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January 7, 2010

Pointing The Finger

by Matt O'Brien

Just like that, the biggest prize fight in a generation is laid to waste. There’s no compromise, no ego’s backing down for the sake of the great good. Not even a potential $40 million per side could convince the parties to agree. And so to the cynics: it’s safe to come out now, guys. Start writing. Boxing is a joke. Again.

So, the question begs: where to point the finger of blame? One of the more irritating aspects of this whole debacle is that the stench it has created will undoubtedly linger longer than a dead dog’s arse. Fans are condemned to reading press releases from each camp accusing the other camp of ‘turning down the fight’ ad infinitum. It is a woeful prospect.

Mayweather was scared to fight, we knew it all along, the Pacquiao camp will cry. Pacquiao is hiding something, we knew it all along, the Mayweather camp will howl. On and on the cycle will go.

So I’m going to get off the fence right away: Manny Pacquiao is squarely to blame for this fight falling through. There’s no doubt about it  – I am pointing the finger right at the Pacman. Mayweather, as far as I am concerned, is absolved of all blame in these negotiations failing. I should probably follow that up by saying what a huge fan I am of the Filipino phenom. He is quite simply one of boxing’s greatest, and one of my favourite, fighters of all time. Which makes this even more of a bitter pill to swallow.

You see amongst all the bullshit, all the spin, all the claims and counter-claims from each of the camps, a certain set of simple facts remain: Floyd Mayweather asked Manny Pacquiao to take a random drug test before their fight. Manny Pacquiao refused.

Now, of course the Pacquiao camp will say they “are ready and willing to take a test as required by the NSAC blah blah blah”. They will also say that they will even take a “random” blood test up to X amount of days before the fight. Therefore, it is Mayweather who is turning down the fight, running scared, making unreasonable demands. There are many problems with this argument.

First of all, ask yourself just how absurd the idea of a random drug test is where the dates are fixed by none other than the athlete taking that test. Ask yourself, in what other sport in the world can a world champion dictate the terms of his own drug testing? Ask yourself, how many drink-drivers would the police catch if they set up neon lighting a mile down the road warning motorists of the impending inspection? Frankly the Pacquiao camp are insulting our intelligence by even suggesting such an idea.

Secondly, it is widely known that the urine samples tested by the NSAC, whilst important, are not infallible. Shane Mosley has gone on record stating that he was (unbeknown to himself at the time) using steroids leading up to his rematch with Oscar de la Hoya in September 2003. Yet nothing was ever detected in any pre- or post-fight urine samples. How many others got through the net, there’s just no way of knowing. Besides begging the obvious question of why the hell these tests haven’t been modified to the highest possible standard already, in terms of the dispute in question it does lend some credence to Mayweather’s, and in fact any other active fighter’s, demands for more stringent testing.

To those that say no, the onus is on the accusers to prove Manny’s guilt, not on Manny to prove his innocence, I would say simply you are wrong. You are wrong because we are not even dealing with guilt and innocence. We are dealing with world class athletes, and each and every one of them quite rightly carries the responsibility to prove time and again to the highest possible standards that they are playing fairly and by the rules.

As unusual as Mayweather’s demand was for the random blood test, the fact is that the demand was made. The sad irony of the situation is that this ridiculous demand became reasonable the very moment Pacquiao refused to take it.

There were two ways of dealing with this demand. One of them was taking the test. If, as Pacquiao’s adviser Mike Koncz claimed, this is all just “a facade and a  way for Mayweather to get out of the fight” – then call his bluff! Prove it to the world by taking the test. As much as I dislike The Golden Child Mr.DLH using his ownership of The Ring magazine to peddle his views, you have to say he made an exceptionally simple and profound point on his blog: if there is nothing to hide, just take the test. Even Pacquiao’s former foe Miguel Cotto chimed in, saying Manny’s refusal to take the test without conditions “raises questions”.

Not only would taking the test give Manny the chance to prove to the world that Mayweather and all of his associates’ claims are completely false and unfounded, it also presents him with the chance to show the world that boxing is one of the cleanest, most respectable sports out there. Show the up and coming kids what it takes to become a legend in this game: no drugs, no cheating; just plain hard work and dedication, boys. What an honour and a privileged position that is to be in.

The other way of dealing with the demand was to walk away. To refuse. To say, “no, I won’t take the test on anything less than my own terms”. Pacquiao took the second option. Koncz explained the decision to walk away as being based on ‘principle’:

“He is upset his reputation has been tarnished and he wants his fans to know that at some point, you have to stand on principle. He’s walking away from $35 million, $40 million, maybe $50 million on principle.”

Just what principle exactly is Manny Pacquiao standing on here? “Hey kids, don’t worry, if you don’t want to take a random drugs test before one of the biggest sporting contests in history, you shouldn’t have to!”. Yes, I can just see it now, they’ll be teaching it in school classrooms across the Philippines and beyond for generations to come. Maybe one day some body will make a nursery rhyme out of it.

“Principle”? “Tarnished reputation?” What nonsense. Pacquiao has tarnished his own reputation more than all of Golden Boy and Mayweather Promotions put together could possibly have dreamed of doing by refusing this test. All because the world’s finest pound-for-pound boxer is scared to give a blood sample too close to a fight in case it “weakens him”. That’s right: Manny Pacquiao, the man who stood smiling and singing at his last post-fight press-conference with his head wrapped in bandages after having his ear drained of blood due to the left hooks of Miguel Cotto that crashed against his skull, is scared of a pin-prick.

“After Manny fought [Erik] Morales [in 2005], he attributed the loss to the late blood test he took”, explained Koncz. Funny, but I vividly remember Freddie Roach screaming that the loss was due to Manny not being allowed to wear his favoured ‘puncher’s’ gloves, and instead being made to wear what Roach referred to as ‘pillows’. Funnier still, I seem to remember that loss being the result of Manny being out-boxed fair and square by the better man on the night.

Apparently, Manny’s reaction to the whole thing is that “he is very disappointed because he wanted to give the fans this fight” said Koncz. Just how badly he wanted it is now sadly evident for all to see: Not badly enough that he was willing to give a blood sample that disrupts approximately five minutes of your day and has no bearing whatsoever on your physical capabilities.

Floyd Mayweather made an unusual, provocative and irritating demand in order for one of the biggest fights in boxing history to be made. I didn’t like him for making the demand, and most agreed that it was unnecessary and tasteless. Manny Pacquiao, though, made a far worse decision in refusing to meet this irritation head-on. Long after the cat-fighting, bitching and moaning has died down, the ramifications will still be felt by the fans and by a sport that will be in short supply of ammunition with which to answer their critics. And for that, Manny Pacquiao, I point the finger of blame at you.

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