By: Bill Dwyre* — LAS VEGAS — Let’s be realistic. The sports Richter Scale reading for Saturday night’s MANNY PACQUIAO – TIM BRADLEY boxing match is about a 3.1. There are a few jiggles of interest, but nothing is falling off shelves.
But while you are sweating it out with your favorite baseball team or praying for the right draft choice for your NBA favorites, Pacquiao – Bradley is worth a moment of attention. That’s because, while this may turn out to be a really good fight, it has become a model of athletic humanity and sportsmanship in a game that has thrived for years on a blueprint of the opposite.
Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer and a man of few words, hit it right on the head a few months ago when he said, during yet another stop in a seemingly interminable promotion, “There is no villain in this fight.”
At the time, it seemed like an ordinary statement. Play nicey, nicey until it gets closer to the time to start throwing punches, both verbal and literal. But as time has passed, and with the fight just three days away, Roach’s quote might as well be the slogan hung up in huge letters over the MGM Grand ring.
Wednesday brought more proof. They held a news conference and a lovefest broke out.
If you have covered boxing for many years, this was jolting. The very core of the sport is conflict, anger and greed. To even write about it in another light is stunning to a comfort zone that has always leaned on sarcasm and cynicism. Muhammad Ali called Joe Frazier an Uncle Tom. Mike Tyson threw punches at his opponent at news conferences; then bit off a portion of Evander Holyfield’s ear in a fight. Floyd Mayweather Jr. approached fights with three axioms: Hate the other guy, flaunt your money and win at all costs.
Bob Arum, Top Rank Promotion’s chief, may have had Mayweather in mind when he said at Wednesday’s session, “There is no wise guy here. Both are down-to earth people.
This is a sport that would have sent Mother Teresa, screaming into a cave to do penance on its behalf. But she certainly would have emerged here Wednesday, refreshed with hope.
It has been mind-blowing for a few weeks now. But moments before the proceedings began, it reached new levels. There were Bradley and Pacquiao, standing on stage, chatting each other up like two old fishing buddies. How’re the kids?…Have you been to that new restaurant on the Strip?…What did you think about Trump getting beat in Wisconsin?…
This sort of socialization doesn’t occur in boxing. Nor in most sports.
It brought to mind the quote from the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, when huge tackle Jerome Brown led a walkout of his Miami teammates from a promotional dinner with their opponent, famously saying: “Did the Japanese go sit down and have dinner with Pearl Harbor before they bombed them?”
Here were Pacquiao and Bradley, three days from attempting to commit mayhem on each other’s bodies, defying their sport’s tried-and-true practices. To be ready to punch and slug and eventually win, you have to hate. Or at least dislike.
These two don’t. They have lives. They are adults who act like it. Even Pacquiao’s strange and misguided statement a few weeks ago about gays and lesbians seemed driven by religion and culture, more than animosity.
In various gatherings with the media, both spoke articulately about life. At this stage of most promotions, the topics are only left hooks and who has the most guts.
Pacquiao talked about his first fight as a pro, where he earned $20 dollars and had to take a three-hour boat ride to get there. He remembered his first fight in Las Vegas, when the ring announcer couldn’t pronounce his name. He recalled how, as barely a teenager, he became the family breadwinner. “I needed to send my brother to school,” he said. “There were days when there was no food, so I had to find enough water to stay alive.”
Bradley told of fighting in ballrooms the size of the one he was now speaking in, and hoping they could squeeze in a couple thousand people. “I started fighting four-rounders for $800,” he said.
Pacquiao repeated, almost as if nobody had been listening, that his desire that this be his last fight is driven by family. “My mother has been after me for three years now to retire,” he said. “I just want to stay humble, and live with my family.”
Bradley talked — make that gushed — about the role his wife/manager/confidant/best friend has played in all this. He said he is amazed at how Monica Bradley can be up at 2 a.m., paying bills, and have a one-year-old who doesn’t sleep well at night and be getting the other four kids to school the next day. “She has a lot of common sense, business sense,” he said. “I’m just a boxer.”
Normally, the boxers’ speeches at the formal function run about two minutes and focus on thanking God and Arum, not necessarily in that order. Bradley’s was ten minutes of eloquent perspective, more about life and good fortune than left jabs and game plans for bloodying his opponent. He ended by saying that Pacquiao was the kind of humanitarian who deserves to be elected a senator in the upcoming Philippine election. He endorsed him to become “governor of the Philippines,” but the title mis-statement was nowhere near as important as the sentiment behind it.
Pacquiao, similarly eloquent, said the Philippine people knew his story of poverty-to-podium and hoped it would be inspirational to them. He called Bradley a good person and a much-improved boxer.
Then Arum, who in his next life as a baseball player will be a closer, wrapped it up by telling the story about Pacquiao buying outboard motors for an entire Philippine fishing fleet, so the fishermen would not have to take long hours rowing out to the prime deep-water tuna banks.
“If you’ve been to the Philippines,” Arum said, “you know how much Manny gives back. The social welfare system in the Philippines ought to be called the Manny Pacquiao.”
Having heard all this; how does one root? This is, after all, Peyton Manning versus Aaron Rogers. What’s not to like?
A hotly contested fight, maybe one knockdown each, that thrills the fans, leaves them feeling they got their money’s worth, and brings a judging draw. That would allow Pacquiao to retire with the honor and legacy of a great effort and great career, and Bradley to carry on for a few more big-money fights as Top Rank’s star, knowing that his legacy will include a record of 1-1-1 against one of the best fighters of the era.
Nobody roots for a draw, and it won’t happen, of course.
But we can dream.
The Grand Arrival
By: Bill Dwyre * LAS VEGAS — My bucket list is now complete. I saw a boxing Grand Arrival. I used to work for a newspaper where the old sports editor frowned on such frivolity and didn’t allow his reporters to waste time and money on such things. They would be allowed to report to Las Vegas for the big matches, such as Saturday’s MANNY PACQUIAO – TIM BRADLEY battle, the day after the Grand Arrivals.
What is a Grand Arrival, you may ask?
You also may ask, did Derek Jeter make a Grand Arrival before every Yankee game he played?
And what if nobody shows for the Grand Arrival? Does that make it a Goofed Arrival?
A free man now, clear of the chains of journalistic stubbornness and misguided attempts at common sense and fiscal responsibility of that old sports editor, I decided to go Tuesday, to be there in the warmth and excitement of the main lobby of the MGM Grand Hotel. The big boxing ring was there. So was the big MGM lion, sitting prominently in the middle.
Ah, a little cross promotion (wink, wink).
And there were fans everywhere, stacked four and five deep behind barriers. The barriers had MGM Grand signs on them. A little more cross promotion (wink, wink).
Everybody had a camera, or at least a cell phone with a camera. People were taking pictures of themselves with blown up balloons painted as Tecate beer bottles. The real trending thing was taking selfies of people taking selfies. There is a line here about the need to get a life, but that would sound too much like a curmudgeon. And that was not me. I was there, at the Grand Arrival, trying to be trending, too.
There was music. Loud music. No sporting event can take place these days without it. By the year 2030, we will have an entire generation of deaf people, and doctors will be baffled by this, until they find out they were all sports fans. Until the Grand Arrival boxing stars made their grand arrivals, the star was the ringside disc jockey in jeans and head phones, who, so expertly made Adele morph into Jay-Z, all at high decibels.
The noise helped build the excitement for what was to come, whatever that was. The most content person on the premises was the promoter of this grand fight, Top Rank’s top gun, Bob Arum. He was content because he only hears well out of one ear.
There was other, less-significant activity taking place in the lobby of this gigantic hotel, things such as people checking in. They would walk into the middle of this and eyes would open wide. You could almost guess the conversation: “Hey, Millie. This sure ain’t what it was like when we checked into that Holiday Inn in Keokuk last year.”
The Tecate girls were there, as they are everywhere during these promotions. And I never fail to feel sorry for them, because they clearly aren’t allowed to eat in the days preceding these big fights, plus the outfits they are made to wear have been left in the dryer too long and don’t seem to cover those areas that are usually covered. But then, in show biz, as we all too well know, equipment malfunctions do happen. Right, Janet Jackson?
The Grand Arrivals, for those of you who intelligently pay no attention to such things, are merely each boxer walking into the MGM lobby. They actually made their un-grand arrivals the day before and went quietly to their hotel rooms. This, presumably, makes it official, that they are in town. But then, we shouldn’t really have had to worry about that, seeing that Pacquiao has been guaranteed $20 million for this fight and Bradley $4 million. Not a lot of chance for no-shows there.
Bradley arrived first and freneticism broke out. People were taking selfies with people who had taken selfies of people who had tried to take a selfie with Bradley. He marched in and slowly made his way in a circle around the ring, engulfed by security guards, TV cameras, pretend TV cameras and selfie hopefuls. He did a long interview with people manning the TV cameras and pretend TV cameras, but it was so noisy that nobody could really hear, nor could he say anything that he hasn’t already said in the last two months.
Yes, the sad essence was that this was a no-news Grand Arrival, which, presumably, is no different than any other Grand Arrival. But it quenched the thirst of gawking and selfie-taking that is an epidemic these days.
Bradley and his trainer, Teddy Atlas, went off to meet a small gathering of reporters, the majority of whom had shown veteran savvy by skipping the noise and just going directly to the interview room.
With Bradley gone, Pacquiao made his Grand Arrival with trainer Freddie Roach nearby. And everything — noise, music, fan gushing — was multiplied by two.
The post-Grand-Arrivals press gatherings broke some new ground, with Bradley and Atlas talking about noticing the huge Ferris wheel near the Strip, so cleverly named the High Roller, and Atlas seeing it as kind of a symbol of his fighter taking on Pacquiao for a third time. The first time you see the wheel, it is bigger and imposing and scarier than it really is, especially after you have already ridden it twice.
Pacquiao told reporters he had had a dream before his disappointing loss a year ago to Floyd Mayweather Jr. and in that dream, he had lost. He was evasive when asked if he had a dream about this fight. Roach said, “I dream he wins by knockout.”
Arum ended the proceedings in a perfectly fitting way, with a political non-sequitur no less head-scratching than the two hours of Grand Arrivals, which brought much sound and fury and signified nothing.
Never missing an opportunity to make a pitch for the election of Hillary Clinton, Arum said it was perfect that he had German boxer Arthur Abraham on the undercard because Abraham came from a country whose president is a woman, Angela Merkel, and Abraham’s presence would show that a woman can be our president.
As the late, great Los Angeles radio star, Jim Healy, used to say, I don’t make ‘em up, pally.