Sunday, November 19, 2006

Pacquiao for the Victory

I'm not really what you'd call a natural sports aficionado. That domain belongs more to my brother who was a basketball jock back in his day. I didn't enjoy watching games like basketball, boxing, or billiards, although I did enjoy participating in the casual basketball games we had in school, as much as a guy who can't dribble and can't shoot can enjoy it.

It was only after exposure to sports anime--and manga-- that I'd develop an appreciation for such sports. Slam Dunk, for example, taught me about the rules of the game (aside from the basics that I already knew, such as traveling) and the dynamics of the team (I didn't even know there were five people on the court) more than my Physical Education classes ever could. And during my college years, I did watch the basketball games of my alma matter, especially as they'd make it to the finals but falling short of winning the championship (except on one occassion when they finally succeeded). Of course nowadays, I don't watch much basketball as I never really followed the sport and what kept me interested in basketbaall during my college years were the personalities I became familiar with.

The other popular Filipino sport which suddenly had a resurgence is boxing. Again, I'm a neophyte in terms of my knowledge of the sport, but my anime indoctrination with the likes of the show Hajime no Ippo has made watching boxing much more interesting. As a spectator, a fight (or any game for that matter) is more interesting if you know what's going on, who's winning, and what the viable tactics are. I mean to someone unfamiliar with boxing, it all seems like people duking it out in the ring, throwing random punches and jabs. But in reality, it can be a complex sport with feints, counters, body blows, and a lot of seemingly unseen attacks to the casua viewer that makes boxing so exciting.

Writer Krip Yuson once wrote that Filipinos excel in sports that begin with B's: boxing, billiards, bowling, but alas, not basketball despite fervent interest in the sport by Filipinos. One of the country's living sports icons is Efren Bata Reyes, a recognized billiard champion, not just here but internationally as well. Yet in a certain way, he has less impact than a Manny Pacquiao fight. Perhaps it's because we've grown accustomed to Efren Bata Reyes, who has dominated the pool scene for quite some time. Efren is perhaps best described as the vanguard of Filipino billiards, the reigning champion and guardian of the sport. In other words, he is expected to win his fights, and is this seemingly otherwordly skilled master of the sport.

Manny Pacquiao, on the other hand, is a boxer that is the complete opposite of Efren Bata Reyes. While talented in his own right, Pacquiao is a protagonist fitting for a soap opera. He has all the elements, everything from a rags-to-riches story to a youth discovering himself to the underdog winning fight after fight. He's the country's black knight, the man whose odds are aren't in his favor, yet he manages to win fight after fight just the same. Filipinos not only empathizes with Manny Pacquiao's because of his common-man roots, but they feel that he's earning each reward with each fight, a very mortal man slowly earning his place as a champion step by step (Efren Bata Reyes, on the other hand, seems like he was destined for his greatness because it's simply been so long that he's dominated the billiards scene).

To the uninitiated, perhaps the best analogy I can give of Manny Pacquiao's popularity is that of Bruce Lee to Hong Kong. Back when The Green Hornet TV show was airing in the US, the Chinese in Hong Kong were watching it as The Kato Show. Bruce Lee inadvertedly became a hero to many Chinese despite the fact that being an accomplished actor, while an exemplary feat, isn't really a unique profession. I mean Manny Pacquiao probably garners more attention than his foreign rivals and counterparts would in their own home country.

Anyway, Manny Pacquiao's third fight with Erik Morales came to a conclusion today. Losing to Morales in their first encounter and making a combat in the second, it seems like fate when Manny Pacquiao won his third fight on the third round--after knocking his opponent thrice, twice during that pivotal round--and establishing himself as one of the world's finest boxers (at least at this point in time). To the casual viewers, this is probably the best fight they've watched of the three matches that Pacquiao's has had, simply because a lot of blows were exchanged early on and there were a lot of knockdowns. Unlike other sports, combat sports (and not just limited to boxing) aren't necessarily the most rewarding shows to watch visually. The problem with fighting is that attacks are usually quick and fast, and depending on the range, don't necessarily have lots of audience appeal. The best example I have are the UFC fights where both contenders are grappling. To a spectator, it seems like two people hugging. It's really difficult to see the strikes going on there (because it's being covered by the grappler's bodies) and the strain it puts on both fighters. That can also happen in boxing, especially when both boxers are in-fighters. That wasn't the case with this fight though as both Pacquiao and Morales were fighting with range, and there were a lot of head blows as well as body blows.

It wasn't a first-round knockout but it was nonetheless an exciting fight. Both warriors slugged it out in comparison to their previous fights where both fighters were more cautious and avoided long exchanges. There were also knockouts instead of depending on the judge's scorecards to determine the winner (and has come to plague a couple of Filipino boxers in our history) although I will applaud Morales for getting up after not just his first knockdown, but his second as well.

Again, I know Pacquiao's previous fights were just as fierce and competitive, but three-round victories and winning by knockout is what comprises drama. It was a pleasant fight to watch and only serves to increase Manny Pacquiao's image as this macho, courageous Filipino.

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