Sweet Science

I wrote a few years ago what it was like to stop being emotionally invested in Manny Pacquiao matches as a Filipino American. I guess a lot of that was just match fatigue, because I found myself in the old stress traps again when Manny faced the undefeated villain, the Author of All Lies himself, Floyd Mayweather Jr. I watched HBO's documentary the night before and it activated my nervous stomach acid. I could hardly get to sleep.

Reactions to the fight among the masses were predictable even before the fight went down. We knew it would be a dodgy, defensive battle and we knew Mayweather was probably going to win a not-that-close decision after 12 rounds. Because I knew this, I also knew people would proclaim that Floyd was running and dancing, that Manny would've won in 2009 and that boxing was dead.

That last one is probably true.

Still, most of what I took out of it was relief that it was over. The question was answered, albeit half-heartedly and years too late to be worthwhile. It was the stress of the unknown that got me worked up. The shadows parted and revealed to be just a big, boring, nothing. That's okay. I can deal with that.

In my head, Pacquiao's only real shot was a miracle knock out. Mayweather would have to make a mistake, and Pacquiao would have to recognize it in time to capitalize in it. That's essentially how all knockouts work; little windows, breaks of daylight, and getting caught in them. It's how Pacquiao hit the mat all those years ago. You can be great for 11 rounds, but there's always that distant chance you leave a window open too long.

That's what's lovely about boxing, and what I'll miss about its nearly-assured decline in popular consciousness. Its brutish fighters and the endless story possibilities, round-to-round, make it a noble and intriguing ritual of violence. That's why some of the best films, essays and novels are written about boxing.

I watched Mayweather vs. Pacquiao hoping for one of those stories to occur. It was a lottery, sure, but it wasn't impossible. Storybook tales happen all the time in other sports, from LeBron James going back to Cleveland to the Red Sox finally winning the World Series. Sports are built for these audacious endings, and I was hoping that boxing would live up to that tradition on Saturday night. 

It didn't. It was realistic and true and logical, as we all thought it would be. Which is a shame, for a sport that has inspired such essential stories of redemption, underdogs and fighters.

Dropping Pacquiao

I don't know if I could ever be considered a Manny Pacquiao fan. I always wanted him to win, but being a fan implies positive feelings of support or a participation in excitement and joy. Mostly, what I felt was dread. During the height of Pacquiao's winning streak, I was worried about how this would all end. As a Filipino, I could not his significance to the people around me or the entire archipelago of the Philippines. I joked that should he ever lose, there would be a string of suicides in Manila, but underneath the hyperbole I believed the core of it. I didn't enjoy the suspense of his matches, or at least, I enjoyed them the way one might enjoy a horror film. The eventual victories were just sighs of relief until the next stressful bout.

It's not a reasonable way to think by any means, but I've come to understand it as part of having an identity, whether it's based on ethnicity or hometown or shared hobbies. It's not purely that Pacquiao was Filipino, and therefore, I was obligated to emotionally invest in his career. It's just that I recognized a common ground, and that made him relatable, likable, and inclined to transpose all my hopes & dreams onto him (if you want to deconstruct it that far.) It would have been the same if I found out he listened to Titus Andronicus or read Batman comics. For a group starving for representation in even the most inconsequential of venues (So You Think You Can Dance! American Idol! Top Shot?) every chance to root for someone that looks like you is a gem.

Of course, this kind of identification has boundaries. Comedian Hari Kondabolu has a great bit where, upon deciding that there are now plenty of Indians in American mass media, he now feels free to openly hate some of them. While I don't think I've personally reached that level of saturation, I understand the idea of divorcing those that don't line up with the rest of your identity. There are figures you'd think I would identify with (Say, half-Filipino singer Bruno Mars), but they do things that I absolutely don't see myself in (cheeseball R&B songs). My tendency as a minority participant in pop culture has been to relate to someone until they do something that says, nope, sorry, you can't.

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