SAN DIEGO – The people who put together the mega-fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao had a special Cinco de Mayo gift for Latino boxing fans: a finger in their eye.
I can’t believe the organizers and promoters – which included Top Rank Inc., Mayweather Promotions, Showtime and HBO – arranged to have someone sing the Mexican national anthem before the bout on Saturday. At least there was no sombrero.
Translated, the anthem begins:
Mexicans, at the cry of war
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Make ready the steel and the bridle
And let the earth shake to the core
At the roar of the cannon …
The roar of the cannon sounded more like the cha-ching of the cash register. Even though the announcers tried to tie the gesture to the fact that Cinco de Mayo was just around the corner, it struck me as insulting and inappropriate.
First, as a lifelong boxing fan, I’ve seen the Mexican national anthem sung before a fight dozens of times. Yet, I’ve never seen it done when there isn’t a Mexican fighter in the ring. Mayweather is African American, and Pacquiao is Filipino. Think of it this way: What if the organizers had played the Mexican national anthem because there was a Latino fighter in the ring but the fighter wasn’t Mexican? That would be silly. So is this.
It’s one thing to honor a boxer by playing the national anthem of his country, if he was born outside the United States. That’s fine. It’s a nice gesture that shows respect. So when, for example, in June 1996, Mexican boxer Julio César Chávez squared off against Mexican American Oscar De La Hoya in Las Vegas, it made sense that the opening ceremony contained two anthems – the Mexican national anthem for Chavez, and the American anthem for De La Hoya.
That’s not what happened here. In this instance, the singing of the Mexican national anthem looked forced, as if there was a hidden agenda.
Second, while some will say this was simply a marketing stunt intended to get a slice of Latino buying power in the United States, which is now about $1.5 trillion annually, even that explanation is problematic. Again, who’s the target audience? It can’t be non-Mexican Latinos. But it also can’t be the 20 million to 25 million Mexican Americans who, like De La Hoya, were born in the United States. Our national anthem is “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
In fact, many Mexican Americans have no love for Mexico because of the mistreatment, poverty and neglect suffered by our immigrant ancestors. We have a choice: Be loyal to Mexico, or to our parents and grandparents. Most of us go with the latter.
So while there is no doubt that there are many Mexican boxing fans in the United States, they’re just a narrow sliver of the estimated 54 million Latinos in this country. Thus, the stunt wasn’t just rude and presumptuous. It was also bad business.
Third, it might also be that the anthem was actually intended to honor one of the five major title sponsors. The Mexican Tourism Board is believed to have paid more than $1 million to co-sponsor the fight. This explains the signage in the ring boasting the slogan: “Mexico, Live It to Believe It.”
But again, the idea that this was all about pleasing a sponsor doesn’t hold agua. The largest sponsor was the Mexico-based beer company Tecate, which ponied up $5.6 million to become the official beer of the fight. Does Tecate have a jingle? How about Paramount Pictures/Skydance Productions or the Weinstein Co. – two other title sponsors? Why single out one sponsor for this honor and exclude the others?
Besides, the optics are horrible. If you start auctioning off national anthems to corporate sponsors, you’ve gone from crass to craven. If this is really the reason for the stunt, it’s a bad one. And it sets an unfortunate precedent.
Kicking off the so-called “fight of the century” with the Mexican national anthem was a colossal mistake. It was an embarrassing example of Latino marketing gone haywire.
As a Mexican American, and thus presumably a member of the target audience, here’s a tip: If you’re going to try to sell me something, take the time to understand me well enough to make a respectful and effective pitch.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com.