Why Manny Pacquiao is the King of All Contact Sports

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I know, I know, you’re saying to yourself, ‘Wait, this is an MMA site, right?’  Undoubtedly, we here at Inside the Cage are all about the wonderful world of mixed martial arts. But, there is no denying the global phenomenon of the diminutive fistic juggernaut that is boxing’s Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao. Granted, this was a decidedly slow MMA weekend (no offense Bellator) but there is something to the fact that when Pacquiao fights, the eyes of the world watch. 

While a large portion of myopic MMA fans may gleefully shout of boxing’s demise, the fact of the matter is that contrary to popular belief, the “Sweet Science” is alive and well both domestically and internationally. Boxing is a sport with historic roots that predate nearly every other form of sport (save for maybe Pankration the forbearer of MMA). 

Boxing is ingrained into the fabric of cultures that have never seen an MMA contest. As such, those who try to sound the death knell for boxing come across as sounding like misguided zealots.  No, boxing is alive and well and while it may not necessarily be your cup o’ tea, it is still a viable and thriving sport.

But this post isn’t to take a stand in defense of boxing. No, this post is to bring to light the fact that while we may think that MMA is the combat sport du jour, the fact is clearly evident that the brightest star in all of combat sports is Manny Pacquiao. Sure, UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre may be the hottest thing going in Canada not related to hockey, and former fighters Sakuraba and Helio Gracie may be revered in their respective countries of Japan and Brazil, but none of the aforementioned MMA greats can hold a candle the global popularity of Manny Pacquiao.

Pacquiao’s influence and popularity, especially in connection to the people of his native Philippines, reads like one of those comical Chuck Norris references.  When Pacquiao fights, guerrilla warfare in the Philippines holds cease-fires. Crime is non-existent in the streets of Manila during a Pacquiao bout. Manny Pacquiao is such a revered figure in his homeland that he is an elected member of the Filipino Congress and his fights routinely draw the nearly every political dignitary from Philippines to see him fight live.  Hell, even UFC President Dana White makes it a point to be on hand for a Pacquiao fight. 

"I think boxing and the UFC can coexist," White, a long-time boxing fan told after the fight. "I'm a big fight fan. When there's a good boxing match, I want to see it."

Truer words have never been spoken by White.  Boxing and MMA can co-exist. The forced comparisons between the two have always struck me as comical. Why, are some people so dismissive of professional boxing being inferior to MMA when the beauty of MMA is that it pulls from boxing, and wrestling, and all other forms of combative sports? Why then are these same people who dismiss boxing, not equally as dismissive of the competitive global grappling circuit?  After all, the myopic fan’s cries of boxing being boring should also be applied to the sport of grappling where knockouts are strikes are not only non-existent, but illegal?

But, I digress. 

The poignant question has to be, will an MMA fighter ever receive the kind of fanfare enjoyed by a Manny Pacquiao, or to a slightly smaller extent, Floyd Mayweather Jr.? It’s hard to say. Pacquiao has a unique aura surrounding him. He is an idol in his homeland and to millions of Filipinos around the world for his humble demeanor, his eagerness to appease his countrymen, and his classic rags-to-riches story. 

Couple that with the fact that in the ring Pacquiao is an unstoppable buzz saw of fistic energy and you have all the ingredients to make a star, one that transcends sports. Pacquiao is that once in a lifetime fighter, one who brings everything to the table that you want in a fighter, but with the proverbial “It” factor that cannot be manufactured. MMA is still too new, too young, and too niche for a star to emerge that captures the global non-sports fan. 

Right now, MMA doesn’t have that star.  I’m not saying that such a star will never emerge, just that it will take some time for the sport to resonate with the general public.  We have stars, but none on the level of Pacquiao.  Then again, neither does any other sport. 
 Photo © Edward Garza/