February 27, 2020

Sergio F. Borges

We’ve all heard the clichés, “I wish I lived in this era,” and “time repeats itself.” An era is a time period…so in theory, eras repeat themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I would embrace this — especially when it comes to the sweet science. You imagine? Boxing eras repeating themselves…that sounds like heaven, minus the clouds.

I sit back and begin to reminisce; I recall a time period when my Dad would act like a professor — but instead of lecturing, he would yap (and of course — drunk off the single-malt) when we would watch boxing. Like the sound of a grandfather clock when it strikes midnight, my Dad’s boxing stories would always begin in between each round of the fight-card. My favorite story (about one of the most notorious bouts in boxing): Jack “The Galveston Giant” Johnson vs. Jess “Great White Hope” Willard, on April 5, 1915, in La Havana, Cuba (my grandfather was in attendance — and yes, Johnson threw the fight in round 26). Like an old-school Cuban, my Dad spoke in a very high-toned voice, which the average human would label that tone yelling. Boxing history would just roll-off his tongue — almost as fast as he guzzled his scotch. He called these stories: Boxeo 101! His rambles would begin, and sometimes he would try to show-off and tell his stories in English, in his own words, “Roberto ‘Han of Roc’ Durán: HE DEE BES…LATINO ALL TINE, PAON FOR PAON… HE TOP-TOP-TOP!” It was like hearing a really bad impression of Tony Montana (Scarface)…but dam, I sure do miss his stories.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching this sport for over twenty-seven years; the sport that’s been dying since I can recall — yet it runs through my veins and stays alive in my heart. I’ve had the privilege of witnessing a few paramount eras of boxing. But…there was one era…and it was really special — made me and my Dad go bonkers! (Especially my Dad…he had never heard of this fighter.) It came in the form of a tsunami, Tasmanian-Devil like — and out of no where, landed in our living room (my Dad and I had no clue who and what this was) that Saturday evening, November of 2003: THE PAC-MAN ERA!

Fighting that evening: The “Baby Faced Assassin,” Marco Antonio Barrera (54-3-0), the WBC World Featherweight and the Lineal champion of the world, and member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame (2017) — who at the time, was the number three pound-for-pound fighter in the world (The Ring). Barrera had never been knocked out. He was coming-off epic victories: He dethroned the king of the featherweight division, the undefeated and member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame (2015), “Prince” Naseem Hamed (35-0-0) by unanimous decision; and beat the legendary, undefeated, and member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame (2018), Érik “El Terrible” Morales (41-0-0) by unanimous decision in their infamous rematch. Barrera was the king of the featherweight division!

Barrera was facing some Asian…Filipino guy — his last name was hard to pronounce. This skinny, twenty-two-year-old Filipino, had a child-like demeanor during his ring walk-in. He and his whole team were dressed in “No Fear” sport attire, which — at the time — seemed really corny and tacky. He had a smile from ear-to-ear, and was waving — all goofy — to the few Filipino fans that were in attendance. One thing was very evident, his confidence as he entered the ring…and, as he is entering (in a smooth perpetual motion), kneels (in a Catholic manner) to pray. This 127-pound kid had calves and quads that looked like they were one-half of his body weight — arcadish! He looked like a character from the video game, “Street Fighter.” So…the first round begins, and thirty-seconds into the round, the Filipino’s legs tangled with Barrera’s legs. The referee calls a knock down (replay didn’t illustrate a punch landing before the knock down), and it seemed like it was going to be another day at the office for Barrera. Now…things become cinematic — instantly! The Filipino turned cosmic — in every way, shape, and form! The Filipino begins to slaughter Barrera, like a butcher in Philly! In round four, Barrera’s facial expression was shocking — in the words of Larry Merchant, “It seems that Barrera has conceded.” The Filipino continued to gobble-up Barrera! The savage beating was beyond belief! The Filipino’s left hand possessed plutonium-like power and pulverized every time it landed! I loved how he responded when Barrera would land anything significant; the Filipino would raise his arms, while hopping around the ring with a huge smile, like a child! I assumed he did this to let the fans know “it’s all good,” and then he would explosively retaliate! Round eleven…the Filipino decides to complete his Picasso-like performance — just like the vintage video game, “Mortal Kombat” — he finishes him! Barrera’s corner steps into the ring to put an end to the apocalyptic beat-down…the referee waves-off the bout. The end comes in round number eleven — official time, two minutes and fifty-six seconds, the winner AND NEW FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD: MANNY “PAC-MAN” PACQUIAO! NOW…I knew his name; my dad knew his name — AND SO DID THE REST OF THE BOXING WORLD!

Emmanuel Dapidran Pacquiao (better known as Manny “Pac-Man” Pacquiao) born in Kibawe, Bukidnon, Philippines, has a story that is very common in boxing — the “rags-to-riches” story. Pacquiao’s journey is more of a fairy tale. The “fairy” part of Pacquiao’s tale didn’t come till the tail-end of the 2000s. Pacquiao left his home at the age of fourteen because his mother (who was raising six children) was not making enough money to support the family. Pacquiao hustled and sold bootleg cartons of cigarettes to help his mother support the family. Raised by the streets of General Santos City, Philippines, he began fighting with other poor, young teenagers just for the sole purpose of proving his toughness and ability to “hold-down” a block (or corner) while selling bootleg cigarettes or whatever fell off a truck. What if I told you right after the Barrera bout that this kid, who entered the ring — unnamed — to face Barrera, would become Fighter of the Decade for the 2000s (Boxing Writers Association of America)? Would you believe me? What if I told you that he goes through a peak (during his prime) that spans over a five-year period and becomes the only eight-division world champion in the history of the sport? Would you believe me? Remember, all fairy tales aren’t just tales.

Do you know (or can you relate with) that feeling of seeing something extraordinary become legendary? I do! It began January of 2006, Pacquiao was facing Érik “El Terrible” Morales (47-3-0) in their rematch for the WBC International Super Featherweight Title (130 pounds). Pacquiao had lost to Morales by a close unanimous decision in their first encounter, which occurred nine months prior to the rematch. Pacquiao’s trainer, and member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame (Trainer of World Champions [2012]), Freddie Roach — transformed Pacquiao’s fighting style. Roach trained Pacquiao to use his right hand (Pacquiao is a southpaw and relied heavily on his left hand). Pacquiao had received criticism and was labeled a “one-arm” fighter. Rumor has it that Roach, during the training camp for the Morales rematch, tied Pacquiao’s left arm (to force the use of his right hand) for a majority of his training. Well, well…what a web they’ve (Roach and Pacquiao) weaved! (This is my favorite Pacquiao fight! The referee, Kenny “What I Say You Must Obey!” Bayless — is also my favorite referee! This bout gives me goose bumps!) Round one begins like if it was the thirteenth round — both fighters land blows…but Manny is now using the right hook that’s being set-up by the left jab (this style was the complete opposite in which he fought Morales in their first encounter). In the second round, the bout turns into “Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” atomic bombs being thrown and landed by both pugilists — but Manny lands a plutonium left-cross that makes Morales stumble back to the ropes. Morales was the type of fighter that always retaliated after being hit and stunned — and that is exactly what he did. The nuclear warfare continued! In round six, Morales was sautéed — his face began to swell and warp. His corner began massaging his legs because he stated (in Spanish), “I don’t feel them!” During round 9, Morales retreats with fifteen-seconds left in the round. Morales’ hawk nose was shattered in so many places, that the corner should have pulled an extra chair (in between rounds) for Morales’ nose. Round ten — it’s imminent; Manny gobbles-up and finishes Morales by way of technical knockout. This was the genesis of “Pac-Man’s” peak!

During a five-year period (after the rematch with Morales), Pacquiao annihilates Óscar Larios (via unanimous decision — complete shutout), retires Érik Morales in their rubber-match (via knockout), nukes the undefeated Jorge Solis (via knockout), embarrasses Marco Antonio Barrera in their rematch (via unanimous decision — complete shutout), beats Juan Manuel Márquez in their tie-breaker (via split decision), makes David Díaz his gimp (via technical knockout), pulverizes and retires Oscar De La Hoya (via technical knockout), retires and teleports Ricky Hatton into another dimension (via knockout — 2009 Knockout of the Year by The Ring), destroys Miguel Cotto (via technical knockout), makes a mockery of Joshua Clottey (via unanimous decision — complete shutout), and rearranges and shatters Antonio Margarito’s face and orbital bone, respectively (via unanimous decision).

The “Pac-Man” era was unbelievable! I will never forget Larry Merchant stating, “He is a combination of Bruce Lee, Muhammad Ali, and Elvis, all rolled-up into one…he is a God in the Philippines!” My Dad and I witnessed something historical that came without a warning label. So…would I want to live in any other era? No chance — I lived through the greatest era: “Fight-Night-With-Dad” Era! Hopefully, this “time” repeats itself, over and over again. Hey, sometimes, on rare occasions, a fairy tale comes true…ask Manny Pacquiao.

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