Leading up to Manny Pacquiao’s return to the ring tomorrow to fight a much taller and younger Jessie Vargas at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, there has been a significant drop in interest, not just among his core fanbase in the Philippines, but also boxing fans in general.
In the country which has been known to halt everything from holding rallies, crimes, military and police operations and generally about every daily routine with each Pacquiao fight, the Philippines seemed to be less enthusiastic this time around.
Gone are the usual noise and fanfare generated weeks, even months before a Pacquiao bout, regardless of who he was up against. The local fans themselves even generate most of the hype, which used to make each news item about the People’s Champ go viral. The past weeks have been so unusually quiet about his latest bout.
Pacquiao, who rose through eight weight divisions during his impressive 21-year career, has become one of the greatest pay-per-view draws in boxing. The international superstar has so far generated 18.4 million buys and $1.2 billion in revenue after headlining 22 pay-per-view fights, with approximately $500 million in career earnings, according to Forbes.
The Pacman has also made an enormous amount of money (Forbes estimates it to be around $40 million) through endorsements for many international companies including, Foot Locker, Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Monster Energy, Nestle, Nike and others.
Yet for an accomplished boxer such as Pacquiao, he still feels he has got more to accomplish to seal his boxing legacy.
“I want to prove that I am still one of the best pound-for-pound fighters,” the 37-year-old fighter was quoted as saying. “I feel I still have a lot to prove. I am not done with boxing. I will continue to keep fighting as long as I love boxing and boxing still loves me. I do not feel old. I feel like I am still 27.”
The statement, which Pacquiao gave in the pre-fight presser, comes as a huge departure from his promise last year to Filipinos before his run for a seat in the Philippine senate. In several interviews, he has repeatedly said he would retire in 2016 after his fight against Timothy Bradley to “focus on serving the country.”
For some Filipinos, this next fight against Vargas came as a disappointment as it meant time lost from his obligations in the legislature.
Manny Pacquiao has previously earned much criticism for being one of the top absentees in the Philippines’ House of Representatives since starting his first term as a congressman back in 2010. There was even a clamor for the House Speaker to suspend Pacquiao for posting a dismal attendance record.
In the U.S., where he has become equally as popular over the years, the seemingly lackluster anticipation for tomorrow’s fight is also quite noticeable.
For one, not many are convinced Jessie Vargas is a worthy opponent for the caliber of Manny Pacquiao. While not a terrible boxer, he’s not really regarded as an exciting adversary at all. Many see the fight as a made-to-order, easier fight and most fans are getting tired of such pairings.
Pacquiao’s star power in the West has also been observed to be on the decline, especially with his last fight against Bradley generating 400,000 PPV buys. Since his performance against Oscar De La Hoya in 2008, Pacquiao has consistently drawn above 700,000 buys for every fight. His momentum only shifted after his KO loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, which with the exception of Pacquiao’s Mayweather fight, has mostly remained around 400,000 buys.
It is also worth noting that, in February, Pacquiao drew flak from the international community after his anti-gay comments on a local TV station went viral. With his comments, he not only lost his Nike deal but also offended many fans around the world.
Another major reason the fight has not generated much interest in the western media is that HBO has left Pacquiao on his own for the first time in ten years. Without the promotional machinery of HBO, the hype for this fight has remained at virtually almost zero.
When Pacquiao and Top Rank tried to squeeze his fight into the HBO schedule merely two weeks before the much-publicized Ward vs. Kovalev Nov. 19 fight, HBO chose to say no, offering Pacquiao to fight on Oct. 29 instead, LA Times reported. Bob Arum’s insistence that other dates are impossible due to the boxing senator’s schedule has resulted into the bout being a non-HBO, non-Showtime PPV, and promoted solely by Top Rank.
With Manny Pacquiao being an easy favorite against Vargas, according to Bovada, the 2000’s “Fighter of the Decade” may indeed notch up another win tomorrow. For the first time, however, no one seems to care even if he does.