Of all the years I’ve been following the sport of boxing, I’ve never once accused a fighter to “make a mockery of the sport,” but after the farce of a championship fight on November 13 between Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito, I can honestly say that Manny Pacquiao is making a mockery of the sport.
This isn’t to say that the fight wasn’t exciting; both fighters put on one hell of a blood-n-guts performance, but what most fight fans don’t realize is that the fight stunk from the beginning, reeking with catchweights and paper titles in a division where neither guy really deserved a title shot in the first place.
When Sergio Martinez vacated his 154lb championship for opportunities in a division north, he left a power vacuum, an opportunity for two contenders to battle it out for what is traditionally referred to in boxing as a “paper title,” or a title that was not earned by beating the legitimate belt holder. Normally, this vacant spot at the top is contended between the #1 and #2 ranked fighter in that division by the sanctioning body, in this case the World Boxing Council (WBC).
But instead of having the fight between the two next in line, the WBC decided to sanction a bout between Manny Pacquiao, a fighter who had never campaigned in the 154lb division and Antonio Margarito, who most recently came off a lackluster performance against the unranked Roberto Garcia in the same weight class. Hardly resumes (or lack thereof) that warrant a title shot.
Additionally, Margarito spent one year in exodus after being caught for attempted use of illegal handwraps in his bout against Shane Mosley. It makes you wonder why out of all the fighters in the division, Team Pacquiao chose an undeserving fighter with a history of cheating.
On top of that, the fight was sanctioned at yet another catchweight of 150lbs, where Pacquiao not only came in under the limit of 150, but in a completely different weight class, tipping the scales at 144.6 lbs during the weigh-in, which begs the question: why not just fight at the welterweight division of 147? If you want to be considered the 154lb champion, why not let your opponents come in at the weight that is traditionally stipulated by the rules of boxing?
This isn’t to say catchweights have never been done in the history of boxing. Sugar Ray Leonard made Donny Lalonde suck down to 168lbs and awkwardly contend for both the middleweight championship and the light heavyweight championship at the same time. But just because it happened in the past, doesn’t make it excusable or any less asinine.
And finally, how many people actually gave Margarito a chance to win? Most ringside critics and boxing observers saw the fight as a mismatch, confused as to why a relatively inactive fighter who suffered a brutal KO loss against his last significant opponent was getting a shot at the supposed pound-for-pound king. After all, “champion” implies the best of the class, which means fighting the toughest opponents in their top shape and taking on competitive bouts that one could potentially lose, something that Manny Pacquiao is currently not doing.
But to be fair, much of the blame rests in the hands of his handlers, not Pacquiao himself. I’m not upset at the possibility of Pacquiao being the best, but the fact that they are preventing Pacquiao from being the best. Imagine if after Pacquiao manhandled Ricky Hatton at 140, he stayed around to fight the likes of Nate Campbell, Joel Casamayor, or Juan Diaz. Imagine if he took on the young lions of the division: the Bradleys, Khans and Alexanders of the world. Imagine if he cleared the air of doubt in his controversial decisions against Juan Manuel Marquez. Just imagine.
But Pacquiao and his handlers aren’t giving us that opportunity. They are instead handpicking opponents at higher weight classes with exploitable handicaps (or creating those handicaps by setting catchweights), and snatching tainted titles to parade around as legitimate endeavors. They are taking what could be a great fighter and instead making a sideshow out of his accomplishments, mocking both his abilities and the integrity of boxing. They are more interested in the façade of legacy rather than establishing a true legacy and all boxing fans, Pacquiao fans included, should be upset.