Among those close to the sport, there is a palpable concern about the fate of boxing. You won't hear it expressed outright, but listen to the way a true boxing fan or writer talks about the inelegance of an MMA match, or laments the alphabet soup of sanctioning bodies, or waxes poetic about the days of Mike Tyson, and you'll know what they're really saying: They're worried. And if you still have any doubts, pay close attention to their reaction in the closing moments of an exhilarating fight, as all that guarded anxiety bubbles to the surface with cries of, "And they say boxing is dead!"
"There is a brotherhood in the boxing world; a willingness to spend time with journalists so they can 'sell the sport' to the public."
It would seem boxing is looking for a savior, and right now that role has fallen to Manny Pacquiao. The 32-year-old Filipino has a record eight belts in eight weight classes to his name. Unlike many of the great champs, Pacquiao doesn't have a pristine record; he's lost three fights, two by knockout, has drawn twice, and not all of his victories have been decisive. But his recent dominance, credited by many to his extensive work with legendary trainer Freddie Roach, has pushed him to the top spot in his sport (and yes, that places him above his would-be nemesis, Floyd Mayweather, Jr.). And he's got the support of an entire nation behind him.
Gary Andrew Poole followed Pacquaio everywhere from General Santos City in the Philippines to Roach's Wild Card gym in Hollywood. He observed the fighter and was granted extensive access, but his resulting book PacMan: Behind the Scenes with Manny Pacquiao the Greatest Pound-for-Pound Fighter in the World doesn't shy away from addressing the boxing messiah's flaws.
In the following interview, which has been edited for length and clarity, Poole tells Gelf how he got inside the inner circle, why today's boxers make for cooperative subjects, and how many fights Pacquiao has left in him.
Gelf Magazine: While your book paints a thorough picture of Pacquiao the man and the boxer, I have to start by asking what everyone wants to know: Do you think Manny will ever fight Floyd Mayweather?
Gary Andrew Poole: That's the most common question. I wish I had a grand proclamation for you. Many observers believe a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight could generate more than $35 million for each fighter. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Think again. Manny Pacquiao has expressed an interest in fighting Floyd Mayweather Jr. Mayweather seems reluctant to even enter negotiations.
The backstory and the ego involved with both camps, from the fighters to the promoters, is astounding. I think most outsiders are completely perplexed by the whole thing. It makes little or no sense to an average sports fan. Among the public there is enormous irritation, which seems to be turning into boredom, over the non-fight of the century. Pacquiao and Mayweather should figure it out soon because I think their popularity might be peaking. Waiting too much longer is going to hurt their bottom-line and probably hurt the sport of boxing. But to more directly answer your question: There is so much money at stake that, sooner or later, I can't imagine them not getting into the ring.
Gary Andrew Poole: That is a fair question, but I think we do. It's the whole boxing algorithm of who you fight and who those people beat, etc., etc. While his last two opponents have been the equivalent of human punching bags, Pacquiao has had an impressive career against some storied opponents. The Boxing Writers Association named him the fighter of the decade. He has eight titles in eight different weight divisions. And qualitatively, he is an exciting, fan-friendly fighter. I would like to see him battle Mayweather, and then go across generations and test himself against some of the younger guys. But let me ask you a question that I am always toying with: Even if he is arguably the greatest fighter of the last 30 years, does it matter if only a limited number of people in the US care about the sport anymore?
Gelf Magazine: According to Mayweather's camp, the first round of negotiations fell apart over issues related to drug testing, prompting them to accuse Manny of using performance-enhancing drugs (for which he's currently suing for defamation). Did these accusations originate with Mayweather or had they been tossed around before?
Gary Andrew Poole: I don't really know if there were accusations tossed around before the Mayweathers flung 'em out there. I personally didn't hear of anyone talking about Pacquiao and PEDs. In this era of sports, if anyone does something extraordinary, suspicions are raised. But I really don't know on what factual basis the Mayweather camp made these accusations. I guess we will know more as the defamation lawsuit works its way through the court system.Gelf Magazine: You really seem to get inside Manny's inner circle to write this book. How did you go about doing that? Were they receptive?
Gary Andrew Poole: There was a great deal of generosity shown toward me. Getting inside was a complex equation. Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, helped quite a bit. I sort of became the annoying guy at the party who doesn't ever leave. I was in there clinging for my life, trying to get access and trying to bear witness. I felt like someone should write about Pacquiao because he is such a fascinating phenomenon, arguably one of the greatest fighters ever, and a man who could be the president of his country someday. The best way to witness this guy was to hang out a lot, talk to people, get a word with him here or there, and try to understand the entire Pacquiao dynamic. I am a journalist, not a fan-boy, so I tried to give an honest account of what I witnessed. Most of the reporters around him write honestly about him, and this can create some friction and denial of access. Honesty is not always the best way to make friends, but it is part of the job description.
Gelf Magazine: Did you feel that there was anything Manny or his crew was holding back from you?
Gary Andrew Poole: Boxing is unlike other sports. There is a real honesty around it; the fighters often see the writers as fellow craftsmen. People around boxing like to tell their stories; it is part of the culture of the sport. There is a brotherhood in the boxing world. Also, because boxing is outside of the American mainstream, there is a willingness to spend time with journalists so they can "sell the sport" to the public. I was obviously not a part of the team, but I didn't really get the sense that people were holding anything back. People ask me is this the "official biography"? It's not. I don't think I could have written so honestly and really portrayed Pacquiao as a human being if the book was an "official" book.
Gelf Magazine: In the book, Pacquiao comes off as an exceptionally kind and gracious person, even tolerating theft among his friends because "God has given him this bounty." Is this attitude troubling to the people around him?
Gary Andrew Poole: Pacquiao is a kind and gracious person. Some people feel that he goes overboard, as you indicate in your question. It is no secret that boxers sometimes end up in financial trouble after their days in the ring and so there are people who want to make sure he ends up financially secure. I think the people around him, who truly care about him, worry about others taking advantage of his kindness.
Gelf Magazine: You mentioned that it was Roach that helped you gain access to the inner circle. Clearly, his relationship with Manny goes beyond the usual fighter-trainer bond. How would you characterize it?
Gary Andrew Poole: Father and son.
Gelf Magazine: Manny Pacquiao is a singer, actor, politician, and many other things in addition to being a boxer. How much boxing does he have left in him?
Gary Andrew Poole: He told me he wants to fight three or four more times.