Is Pacman for real?
Vague hints of a Mayweather rematch and a new sponsorship deal appear as a foil for the bad publicity courted by the boxer
Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao has established himself as one of history’s best pugilists, but he faces a rocky road ahead. Earlier this month, during preparations for his third fight against Timothy “Desert Storm” Bradley, Jr – for the World Boxing Organisation’s (WBO) welterweight title, scheduled to take place on April 9 – Pacquiao became embroiled in controversy for his homophobic comment that gay people were “worse than animals”.
This raised public ire and prompted his headline sponsor, Nike, to cut ties with him a day later.
Last year, Pacman earned a whopping $12 million (R194 million) in sponsorships alone, of which Nike is thought to be the biggest contributor.
Although his endorsements have diminished since his defeat to Floyd “Money” Mayweather Jr in May last year, he was still expected to net around $1 million from Nike this year.
In a terse statement, the US sports apparel giant called Pacquiao’s comments “abhorrent” and cut their 10-year relationship that has seen the Filipino rake in about $1 million a year in endorsement deals.
This is the second time Nike has parted ways with Pacquiao. It did so in 2012, after he made similar homophobic slurs.
But this week, Pacquiao’s camp hinted at a “multimillion-dollar” brand likely to replace Nike in providing sportswear for the boxer’s April encounter. No further information was given.
The 37-year-old Filipino, who is regarded as a cult hero in his country, is an eight-division world champion – the first boxer in history to win 10 world titles in eight different weight divisions.
He is also the first boxer to win the lineal championship in four different weight classes.
He has been in the ring against some of boxing’s finest opponents, notching up impressive world title wins.
Big-name opponents whom Pacman disposed of in memorable title bouts include Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Márquez, Ricky Hatton and Shane Mosley. These victories have assured him of tag lines such as “arguably the world’s classiest boxer”.
But it was Pacman’s bout with Mayweather for the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and WBO welterweight crowns – which he lost by a unanimous points decision at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas last May – that put a stop to the champion’s accomplishments in the ring.
In that match, dubbed “the fight of the century”, he was outclassed by a more polished foe who won by a unanimous points decision.
Having brazenly stated his desire in December to hang up his gloves after the upcoming Bradley bout, Pacquiao seemed to make an about-turn last month when he hinted at the possibility of a rematch with Mayweather.
Devoutly religious and an active politician in his home country – he serves as a member of the Philippine House of Representatives and is running for a seat in the country’s Senate as a conservative Christian – Pacquiao is a contentious character.
He initially appeared unrepentant about his homophobia with a post on Instagram stating he was “just telling the truth of what the Bible says”.
He later apologised on Facebook for his homophobic outburst while still maintaining he is against same-sex marriage: “I’m sorry for hurting people by comparing homosexuals to animals. Please forgive me for those I’ve hurt. I still stand on my belief that I’m against same-sex marriage because of what the Bible says, but I’m not condemning LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community].
“I love you all with the love of the Lord. God bless you all, and I’m praying for you.”
Citing its reasons for dropping the boxer, Nike said: “We find Pacquiao’s comments abhorrent. Nike strongly opposes discrimination of any kind and has a long history of supporting and standing up for the rights of the LGBT community. We no longer have a relationship with Manny Pacquiao.”
His utterances could have dire consequences for the fighter’s political and pugilistic campaigns, given the huge public backlash against him and the substantial loss of sponsorship money.
He is not the first athlete to be dropped like a hot potato by Nike. There are several other stars who were also ejected by the sports company for misconduct ( see box). The world’s former top golfer, Tiger Woods, is among the major casualties.