Manny Pacquiao is a good guy and Floyd Mayweather Jr. is a bad guy. That assertion isn’t based on anything real, it’s just the way things are. If you ask 10 people who casually follow boxing’s more mainstream storylines who the good guy and who the bad guy is between Pacquiao and Mayweather, nine out of ten will cite the former as good and the latter is bad. Or at least, that’s the way it would have gone a week ago.
That’s not the way things are in reality, obviously. It’s never that simple. Granted, Mayweather probably isn’t the best guy in the world, what with his braggadocios ways, complete disregard for other people’s feelings and awful judgment in that incident with the mother of his kids; Pacquiao is no saint either, though.
The Filipino champion may be a respected political figure and a cult icon amongst his country’s sports fans, but he also has a history of hardcore philandering, excessive gambling and, for whatever odd reason, being a well-known cock-fighting connoisseur. Now, to be fair, he has supposedly changed his ways (in order to save his marriage, reportedly) and is no longer doing any of that, but it’s still a very real part of his past.
A very real part of his past that’s been conveniently ignored as Bob Arum and his Top Rank machine tried to sell Pacquiao to the world as boxing’s white knight. That’s a label that Pacquiao wore happily and willingly, even though he’s actually nowhere near the idol that a lot of folks tended to make him out to be. Conversely, Mayweather has proudly worn the black hat in boxing. He has not only welcomed the villain role that was heaped on him from the very beginning – he embraces it. He mocks the idea of being beloved by fans; Mayweather yearns to be despised.
And because everyone’s role in the world is so clearly defined, fans were understandably thrown for a loop this week when a now infamous article on The Examiner painted Pacquiao as a homophobic, hateful jerk. Without re-igniting that whole issue, here is the gist of what transpired: Pacquiao expressed to a blogger that he was against gay marriage. That author, after noting Pacquiao’s original sentiments, listed a Leviticus quote about gays being put to death that looked like Pacquiao had said it when in reality he hadn’t. A bunch of outlets attributed the Leviticus quote to Pacquiao, though, and that gave way to a whole big brouhaha.
Pacquiao wants to kill gays was Wednesday’s major storyline.
Obviously that myth was eventually dispelled, but the damage had been done. In an American society where people are adopting an increasingly “meh, who cares?” attitude about gays and gay marriage, Pacquiao emerged as an old-school, conservative-type who had a set of values on a particular social issue that some couldn’t get on board with. And just like that, he became a villain.
Meanwhile, as his arch rival was twisting in the wind, getting dis-invited from The Grove mall in Los Angeles and serving as public enemy No. 1 in the media, Mayweather made a very public pro-gay marriage move. Via his Twitter:
I stand behind President Obama & support gay marriage. I'm an American citizen & I believe people should live their life the way they want.
— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) May 16, 2012
Before moving on, it’s important to note that gay marriage is actually a really unpopular concept in the African-American community. Mayweather’s stand is a lot braver than folks want to give it credit for, and isn’t merely something that should be written off as a publicity stunt. But that’s a topic for another day.
What’s relevant now is the way that, in a 24-hour span, Pacquiao and Mayweather quite clearly swapped roles. Not really, of course, because neither guy was actually “good” or actually “bad" in the first place, but just in the way that people perceived them. Mayweather took a stand that more people seemingly agree with, thus he’s a hero; Pacquiao took an unpopular one, so he’s a villain. The fact that they’re both deeply flawed individuals matters as little now as it did when those ridiculous characterizations were originally handed out the other way around.
So what’s the endgame here? Will Pacquiao now get booed mercilessly when he comes to the ring? Will Mayweather get cheered? Probably not. The international support group that Pacquiao has will love him despite every single fault he has, and the folks at home will hate Mayweather regardless of any admirable thing he does. No, nothing will really change in the long-term. But it is still interesting how quickly people’s perceptions of these guys, guys that nobody really knows beyond the most superficial level, can change in an instant.