Manny Pacquiao has long-since been accepted as boxing’s lone shining star, the one fighter who has made himself a mainstay on the sports spectrum despite his craft’s dying popularity. Now, however, the Filipino superstar has the opportunity to send a booming message that goes beyond the ring: don’t mess with me, UFC – I’m still the biggest draw in combat sports.
A number of interesting things occurred during Fox and the UFC’s blockbuster announcement that they had agreed to a deal which would bring MMA to a much wider audience – the first step in a longstanding mission by UFC head honcho Dana White to make his combat sport as prominent among mainstream sports fans as boxing used to be. The most inadvertently interesting take away from the proceedings, though, is the confidence that White and his new Fox partners seem to have in their product. They’re so confident that people will love what they put in front of them, in fact, that they’re willing to bet that they can outdraw their main competitor’s biggest draw on November 12.
Pacquiao, of course, will meet long-time rival Juan Manuel Marquez this coming November in the final part of what prior to this coming match was a very epic trilogy. Despite the storied history involved between these two men, most boxing fans -- and sports fans, in general -- are fairly resigned to the fact that Pacquiao will dominate Marquez from start to finish en route to an easy victory.
For what it’s worth, though, despite the Filipino superstar’s romp through boxing over the past few years, the notion that he was superior to his opponents and thus the fight wouldn’t be entertaining hasn’t ever stopped people from tuning in before.
The UFC is hoping to change that. By giving away a free event on network TV that White will surely decorate and make memorable as only he can, MMA may be able to siphon off the fringe combat sports fans who would rather see something interesting for free rather than a foregone conclusion of a match for fifty-plus dollars. And make no mistake about it, this won’t be a Strikeforce on CBS type of exhibition. White is far too crafty for anything like that. For his first real pitch to a more mainstream audience, the UFC boss will pull out all of the stops to keep fans coming back for more.
As polarizing as the UFC is, you can’t help but feel as though Pacquiao is the one guy who White should have had more respect for than to challenge like this. A congressman, international icon and widely respected athlete, Pacquiao has the clout to make fans buy a product that they know won’t be good just because he’s being featured. He has the innate ability to evoke loyalty from supporters like no other athlete in recent memory, so it would hardly be surprising to see his more tried and true following purposely ignore the UFC’s free show in favor of supporting their guy.
If there was one man who could singlehandedly fight off the entire UFC, Pacquiao is that guy.
Will White’s aggressive plan to overshadow Pacquiao v. Marquez III pay off in the form of killing boxing’s biggest event in months? Only time will tell. What is for certain, however, is that the most interesting bout in the foreseeable future won’t occur inside of a ring or a cage, but rather, in the media as Pacquiao attempts to thwart the UFC’s attempts to take over combat sports once and for all.