Late-night TV watchers swooned when he sang John Lennon’s “Imagine” with Will Ferrell, and fight fans saw what the wow in Manny Pacquiao was all about the evening he brutalized Oscar De La Hoya into retirement.
But when it comes to lasting images, it’s the one of Pacquiao lying face first on the canvas of the MGM Grand on the night of Dec. 8, 2012, that lasts the longest.
It was the end of the sixth round of Pacquiao’s fourth fight against Juan Manuel Marquez. The aggressive Pacquiao moved in on Marquez – and right into the path of a sledgehammer. Marquez’s straight right blasted Pacquiao on the point of his jaw, and Pacquiao fell forward and flat – out cold. In the buildup to Pacquiao’s megafight with Mayweather on Saturday night in the same Las Vegas ring, it’s the KO defeat three years ago that tells you most authoritatively Pacquiao is going to lose.
“He’s not the same fighter anymore,” said Tony “The Tiger” Lopez, Sacramento’s former lightweight champion who now posts bail for a living. “Marquez didn’t just knock him out – he killed him. That fight, Manny looked like he died in the ring that night.
“People who have been knocked out like that before, they’re never the same.”
What hasn’t changed about Pacquiao is his popularity. His slugging, southpaw style makes him one of the most exciting, as well as successful, fighters of his era. His charm has set him up for a career outside the ring that he’s launched even before he finishes the one he has inside it. They love him in the Philippines, where he holds a seat in Congress as well as the welterweight championship belt of the World Boxing Organization. He’s an actor, a humanitarian and a basketball impresario, and he has the sweetest voice even Lennon could imagine.
Thanks to Pacman’s international belovedness, his price against Mayweather has remained relatively short. Late in the week, the odds stood at about 2-1 in Mayweather’s favor, plus or minus the juice you must pay the book no matter which way you go.
Conversations with fight fans around town this week showed strong emotional support for Pacquiao. Feeling from the heart, however, was tempered by the logic of the mind in doping out the fight. Pacquiao fans know he’s in deep against Mayweather’s impenetrable defense and supreme conditioning.
“I think everyone’s rooting for Manny, but it’s just tough to go against Mayweather,” said Aaron McLear, the former Arnold Schwarzenegger press secretary and now a Republican political strategist who had a few bouts himself under the name of Brutus Buckeye, back in his days as the Ohio State mascot. “If I had to put money on it, I’d put it on Floyd, but I’d be rooting for me to lose.”
At the Crest Theater, singer-songwriter Steve Earle pondered the fight after his terrific performance Wednesday night. Asked for a prediction, Earle recalled 2012, the night Mayweather beat Miguel Cotto. Steve and his band, The Dukes, were playing the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. He’d rented the fight for everybody to watch on the bus, but the driver clipped a tree branch near the hotel, and their dish went out.
This time, he plans to stay away from trees and find a nice spot on the side of the road when they hit Salt Lake City on Saturday afternoon. They’ll order takeout from the Red Iguana, a Mexican restaurant in town, Earle said, and settle in to watch the fight.
“I probably think Mayweather is going to win, whether you like him or not,” Earle said. “It’s amazing how good he is. He’s managed to get really rich because he’s managed not to get hit. I want to see Pacquiao win, and if I was betting the fight, I’d probably take Pacquiao and the odds.”
Richie Ross, the United Farm Workers’ lobbyist and political consultant, likes Pacquiao for the win.
“I go with my heart,” Ross said, getting ready to cross L Street at 11th on his way to the Capitol.
Steve Cohn, a former city councilman coming out of a rail conference at City Hall, also picked Pacquiao.
“I’m a great admirer of his,” Cohn said. “Hopefully he’s still got it in him.”
Sports figures joined the political types in their support of Pacquiao.
River Cats center fielder Juan Perez, not long after he made a spectacular over-the-shoulder basket catch Monday night against Tacoma, chose Pacquiao on the basis of “the way he is, the personality he has, the person he is, the kind of heart he has.”
Republic FC midfielder Rodrigo Lopez, waiting for a plane Thursday after a loss the night before to Real Monarchs SLC, went with Pacquiao by decision.
“He’s quick, he’s strong, he moves well,” Lopez said over the phone. “I know people have been wanting this for a long time. Hopefully, they’ll give the fans what they want, a good, interesting fight.”
Tony Lopez, the bail bondsman who had 16 title fights, says Pacquiao would have won by knockout if the fight had been held seven years ago, before the Marquez debacle.
“Mayweather doesn’t hit hard enough to knock Pacman out, but he does hit hard enough to make him think,” Lopez said. “The first time Mayweather tags him on the chin, and stuns him, Pacman’s going to think, ‘Holy (expletive), it’s going to happen again.’”
A Marquez flashback will make Pacquiao play defense, Lopez said, “and at that point it’s going to be Mayweather all the way.”
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.
The welterweight division has become the champion of all boxing divisions since former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson retired.