COLUMN: PACQUIAO - POST-MORTEM  /  DISTURB,  QUESTION,  CHALLENGE

MANILA, March 29, 2005 
(STAR) HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno  -  Why they call prizefighting "the sweet science" has me discombobulated, I suppose I will never know. It is a science, that’s for sure, but hardly ever sweet. The right half of Manny Pacquiao’s face was a macabre mask, blood squirting from a nasty right eye cut, the flesh beginning to welt and swell into ugly ridges. The boxer himself squinted as his vision blurred, as he clumsily sought out his nemesis Erik Morales in the late rounds in Las Vegas.

Like the Thrilla in Manila in 1975 fought by Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, the Pacquiao-Erik Morales fight in Las Vegas sears into memory as a unique brand of blood and guts, emotional stamina and intelligence. Morales had more of the latter — as did Ali – and that’s why he won over the Filipino who raged like a bull, but not much else particularly when a Morales head butt opened a wicked cut over his left eye.

The question now poses itself: Would our boy have won if there were no head butt? Another question: While Manny was physically fit for the Las Vegas fight, was he prepared mentally and psychologically? Would he have needed a handler like the inimitable Cus d’Amato who could have grafted cunning, excellent timing, and not just raw courage into his ring weaponry?

I’ll answer the first.

No, I don’t think so. All things said, Erik Morales was the superior pugilist that night. He did what Gene Tunney did to beat the hitherto unbeatable Jack Dempsey, the Manassa Mauler in that memorable "Long Count" fight of theirs Sept. 20, 1926. He boxed while Dempsey fought like a savage tiger, especially in the rematch, often keeping him at bay, often dismantling his fury while keeping his distance. It didn’t look good, but it won Gene Tunney the fight. And if it’s any help to understand the role of intelligence, Tunney often took early morning walks with George Bernard Shaw.

And so it was with our Manny Pacquiao. He won our hearts, for that matter everybody’s heart with his display of a Katipunero’s courage, in there whatever the pain, out there whatever the punishment, sloshing through mud, silt and rain to destroy the enemy. Unfortunately, Morales could not be destroyed. He anticipated that crushing left of Pacquiao. He lifted his right glove to protect his jaw, and the few times he was hurt, danced away, slid away. Then he battled Pacquiao toe to toe, never going too far, never going over the water’s edge, never risking the full ceaseless fury of Pacquiao’s fists.

Morales must have seen and studied that film of Pacquiao fighting Marco Antonio Barrera a dozen times, a hundred times. He did what had to be done, arm himself against the raw power of Pacquiao, by dodging, backing off, blocking, then — marvelous to behold! — catching the Filipino flatfooted by going on the offensive himself, slipping in his own crackling power before he decided enough was enough, a Muhammad Ali slipping away because he had exploded his own storm, and shouldn’t dare the Fates too much. Stupendous!

By now, Manny Pacquiao must have realized what was missing in his makeup when he fought Morales. Oh yes, he was the perfect specimen of a warrior, undaunted and unafraid, charging the dark even when the dark began to deepen, even when the sounds around him had grown into an animal stampede, and soon it would expand into a roar, danger mounting into a deluge.

Now, he knows that is not enough. Now, he knows he has to use his brains.

For as Budd Schulberg said: " Boxing is psychology. Boxing is outguessing which means outthinking your opponent. Boxing is a game of chess in which your head and torso, like that of your opponent, becomes the board upon which you play." Or, if I might add, boxing is like bullfighting. The bullfighter is keen to every lunge and movement of the bull, and ready with his cape, to move out of range, just a narrow inch or two, where death and beauty of movement stare each other with breathless intimacy.

Manny Pacquiao is still young, 26. He hasn’t stopped growing, and most certainly he will now have to admit that with growing comes learning, and, as in a jungle, sniffing danger with greater sophistication. Distances between ledges and boulders will have to be better gauged and measured, occasional leaps into the dark where the enemy awaits, gauging short distances with rip snorting attacks. As Morales studied him, Manny Pacquiao will have to study his future opponents. The smartest fighters of the world today are in his division, featherweight. They are mostly Latinos who move with ease, punch from above and below, are most deadly when hurt.

Right now, his most redoubtable enemies are the people immediately around him.

They comprise a wide range in the category of manager, promoter, trainer, whose voracity is second to none when eating into the ring earnings of Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao cannot seem to stop them, especially one Murad Muhammad, a swarthy, hefty, slightly bearded character who looks like a Muslim or an Arab. According to Manny, Murad earned more than he did. If this is true, this guy must have strong links with boxing’s underworld, whose alleged high priest is Don King. During his palmy days, Iron Mike Tyson earned bagfuls of money, in the millions, but most of his income allegedly went to the pockets of Don King, an ex-convict who has a corner on professional prizefighting.

There must be a number of young, honest, intrepid Filipino businessmen who should rescue Manny Pacquiao from the wolves and hyenas around him, and give him the break he urgently needs. He is the greatest, living, breathing human asset we have today and, by golly, if Manny remains in their hands, they will strangle him to death with a greed and rapacity that knows no bounds.

I say let’s save Manny Pacquiao.

* * *

It amuses this columnist no end that every now and then he still receives pained messages as to why we are "so negative" and "hardly positive" on the evolving situation in our country. But of course, a commentator like me almost always goes to the barricades with sword and shield, for that is the nature of my profession. Robert D. Kaplan (Warrior Politics) exhorts political writers to "disturb", "question" and "challenge" and "dismay" almost every glowing postulate advanced by the government that "We have everything under control," or "Everything is going up roses" or "We live in the best of possible worlds."

The great Andre Malraux, former top aide of and culture minister of Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who wrote the epic "Man’s Fate" said, as was to be expected, "Every work of art is a revolt against man’s fate." Nothing really stood still. And art to be great art, had to have a dagger pointed at the ruthlessness, fecklessness and stupidity of society. He probably had in mind Pablo Picasso’s classic "Guernica", a vivid, hideously raucous war painting which denounced the atrocities of Germany as the Nazis poured damnation on Spain. And yet, the occupying Germans had so much respect for Picasso they dared not confiscate Guernica and bring it to the Berlin Museum.

Kenneth Tynan, an English writer and dramatist of outstanding talent, lived by these words he himself etched: "Rouse tempers, goad and lacerate, raise whirlwinds." And oh boy, did Tynan during his time, which was also the time of Ernest Hemingway, lacerate the powers-that-be, and raise whirlwinds which whipped across British high society with gale force velocity. His wife wrote in a memorable biography that the label "controversial" was "pinned to hum like a hand grenade." And, of course, Hemingway raised the same whirlwinds.

American journalism has been punctured over the centuries by the writings of the legendary muckrakers, men and women of great intelligence and courage, among them Lincoln Steffens, Seymour Hersh, I.F. Stone, who unearthed the foul deeds of the rich and powerful, corporate mighty, particularly the oil giants, and spilled these in their papers.

And may I remind my readers again and again that we are living in times of terrible crises, that the writer and journalist cannot gloss over these, that he must necessarily hack at all forms of crime, graft, corruption and evil, as often as he can, and with all the emotion and eloquence at his command.

The threat to our mother land from withal and within is so great, so pervasive, so frightening, that I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s famous words to his countrymen as France fell in defeat to Nazism, and the British evacuated to Dunkirk while we hapless Filipinos are evacuating to foreign lands: "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and the streets... we shall never surrender."

Would that a Filipino leader, a patriot of vast dimension, of unquestioned integrity, rise in the near future and say the same words, as a Filipino citizenry harkens and follows him more numerous than the sands of the sea. Of course, I am dreaming. There is no such Filipino leader in existence and if there is, he must be concealing himself quite well.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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