Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pacquiao For Progress


Apologies for my extended absence and I hope to do better in the future but I couldn’t let this one go by without a word.

Anyone who has ever read my work will know where my sympathies extend regarding Pacquaio and Margarito. The two are basically the avatars – polarities – of my boxing worldview so I won’t pretend to offer much nuance or reasoned insight.

I want Pacquiao to give Marg’s a royal beating. Not in some moralistic sense, “the jolly Filipino damaging the cheating and surly Mexican,” though I won’t pretend there’s not some of that here.

No, Pacquiao to me has always represented physical inspiration – man as body-electric, that thin-wild-mercury.

I’ve perhaps been a little eager to overlook his obvious intelligence and refinement of craft; partially due to language issues and his outsized friendliness and good-nature but I make no apologies for that. He’s compelling to me because he’s so physical, joyous, and righteous in his movements. The loveliness and freedom and excitement that comes from seeing a human body so perfectly suited to its task.

In the same way it’s transfixing to watch a nature show featuring a bird of prey in descent, a leopard giving chase, or more apt in this context, a regal steed at the races – Secratariat powering down the tracks while onlookers weep in the stands; that’s what Pacquiao is to me. A human body honed and suited to its purpose. I can’t remark enough on what a rare and perfect thing that is, a true joy for us muddlers and tumblers lurching about in the muck; those of us for whom moments of completeness are so rare and profound in our own lives they are often only spoken of in a religious or drug-filtered context.


Pacquiao represents a fullness of being that is rare and special, which I call inspiration. A gift from the void that only the select have and is a blessing and joy to watch.

And Margarito? Well, he’s something of the opposite. I’ve always found him unwatchable and unsympathetic, a rebuke to the way I try to justify and enjoy and filter the callous blood lust of this sport. For people like me it’s important to build narrative filters and deeper subtexts to the sport so that it goes beyond blood and bone and moves into history and manhood and craft and the unstoppable forward march of progress.

And Margarito brings all of that into question. A crude slugger, slow, impenetrable. He lacks class not in the sense that he’s a poor kid from Mexico, (Erik Morales, another poor kid from the same streets Margarito emerged from is also one of my talisman of regal overcoming,) but in the sense that he is a move away from boxing as sweet science and towards the crudity of sheer force and muscle. He’s a step away from progress and refinement.

I’ve used the quote many times before, but A.J. Liebling’s take always seems apt to me when speaking of Margarito, “If the animal could beat even a fair fighter, it meant that two hundred and fifty years of painfully acquired experience had been lost to the human race; science was a washout and art a vanity.”

Science a washout and art a vanity. That’s what’s on the line here. Some see it as a moral contest between the loathsome Margarito and the virtuous Pacquiao, but something far deeper is at stake; the narrative history of the sport and progress. The sanctity of class and worth.

True, Margarito will be a full 15-20 lbs larger, but Pacquiao has now taken over the mantle of genius, the surpassing quality of incandescent ability over and above the utility of force. Margarito is trying to queer the game, to turn it around and backwards; Pacquiao is the clever defender of the library facing the torch-wielders.

Of course the moral overlay is heavy and I won’t ignore it. Margarito is a cheater and just generally unlikable and slimy. The vicious pleasure of his loss will be undeniable.

But it’s secondary. Though I greatly admire Evander Holyfield, his worldview wherein the right-cross of the righteous is superior to that of the wicked is deeply flawed.

My own – deeply flawed – worldview can perhaps be framed by the Obama/King Jr/ Parker quote that, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” (The disappointing midterm elections being – of course – a reminder of the cutbacks in the bend)


Only in my world, and in boxing, it bends towards class and beauty. Do you get it? Do you see what’s on the line. It’s much the same thing I felt when Manny fought Ricky Hatton, only with Margarito’s deeper textures of degradation and Pacquiao’s now inflated importance.

So, with the stakes being defined, am I nervous? Yes, a little. The customary pre-fight antics with a supposedly inferior Pacquiao training camp are unmoving to me, but the size difference is daunting. I can envision Pacquiao trapped against the ropes and damaged by a body shot, unable to appropriately respond and it fills me with dismay.

But I just can’t move beyond my respect for speed and skill. I mean, we’re talking about no less than the co-equal fastest fighter of his day against the slowest elite-level fighter in recent memory. That’s got to tell doesn’t it?

And more importantly I just keep feeling that bend towards justice, that bend towards the big happening. It doesn’t work the way it should, but Pacquiao is clearly meant for bigger things than to fall to a crude villain. Isn’t he? We need more answers than this will provide. Its important to boxing’s ragged march.

Of course that’s a construct, but it’s how I’m taking this one. I won’t hide that my lack of writing on boxing of late has been partially due to the fact that we’ve had a few dour months here. I haven’t liked it a bit and in lieu of real analysis sometimes I just think it’s important to filter ones hopes and pleasures as they come.

And so it is that I see my little Filipino muse standing victorious tonight, arms raised in joy at the surpassing pleasure of being a triumphant body, a genetic and evolutionary gift unsurpassed in his time and a step towards the inevitable victory of grace and science and art in the face of an otherwise directionless universe.

Pacquiao fighting!