Two wrongs don't make a right but sometimes two rights make a wrong. Witness the debacle about the Pacquiao-Mayweather mega bout -- the only fight that the public has demanded in years and a fight that has now been counted out. Why? How could boxing deliver such a vicious uppercut to itself?
As the story goes, and there are many narratives buzzing around, the contest was all but a done deal when Floyd Mayweather and company demanded Olympic-style drug testing. Pacquiao went ballistic and refused to comply. With perhaps the biggest bout on record hanging on the ropes, representatives for the two parties went into mediation but to no avail. Now Pacquiao has signed to fight Joshua Clottey on March 13, and in keeping with their strife, Mayweather is eager to match up with someone else on the same night.
As irritating as Mayweather can be, he was within reason and his rights to be concerned about the possibility of the Pac Man using performance enhancing drugs. After all, Pacquiao has leapt over weight classes as though they were puddles. He is the only fighter to win titles in seven different weight classes, prompting boxing historian Bert Sugar to tab him the "Evil Knievel" of boxing. To be sure, others have jumped divisions but none so many and while retaining, if not increasing, their punching power. Moreover, Pacquiao has been likened to Lance Armstrong in his supreme conditioning. His ability to workout for hours at very intense levels with little need for days off and recovery time are not the kind of stories to allay suspicions about PED.
While some commentators have accused Mayweather of groping for an excuse to excuse himself from a fight with Pacquiao, it is a fact that elite boxers have been going into the medicine cabinet. Some have been caught. Some haven't. By and large boxing does not have either the infrastructure or the financial means to demand rigorous random testing for every fight. Although Mayweather and his Golden Boy Promotions should not have approached the issue in such a public manner, their worries about the use of steroids or human growth hormone were understandable.
On the other hand, Pacquiao has never tested positive for anything and so from his point of view there was no reason to single him out for tests that go beyond what is required by the Nevada Boxing Commission. Assuming his innocence, Pacquiao is right to take serious umbrage at the implication that chemistry is responsible for his astounding accomplishments. He would also be right to do what he has done, namely, file a law suit against Floyd Mayweather and Golden Boy for defamation of character. But that is not the end of it.
With his exciting style and masterful technique, Pacquiao has single handedly scraped boxing off of the canvas. A one time street kid from the Philippines, he has become a national treasure and, according to Time, one of the most important people in the world. Pacquiao's popularity is in large part due to the fact that he is seen as a symbol of purity. Indeed, many Filipinos would prefer that he not seek political office (he is running for congress in the spring) because they believe that, no one, not even the mighty Pac Man, could avoid being corrupted in the political arena.
And yet with just a few comments, Floyd Mayweather has punched a hole in Pacquiao's image. If Pacquiao is to survive Mayweather's salvo and preserve his reputation, he needs to step forward and say that, while he is furious about the implication and is proceeding with the lawsuit, he will, for the good of boxing and his fans, submit to Olympic style testing.
The Pac Man has always crowed about his love of the sweet science and his followers, but does he have enough love to put aside his pride? If not, how are people to understand why he would storm away from 30 million dollars plus, and be willing to leave his legacy in Mark McGwire type tatters, just to avoid a few drug tests? Pacquiao has shown unprecedented toughness in the ring but he needs to show a different sort of toughness in order to get into the ring for the fight that his sport and fans demand.
A professor of philosophy at St. Olaf College and a boxing trainer, Gordon Marino writes on boxing for the Wall Street Journal.