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

CityPress - - Sport - PULE MOKHINE pmokhine@city­press.co.za

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.

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