By Ryan Songalia
As Manny Pacquiao casually inspects a Carnegie Deli-catered turkey sandwich in the New York Daily News conference room, a group comprised of some of New York City’s most influential sports journalists inspect his every movement and mannerism. The atmosphere is tranquil, calm, the antithesis of the chaotic scenery just an hour ago at the Chelsea Piers press conference.
In the city that breathes the Yankees, Knicks and Giants, there could scarcely be a bigger sports star in town than the eight-division champion from General Santos City, Philippines. Though he will never fight in the Big Apple due to state tax concerns, the big city's media can’t help but be fascinated by Pacquiao.
He is the face of his nation, replacing controversial former First Lady Imelda Marcos and her infamous shoe collection as their most recognizable international symbol.
Few pundits or betters expect Pacquiao to be troubled much in his next fight against 39-year-old "Sugar" Shane Mosley (46-6-1, 39 KO) of Pomona, Calif. at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on May 7, who was a 7-1 underdog on Monday afternoon.
What some expect however, is that the business of the sport could be altered forever.
The Mosley fight will be Pacquiao's first appearance on Showtime pay-per-view after eight consecutive appearances on HBO PPV. Showtime has enlisted the help of CBS, which will use its 160 radio stations, affiliate TV stations and billboard properties to attempt to push the fight to a greater audience than it has ever been exposed to.
"You can't be a major sport unless you have the widest possible exposure," said Top Rank CEO Bob Arum of boxing's woes. "That's why boxing was so popular in the '60s and '70s, because it was always on terrestrial TV."
Who better than Pacquiao to try this experiment with? The 32-year-old Pacquiao (52-3-2, 38 KO) is already a congressman in the Filipino province of Sarangani, who never engages in trash-talk and expressed sympathy for the legal woes of arch-nemesis Floyd Mayweather Jr. - who once said he'd force Pacquiao to “make some sushi rolls and cook some rice."
As part of the groundbreaking coverage, CBS will air a half-hour preview show on the Sunday afternoon of the NCAA Final Four's semi-finals. Then, three weeks before the fight, Showtime will air a segment of Fight Camp 360º, a documentary-style program that shows the complex preparation that precedes a fight, with another installment airing the following week as well.
CBS will then air another episode of Fight Camp a week before the event, and then another one the Friday before the fight. On Saturday afternoon - just hours before the fight- CBS will re-air the previous segment. Arum also said that the CBS Early Show would report on the fight leading up to it, providing remote coverage similar to the days of Muhammad Ali.
If the HBO 24/7 series is made for Mayweather's shocking rants, then Pacquiao is the perfect driver for the Fight Camp 360º vehicle on CBS and Showtime. Pacquiao, with his humble, soft-spoken demeanor, could be the ambassador that the sport has long needed.
"When they see the sponsor-support for those programs, it is not a big leap that they would start putting boxing on terrestrial television," said Arum. "On a Saturday night on CBS today, all they show is re-runs. Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, is pretty much a wasteland other than some golf thing. I'm very optimistic that this fight will lead to the exposure of boxing on terrestrial television.
"When that happens, the sport is going to explode, the coverage will explode."
The increased exposure comes at a time when – should it happen – a fight with Mayweather would be expected to break all prior PPV records. Boxing coverage on free TV of Pacquiao and Mayweather would elevate the sport to heights unseen, at least by this generation.
Arum says that there is no impediment to the fight coming to fruition this year, outside of Mayweather’s legal issues. He added that, while Mayweather has made “no indication” that he was interested in a Pacquiao clash, that Top Rank President Todd duBoef was scheduled to speak with Mayweather once they returned to Las Vegas.
“Hopefully it leads to something,” Arum said, with a cautious optimism carved from prior experience.
The fight at hand itself has few prospects of being memorable, outside of Mosley's explosive spurts that come fewer and farther between as he nears 40. Still, Pacquiao and trainer Freddie Roach are not allowing themselves to look past a living legend in the sport.
"He has speed and power," said Pacquiao, who was voted BWAA Fighter of the Decade last year. "Comparing to [Antonio] Margarito, he's faster than Margarito, and stronger. That's why I need to train hard for this fight and focus and put aside all the other appointments.
"Shane Mosley's style is different than anybody [I've faced] because his style is kind of amateurish," Pacquiao continues. "He throws a lot of punches and moves fast. Not like somebody ducking inside, but he stands up right there and throws a lot of punches. It's different, so I have to study hard."
"We have to expect the best from him," said Roach. "He's going to be the best he can be. We're not gonna get caught taking him easy."
"He has a good right hand and sometimes we get hit with that shot, it's something we have to work on for this camp. But Mosley's not the hardest guy in the world to hit at this point, either."
Roach described Manny as being a "compassionate" person. It's an admirable trait that Roach also laments in Pacquiao, as it pertains to the ring. Roach believes that fights are to be won by knockout, and that uncertain decisions are not to be relied upon. In two recent Pacquiao fights - against Miguel Cotto and Margarito - Pacquiao has turned to the ref and pleaded for his opponent to be spared.
"Sometimes I feel like that, especially the last fight against Margarito, the last two rounds," said Pacquiao. "I turned to the referee and asked him to stop the fight because any time I want to hit him, I can hit him. He doesn't move like this (Pacquiao puts up aggressive pose). He's just showing his toughness."
"I do want Manny to stop this guy because he let Margarito off the hook last time," said Roach. "He was too compassionate, and you just can't do that. We’re not going to take it easy on him because he’s older.”
Mosley isn’t looking for any pity, either. A decade ago it was Mosley who was the pound for pound king, having risen from the lightweight ranks to upset Oscar de la Hoya and stand atop the sport. Now after six losses and a draw, Mosley ‘s window of opportunity to reclaim his past glory is closing rapidly, creating a sense of urgency in “Sugar Shane”.
“People should believe in my chances because of the power that I have,” said Mosley. “The people I land on, I knock them out. I don’t build up shots to knock people out. I land one shot, and they’re ready to go. If Manny gets hit with a good shot like that, he may be ready to go also.”
After Mosley knocked out Antonio Margarito in 2009, he remained inactive for 16 months before losing a one-sided decision to Mayweather and drawing with the unheralded Sergio Mora, who has since lost to club-fighter Brian Vera.
Yet despite what odds makers say, Mosley is game to the challenge.
“I know styles make fights and with Manny, it’s going to be a good fight. His style is the perfect style for me to make a good fight. I’m not that hard to hit either, so somebody is going to get knocked out.”
Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and contributes to GMANews.TV and the Filipino Reporter newspaper. From January through April, he will cover the Daily News Golden Gloves tournament for the New York Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] . An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ryansongalia .