It’s fair to dispute if the "people's champ" crown ever really belonged to Manny Pacquiao, but for the sake of accurately measuring Sergio Martinez’s climb to the top, we’ll say it did. Despite Pacquiao doing everything in his power to avoid Floyd Mayweather Jr. and every other capable fighter when they actually wanted to fight, the public, at least, deemed Pacquiao boxing’s king at one point.
Now, though, a new ruler has emerged in Martinez.
The Argentinian’s methodical and calculating way of taking the sport by storm is a story for the ages. Between his well-deserved win over Kelly Pavlik in a thrilling 12-rounder and his knockout for the ages against Paul Williams in their 2010 rematch, Martinez laid the groundwork for something truly special. Then, with his complete and utter destruction of the previously unbeaten Sergiy Dzinziruk, the brightest star in boxing officially took the next step in his journey to superstardom.
Many questioned whether Martinez had the boxing acumen and intelligence to really show his worth against a fighter like Dzinziruk. Despite having more talent than his opponent, the Argentinean southpaw had to have known that there was a reason that Dzinziruk looked all but unbeatable in his previous 37 bouts.
Yet when they stood across from each other in the ring, Martinez showed no signs of weakness. He wasn’t intimidated by the calculated defensive methodology that Dzinziruk’s technique was famous for. Rather, he adapted to it -- quickly.
Despite the height advantage, Martinez owned the match all the way through. He knocked his opponent down five times altogether, with three of the knockdowns occurring in the eighth round. Eventually, Arthur Mercante Jr. saw enough and put an end to the massacre, awarding the fight to Martinez by technical knockout.
While Martinez was out fighting the best of the best, slowly building his legacy, Pacquiao opted to sit back and collect big paychecks squaring off against nobodies, cheaters and has-beens. He repeatedly shirked interesting and captivating matches that would strengthen his legacy and show his true grit in favor of pocketing money at the expense of the fans’ pay-per-view dollars.
The Filipino paper champion has had two people sitting on his shoulder over the past few years in Freddie Roach and Bob Arum.
Roach, a man who has served as Pacquiao’s guardian angel of sorts, is a true boxing aficionado. He didn’t want this ridiculous, time-wasting spectacle against ‘Splenda’ Shane Mosley. He wanted a match against Juan Manuel Marquez, the final chapter to an epic series of matches. He knew that the cherry-picked bout against 'Splenda' would only hurt his fighter’s reputation, not help it.
The devil on Pacquiao’s shoulder, though, Arum, prefers big pay days to all else. He doesn’t care about the paper champ’s legacy, he cares about the bottom line. When he’s done with this puppet, he’ll move on to the next one.
For a long time Pacquiao was able to stay in the limelight and wear his false “people’s champion” hat because there were no other names worthy of recognition.
Times have changed, though. A new champion has emerged. One that cares about his legacy in the sport and what boxing means to the fans -- not just about nabbing the most amount of money for the least amount of work.
You go ahead and fight Splenda, Manny. The fans don’t need you anymore. Cherry-pick your opponents all you want. You’re not the only show in town these days.
Martinez is smart, capable and as of right now – he’s the new people’s champ.