Why Manny Pacquiao's buzz has come to a screeching halt in Las Vegas

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Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
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LAS VEGAS – The Manny Pacquiao Show rolls into town next week, yet another in a long string of pay-per-view fights in this gambling mecca that have added hundreds of millions of dollars to Nevada’s economy.

Manny Pacquiao (AP Photo)
Manny Pacquiao (AP Photo)

Pacquiao’s rise more or less coincided with the economic downturn that began in earnest in 2008 and saw many businesses go under and many residents lose their home.

Las Vegas was one of the cities most negatively impacted by the recession, and without the economic activity generated by Pacquiao fights against Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez and Timothy Bradley from 2008-12, who knows how much greater the devastation might have been.

There is little buzz or anticipation building for Pacquiao’s April 9 rubber match against Bradley set for the MGM Grand Garden.

As March turned to April in 2015, it was impossible to go anywhere in Las Vegas without running into someone who wanted to talk about the Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather bout that was upcoming.

Pacquiao was soundly beaten by Mayweather on May 2, and hasn’t fought since.

Frankly, it doesn’t seem as if too many of the natives here have missed him all that much.

Tickets, both at the box office and on the secondary market, are readily available. The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight did a live gate of $72.2 million, which is greater than the combined figure of the next four largest gates in Nevada history.

The Mayweather-Pacquiao fight is unique in boxing history, in that it received such intense media coverage for more than six years before it was finally made that it was almost guaranteed to be a record-setting bout financially.

It’s not fair to compare anything to that, but the drop in interest is precipitous and based on more than just Pacquiao’s poor performance against Mayweather.

After insisting he felt he won the fight in its immediate aftermath, Pacquiao later said he knew going in he would lose because God had told him.

That was probably the first indication that Mayweather had hit him harder than anyone previously believed.

Millions of dollars were bet on Pacquiao in that bout, by bettors both large and small. Rest assured, none are too thrilled with him for failing to share God’s word with them about the outcome of the fight, as well as the shoulder injury he suffered late in training that he kept secret.

He returns now with what he has been saying will be his final fight. To his credit, promoter Bob Arum hasn’t marketed the fight that way, because having been around for 50 years, he knows full well how many fighters say they’re going to retire and then return.

But Pacquiao himself told reporters when the fight was first announced that the Bradley fight would be it for him. Earlier this week, though, he equivocated and said he couldn’t say conclusively whether this would be his last bout.

He disgraced himself in February with remarks he made about homosexuality in comments to a Filipino television state covering his campaign for a Senate seat.

He accused homosexuals of being “worse than animals,” and ignorantly tried to back his point up by saying that there is no homosexuality among animals. Contrary to his feeble explanation, it’s well documented that homosexuality exists among animals.

He was immediately condemned by numerous Filipino celebrities and was dropped by Nike.

All of this makes one wonder about what kind of person he truly is, because his fighting ability goes without question.

He no doubt is a product of a brilliant marketing campaign by his long-time publicist, Fred Sternburg. Sternburg cobbled together this spectacular tale of this multitalented public servant who just so happened to be one of the best boxers of modern times.

By the time Sternburg was hired as a client, Pacquiao was already extraordinarily popular in his native Philippines and among hard-core boxing fans in the U.S. But Sternburg turned him into a world-wide phenomenon with adept marketing, exploiting any avenue for positive publicity and image building while deftly sidestepping any potential land mines.

Pacquiao received precious little criticism for essentially being the cause of the long-running feud between Golden Boy Promotions and Arum’s Top Rank Promotions.

In 2006, upon his arrival at Los Angeles International Airport from the Philippines, he was met by Golden Boy’s Oscar De La Hoya. De La Hoya gave him a suitcase filled with $250,000 as an inducement to sign a promotional deal.

The problem with that, though, is that he was already signed to a contract with Top Rank, which a retired judge who served as an arbiter later found.

Clearly, Pacquiao’s decision to accept the suitcase filled with cash happened under false pretenses, but Sternburg skillfully turned the conversation in a different direction and Pacquiao took precious little heat for it.

Even when Pacquiao and his wife, Jinkee, were having marital troubles, Sternburg used it as a marketing opportunity to further shape his image. Jinkee Pacquiao was reportedly angry about her husband’s gambling and womanizing.

Sternburg turned the story into one of redemption, of how Pacquiao had found God and saved his marriage by walking away from his vices.

The truth about Pacquiao is, as it is for most people, somewhere in between the lofty stories pitched by his handler and the venom thrown at him by his most ardent critics.

He’s done enormously good work for charity and has helped countless people who had nowhere else to turn.

He galvanized his country and filled so many with national pride.

But he was largely a bust as a legislator, rarely showing up in Congress and passing few, if any, bills of consequence, his critics have pointed out.

Yet, he’s running for a seat in the senate and has spoken openly of his aspirations for the presidency.

He’ll roll into Las Vegas next week for what is most likely his final go in the boxing capital of the world, still good enough to headline a major show but not enough of a draw any more to attract a single reporter from a New York newspaper or television station.

Expectations for the pay-per-view sales are much more tempered than in past years, and it’s hard to know what to expect out of him in the ring.

He hasn’t had a knockout in more than six years and he’s only split his last six bouts.

He’s back to being a fighter who needs to prove himself.

And perhaps that’s where he should have been long ago, fighting with something to prove. If he does that against Bradley next week, maybe the fans who plunk down their hard-earned dollars to watch it will get their money’s worth this time around.