By Jake Donovan
Manny Pacquiao heads into a fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez that was never demanded, while on the heels of his first loss (however controversial) in more than seven years.
Ask any other fighter to travel that road, and the buzz surrounding that next fight would be nonexistent. Yet with Pacquiao, the legend only continues to grow.
Recent years have seen the longtime pound-for-pound entrant take on political responsibilities in his native Philippines. He serves as boxing’s representative for Nike’s marketing campaign, conquered technology with Hewlett Packard’s tablet computer ads and has renewed a deal with Hennessy.
Proof of his popularity remaining at an all-time high could be seen during this week’s edition of Monday Night Football. The New York Giants and Washington Redskins were embroiled in a slugfest of their own on the gridiron, but Pacquiao could be spotted during several commercial breaks as part of Wonderful Pistachio’s “Get Crackin’” ads.
Somewhere in the background resides an eight-year rivalry with Marquez that still remains unresolved. The fourth chapter takes place Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, airing live on HBO PPV ($59.99, 9PM ET/6PM PT).
Pacquiao is 2-0-1 in the series. Ironically, you can probably find more people who will argue that he was more deserving of victory in his controversial split decision loss to Tim Bradley in June than he was in any of the three fights with Marquez.
That he’s yet to convincingly beat the legendary Mexican is chief among the reasons why his handlers – namely Top Rank – felt it was necessary for Part IV to take place this weekend. There was no demand for the fight, but as was the case last November, the buzz immediately followed the moment it was put together.
Their third entry – which resulted in a disputed majority decision for Pacquiao – brought HBO to new heights in its network coverage. While the fight aired live on PPV, all parties involved went way outside the box in presenting the event. Among the most significant was HBO airing the weigh-in live on its flagship station, the first time the pay-cable network has done so for any fight.
With that came the new challenge of expanding on the way its product is presented. Top Rank proved to have plenty of tricks up its sleeve, as fans saw last Friday when Pacquiao’s workout at Wild Card Gym was aired live on a seven-story television screen in New York City’s Times Square.
“It was just an idea that began in my warped brain,” jokes Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank and also a visionary when it comes to his company leading the charge in presenting its product beyond the normal scope. “We thought it would be great to give everyone a fly on the wall perspective on Manny’s workout session – giving them reality TV of our own kind.”
The hour-long segment was a huge hit with the mainstream, which is always a major victory in boxing. The session aired seven hours before ABC rebroadcasted his most recent appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38KO) was invited to the hit late night talk show for the seventh time when he originally appeared at midnight ET leading into Thanskgiving Day.
Network reruns are hardly a new concept, but rare is the occasion when such a show airs twice in the span of less than 10 days. Word of mouth immediately followed his appearance, which included a hilarious parody on HBO’s 24/7 series.
The segment further offered Pacquiao’s ability to seamlessly handle the spotlight while remaining one of the very best in the sport. Pacquiao credits much of that to his professional relationship with Kimmel, dating back to his first appearance on the show in November ’09.
“I am very grateful to Jimmy Kimmel,” Pacquiao graciously states. “His was the first network TV show in America to invite me to be a guest and because of that appearance I became known for being more than a fighter. Jimmy is a very funny man and I always enjoy being on his show. I will never turn down his invitation. I am blessed to know him."
Pacquiao has since been blessed with more mainstream coverage in the past three years most fighters would kill to enjoy in a lifetime. In addition to the aforementioned endorsement lines, Pacquiao has also appeared in recent years on: CBS’ 60 Minutes, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, ABC’s Nightline, FOX News Channel’s On The Record With Greta Van Susteren, CNN’sAmerica Morning, NPR’s Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, Playboy, Sports Illustrated and cover stories in TIME and Newsweek.
Of course, it takes more than a glowing personality to pique the interests of such a wide assortments of media outlets. Winning titles in a record eight weight classes (including another record of lineal championships in four weight classes) and serving as the sport’s pound-for-pound – and dollar-for-dollar – king for years certainly helps.
So with that came the question of how his popularity would be affected in suffering his first loss since March ’05. The emphatic answer is, not at all. In fact, the opposite has proven to be true.
While this weekend’s fight figures to be another blockbuster event at the box office, Pacquiao’s conqueror – Bradley – sits on the sidelines. The unbeaten two-division champ hasn’t not fought since June and with his ring return scheduled to take place no sooner than next February.
Meanwhile, Pacquiao’s love affair with the boxing world remains stronger than ever.
The fighter was humble in defeat, even though in his mind – as well as the minds of no less than 90% of the viewing audience – he firmly believed that the judges got the verdict very, very wrong. That he handled the setback with class further validated his place as boxing’s ultimate good guy. The reception he continues to receive everywhere he goes continues to overwhelm him and never, ever gets old.
“I am blessed that my fans have always stayed loyal to me regardless of whether I won or lost,” Pacquiao says. “They have always been my rock and I fight for them as hard as they root for me."
The next reminder will come today during the fighter’s grand arrivals in Las Vegas. There’s no question that Marquez will receive a huge ovation once he arrives onto the scene, at noon local time. Classy, soft-spoken and a warrior in the ring, it’s impossible not to like Marquez.
His only problem is that it will only last for 30 minutes, until the grand arrival of a boxing icon impossible not to love.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox