My journey to the fight began two years ago. I was chatting
with Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer. We were in his gym, which was once an anonymous Hollywood rat hole but lately has become a hip place for celebrities and the thousands of Pacquiao fans who linger outside to catch a glimpse of their demigod. Roach’s eyes lit up when he told me about Pacquiao, “the most exciting fighter in the world today.” Roach, who suffers from Parkinson’s, is the world’s best trainer and a person to trust. So I started studying the Filipino boxer.
Since the American media gave up on boxing long ago, I
followed Pacquiao through the Filipino papers, and on televised
bouts. His skills in vanquishing the boxing stars Oscar De La Hoya (who received such a beating that he retired) and Ricky Hatton (who was dropped cold by a devastating Pacquiao punch) were astounding works of pugilism. Pacquiao, 5-foot-6, has gained 40 pounds since the start of his boxing career, but even as he put on the weight he was able to flummox two of the sports brightest stars with his speed and engineered power. Boxing historians, or what’s left of them, were astounded that Pacquiao could win six different weight classes. The fight against Cotto, the reigning welterweight champ, would give Pacquiao a chance at an unprecedented seventh belt.
I had been wanting to see Pacquiao live. Watching a fighter in person, instead of just on television, can give a sense of the fighter’s speed and a feel for the weight of the punches. In press row you can hear the gloves strike the flesh, which usually sounds like push-push-push. I have been to fights, even championship ones, but I have never seen such fist speed
coupled with such power. Pacquiao's punches are still resonating in my ears.
Before the main event, I sat down in the press row and took in the undercard. There were a lot of media people, as usual, mostly from overseas. I talked with Larry Merchant, the HBO analyst, who had sent a contentious letter a couple weeks earlier to Tom Jolly of the New York Times complaining about the paper’s lack of boxing coverage. Jolly had countered that the sport is disorganized and not important. I find boxing’s disorganization and corruption rather entertaining and intriguing; it is an antidote to the corporatization of American sports—tightly controlled entities that relentlessly and neatly package their athletes, stories, games, and merchandise.
The undercard was tedious, except that Yuri Foreman, a Brooklynite from Israel who is known as the Fighting Rabbi, had won his match and was now the WBA Superwelter Weight champion. “I want to thank God for giving me strength, we are tough people in Israel, and my Arab friends were sending me messages on Facebook saying that they were praying for me to Allah,” said Foreman. Soon the crowd started chanting, and Miguel Cotto and his entourage approached the ring. Cotto was a 3-to-1 underdog but he looked confident and very serious. Cotto had only lost one fight, 16 months ago, a controversial one to Antonio
Margarito, who many suspect had put an illegal, hard substance in his gloves. "I am pretty recovered from the Margarito defeat," Cotto, 28, had told an interviewer before the fight.