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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Can Pacquiao Fill De La Hoya's Golden Shoes?

We know that Manny Pacquiao is more than Oscar De La Hoya’s equal in the ring. He proved that point and then some with his demolition of De La Hoya in December, an astonishing onslaught of speed and precision that first forced Oscar to quit on his stool, and then prompted him to quit the sport altogether.

Now, in the wake of the Golden Boy’s retirement announcement on Monday, everyone in the fight game is asking the same question: Does Pacquiao have the star power to take over for De La Hoya as the face of boxing?

It will undoubtedly prove a taller task for Pac Man than did beating Oscar in a fight. After all, as far as the actual boxing goes, De La Hoya, at 36, is well past his best, and if truth be told, though he was an excellent fighter in his prime, he always was a better pitch-man than pugilist.

What a pitch-man, though. In an era in which interest in the fight game dwindled to new lows in America, Oscar was a gold-plated guarantor of international coverage and ridonkulous pay-per-view numbers every time he stepped in the ring. He was that elusive triple threat amongst athletes -- handsome, articulate, and excellent. You throw in his Mexican heritage, making him an automatic subject of interest to the most passionate fight fans in the world, and then the savvy business acumen that allowed him to become the most successful promoter/fighter the sport has ever seen, and it all adds up to a veritable money-printing machine in boxing gloves.

With his retirement, not surprisingly everyone involved in the fight game confronts a certain anxiety concerning the future of the sport. A rising tide lifts all boats, and for about a decade now, De La Hoya has been a one-man rising tide in an otherwise rapidly sinking enterprise.

That’s a job that seemingly now falls to De La Hoya’s conqueror. Logic would tell you that the pound-for-pound king of boxing known as Pac Man, having vanquished the king, would now accede to the Golden Throne. And it won’t be long in waiting for Pacquiao to be measured for the sartorial robe, because on May 2nd he faces Ricky Hatton in what is right now the biggest event on boxing’s 2009 calendar. Appropriately, the bout takes place at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the very same location where Pacquiao defeated Oscar just five months ago in a mega-fight that generated a whopping 1.25 million PPV buys.

How much PPV business will Pacquiao/Hatton garner? It’s a question of great speculation and heavy implications now that De La Hoya has left boxing behind. HBO is doing a 24/7-level of promotion for this fight, and Hatton is a B-side who brings a major fan-base to the table. One imagines that if Oscar had fought Hatton in December instead of Pacquiao (and he nearly did), the event possibly would have fared even better financially than Oscar/Pacquiao did.

Given that fact, I would venture to guess that anything south of a million buys for Pacquiao/Hatton will have the fight game’s cognoscenti openly doubting Manny’s ability to step up as captain of the always chaotic and mutinous ship that is boxing.

At which point, I fully expect that we’ll all be getting a call from Floyd Mayweather on his batphone ...


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