The world has been waiting years for Floyd Mayweather to fight Manny Pacquiao and finally the public will get the fight it’s been craving for next Saturday. Mayweather and Pacquiao are two different men who have different cultures, histories, fan bases, personalities and career arcs. Part of the promotion to the fight has been the narrative of a good Pacquiao versus an evil Mayweather. The truth is a casualty of this simplistic narrative.
In examing this good versus Evil narrative let’s start with the obvious: Floyd comes off as a dick and Manny as a nice guy. One acts like a spoiled brat flaunting his wealth and position and the other comes off as a humble and likeable dude.
Pacquiao came from the grinding poverty of an island even known as poor according to Filipino standards and lived on the streets. He sold donuts to commuters in Manilla to make a living and found boxing which was his ticket. Fame, riches and success would follow.
Other writers have noted that Pacquiao came from much harsher circumstances than Mayweather. I beg to differ. While Pacquiao was malnourished in a nation of chronic food shortages, natural disasters and political turmoil Mayweather grew up a different kind of poverty.
Growing up in inner-city Grand Rapids, Michigan at the height of the crack-epidemic a young Mayweather was surrounded by violence and addiction. His father went to jail for his role in the drug-trade. This is the same father who used a young Floyd as a human-shield during an armed-altercation. Floyd witnessed abuse growing-up and would’ve internalized domestic-abuse as a method of conflict-resolution and model of masculinity.
The poverty of a young Floyd was compounded by the fact his mother was addicted to crack. Money for food was spent on crack and a young Floyd was often hungry and by his own admission frequently lived without utilities.
In his book The True American author Anand Giridharadas examines the difference in American poverty and “Third World” poverty. One of the areas the book covers is that while those in Third World countries may be materially poor they are most often family and relationship rich. Whereas the poor in America are often materially poor, come from dysfunctional families and are relationship poor. The American poverty of the book seems to define the life of a young Mayweather.
Now as two wealthy and successful boxers Mayweather has the image of being the King of Bling and Pacquiao a humble guy. The truth of the matter is both men like to live it up although Mayweather certainly favors a more conspicuous-consumption. Both men have splurged and each has splurged in their own preferred ways informed by their cultural tastes. They have also both had tax issues and serious gambling addictions.
Regarding family and women the record is also not as cut and dry as it may appear. Before anyone accuses me of minimizing the abuse of Mayweather let me set the record straight. Floyd Mayweather is an unrepentant serial-abuser of women. In any leauge sport Mayweather would’ve received a lifetime ban for his repeated actions. All of us who love to watch him fight are guilty of ignoring this truth and rationalizing. Furthermore, not only is Floyd an abuser of women he also continually till this day displays an extremely misogynistic attitude towards women. In all fairness if I had his money I wouldn’t beat women but I’d quite possibly indulge as Floyd does as my flesh is known to be weak when some panties are involved. So we all have to ask ourselves at times are we engaging in hypocritical righteous-indignation or are we jealous?
The point is not to defend Floyd’s record regarding women. It’s indefensible. Rather I want to note Pacquiao hasn’t exactly been palling around with the gender-studies crowd in the Philippines. While a happily married man now Pacquiao frequented brothels for years as a married man prior to recommiting himself to his Christian faith. This article ( while not that good especially when it comes to the writer inserting his theology and ignoring the culture of Filipino Catholicism) points out some of this history.
Another crucial part of this good versus evil narrative is that Pacquiao is a selfless servant of the Filipino people pursuing a career in politics while Mayweather is a narcissist only concerned with himself. I grant the fact Mayweather isn’t politically outspoken and hasn’t used his position to advocate for anything greater than himself as Muhammad Ali did ( and to a lesser extent as Sugar Ray Leonard and Larry Holmes did with apartheid). Mayweather has been sorta vaguely pro-black on occasion correctly pointing out no one has a problem when Mexicans, English or Puerto Ricans cheer for one of their own but when African-Americans do the same thing they’re accused of racism. This of course creates a backlash in a white American sports culture known for rooting against a perceived cocky and flamboyant black male.
The image of a political angel Pacquiao gets in the American media doesn’t square with reality. Pacquiao has engaged in ethically questionable behavior during his political tenure. This includes allegations of vote-buying, assaulting a political foe, and being allies with shady political figures.
You can say OK this is how the game is played. Granted. However, don’t make Pacquiao out to be an angelic political figure when he is knee-deep in a corrupt game. The Philippines after all has a history of electing celebrities and it doesn’t always turn out well.
May 2nd is a boxing match. Nothing more and nothing less. The fight won’t be a contest between good and evil. Both are flawed humans like us all. The two men are works in progress. Perhaps Pacquiao seems to be further down the road in a path towards positivity but what do we really know? All we know, and honestly really care about, is going to happen in the ring at the MGM Grand Saturday night.