Pacman: From hero to cheat?

by Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at May 05 2015 08:44 PM | Updated as of May 06 2015 04:44 AM

With the blinding speed of a knockout punch, cheers for People’s Champ Manny Pacquiao have turned into jeers.

The homecoming parade has been replaced with a scheduled surgery on an injured shoulder. Worse, Pacquiao faces an investigation by Nevada’s attorney-general for dishonesty on the matter of his fitness.

[READ: World Boxing Federation General Medical Guidelines]

For hours following his defeat, Pacquiao fans hailed his valiant, attacking style. They dumped on the American fighter for spending much of fight dancing away from Pacquiao or hugging him to evade the Filipino’s powerful fists.

Complaints about the fight’s outcome – on points, a unanimous win by a big margin for Mayweather – continued even after computers spat out the numbers: Whether in attempts or landed blows, Mayweather led Pacquiao.

The Filipino single-handedly supplied the drama and the flash. But analysts say the number of blows from Pacquiao was below his average performance. Most criticism centered on Pacquiao’s failure to pursue the advantage gained in the fight’s middle rounds, when he rattled Mayweather a couple of times.

Then the Pambansang Kamao (National Fist) came out with a stunner.

Pacquiao told media that he went into the fight with an injury that apparently diminished his lethal powers. Progressively, that story got stranger.

Injury

The world first heard of the injury when Pacquiao appeared post-fight with his arm in a sling.

A tear in his shoulder muscle was discovered three weeks before the fight, he said.

Immediately, critics pounced on him for justifying his defeat once charges that he was robbed of victory could no longer stand.

Then Pacquiao’s camp said they had sought permission for pain-numbing shots, a request thumbed down by the Nevada Athletic Commission. It became a full-blown conspiracy theory when Pacquiao claimed Mayweather knew of his injury and had deliberately attacked his vulnerable point to wear him down. The American boxer, he added, had a spy in the Pacquiao camp.

“Alam niya, ito ang hinahawakan niya,” Pacquiao told reporters Sunday in Las Vegas (Monday morning in Manila), while grabbing his right forearm.

“I’m sure alam niya. Nag-leak ‘yun. Alam nila,” he said.

“Nakita mo ‘yung hinihila niya ‘yung kamay ko? Kasi alam niya. ‘Di ba, hinihila niya?” he also said.

Fraud?

Now, Nevada Athletic Commission chair Francisco Aguilar warns of a state probe.

“Pacquiao checked “no” a day before the fight on a commission questionnaire asking if he had a shoulder injury.”

It’s a serious threat.

“Pacquiao could face a possible fine or suspension for not answering the question accurately on a form he filled out just before Friday’s weigh-in,” says the Associated Press.

The mood has turned ugly.

People who placed bets on Pacquiao (despite bookies favoring Mayweather) are now asking if hiding his injury constitutes “fraud”. There are insinuations that Pacquiao never intended to win.

There is little proof to back this up.

Other critics say Pacquiao should have informed fans early on of his injury. Some sports journalists have also raised the question of ethics — the subtext being, that neither Pacquiao nor his agent, Bob Arum, wanted to give up the big money that came with the Mayweather fight.

Journalists, on the other hand, have been chided for remaining oblivious to the reported injury. As Pacquiao’s training progressed, there were only superlatives about his prowess, his strength, his return of former levels of agility, and that killer instinct coming back.

In fact, most of the questions about fitness were addressed to Mayweather, who was secretive about his regimen. Pacquiao’s every training move, in contrast, seemed to be a party. Except for the real sparring – that was out of bounds to media.

It was the sparring that made the old shoulder injury flare-up on May 2.

Everything since then was bravado and grit (if you love Pacquiao) or a farce (to his critics).

“Naka-focus kami, right hook pero last 3 weeks before the fight, ‘di ko na na-ensayo kanan ko. Training ko bawat araw, kaliwa lang kaya wala pwede manood sa (training camp),” he said.

Spy vs spy

It’s a little hard to take the “Mayweather-had-a-spy” excuse. Every coach worth his compensation scouts the enemy long before D-day.

In elite athletics, where a fraction of a second, a shot, a saved ball or ability to evade harm – and inflict harm – spells the difference between victory and defeat, everybody spies on everyone and his mother. I’d be really disappointed if Roach did not attempt to hook a spy from Mayweather’s camp.

Everybody is also paranoid, as Pacquiao’s own evasive tactic shows:

“Doon na kami sa dressing room, ayaw nilang payagan na ma-injectionan… natunugan nila na iyun nga, may deperensya ako sa balikat, and then ang katwiran naman ng commission, is hindi daw namin finil-up-an iyung form which is nandon sa record nila eh. Iyung form na finil-up-an namin,” he said. “Alam nila iyon, nagbigay kami 2 weeks ago. Hindi lang sila sumagot.”

The American cannot be faulted for targeting Pacquiao’s injury. Every boxer aims for the split eyebrow or lip or the black eye. Every ring gladiator waits for the first sign of weakness and then goes in for the kill. Mayweather was just more methodical, both in his attack (jabs) and defense (dancing, hugging).

I don’t blame folks for getting infuriated. But it’s been a long time since boxing has been the exclusive turf of brawlers. Even Pacquiao’s rise to the world-class level was credited to a change of strategy – though he is loved because no amount of polish will ever transform him into a mere points-scoring machine.

Agony and Ecstasy

In the highest ranks of professionals, love for money is a given – as with an inability to handle money, except for the few shrewd ones.

The will and super ego that drives the champion athlete are the same things that also make us want to throttle him or her half of the time.

Stubborn, prideful, obsessive, superstitious, cagey; arrogant, boastful, manipulative, mercurial… the most beloved athletes are the champions with the most human of flaws.

There is a very thin line between brave and reckless. Let’s face it: the reckless who wins reaps accolades. Those who fail make people wring their hands.

Pacquiao was right to keep his injury from media, especially if his doctors, trainers and coaches reassured him he’d be in top form by the Fight of the Century.

But it’s also unfair to expect the Nevada Athletic Commission to ignore his failure to be transparent with regulators. The commission nor the anti-doping body would be crucified if they allow athletes to painkillers and other meds without a full medical report to back up their requests. (The anti-doping body claims it was the duty of the Pacquiao camp to inform the commission about the medical background behind their request for medication.)

Aside from our jealous assertion of audience’s right to utmost entertainment, here’s the bigger issue: Non-disclosure of an injury could endanger an athlete to the point of no return. In any form, boxing is a dangerous sport.

Pain is an alarm bell. Any substance that hampers the conduct of pain increases the danger to athletes. It would also give them leverage against those without aids to block the natural pain of athletic exertion.

Many athletes, driven as they are, will try to understate injuries. Nobody wants to show the opponent any weakness. On the other hand, weasels will try to find an excuse for getting out of a contest they are sure to lose. Regulators also have to guard against these cheats.

Athletes have a very short shelf life; top tennis stars Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovich are now considered as elders in that game.

Every postponement of a contest, every incident of pulling out of a tournament, not only affects one’s place in the history books. It can also have immediate effect on ranking – and the accompanying clout for purse money or endorsements.

While not conclusive,some studies have tried to parse out why some athletes push themselves past breaking point.

"In work with injured athletes, some sport and exercise psychologists have proposed that certain attitudes might predispose athletes to injury (7). According to this research, the attitudes that coaches often try to instil in their athletes can actually backfire with regard to injury risks. For example, the ‘no pain, no gain’, and ‘give 110%’ attitudes might unwittingly lead to athletes taking undue risks. In many sports, participants need to be assertive and play hard, but within safe limits, employing appropriate techniques and strategies. This doesn’t just apply to contact sports since many other exercisers attempt to go through the pain barrier and as a result suffer overuse injuries or over-train."

Much like artists, top athletes are high-strung individuals who rely on people to take up the slack for most practical details so they can focus on winning. They also constantly need validation and will come to depend on the wisdom of people who have accompanied (and survived) their rise to fame.

I don’t feel cheated by Pacquiao. I was dazzled. But then, I’m not a betting person.

But if he violated regulations, including one that protects fighters from unnecessary harm or irreparable harm, then he will have to take the lumps.

But Pacquiao knows the rules. If he was caught violating one rule meant to protect fighters from unnecessary harm, then he must take the lumps.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.