It won't be until after the fact when we look back and think, "That was finally it. That was the point where it became too much even for Manny to handle." A perfect storm of factors in his personal life gathered together into a career-altering hurricane, and we didn't even realize it until it had already done its damage.
Honestly, upcoming opponent Timothy Bradley may not need the help to pull off the upset. He's a younger, hungry fighter with a style that could prove to be the kryptonite to Pacquiao's Superman. Pac-Man didn't look his best in his last fight, and while that could easily have been the doing of his arch-enemy Juan Manuel Marquez, I'm far from alone in thinking/fearing that it could have been Pacquiao slowing down a step.
Pacquiao really needs to be at his best on June 9, because he can't afford not to be. He's proven his ability to leave all of the craziness that surrounds him outside the ropes in the past. This time it's not something he should do, it's something he has to do.
That seven-year long winning streak depends on it.