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Keidel: A Game of Pacman

By Jason Keidel
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After the official weigh-in each fighter turns to scowl at each other, the cuts in their carved bodies twitching with each gesture. This time it looks like a "before and after" photo, two men in different stages of growth, a teen fighting an adult. The requisite stare-down turns into a stare-up, with Manny Pacquiao glaring at a man nearly a full head above his own.

There's an ancient maxim in boxing that a good big man beats a good little man. But in this case, with this fighter, the smaller man always wins.

By every measurement used outside the arena, Antonio Margarito is a far larger man than Manny Pacquiao. Sadly, for Margarito, business was conducted on canvas. Margarito is the latest highly skilled fighter to be reduced to dust by "Pacman."

Pacquiao, a tornadic force with a bottomless quiver of punches, doesn't seem to care who he fights. The bell rings he lunges up toward the face of his foe, his arms spinning like helicopter blades, his fists pounding flesh. Pacquiao is the rare boxer built with volcanic power and imbued with a hunger that doesn't recede despite his riches. In a sport that demands almost delusional lust for pain, Manny Pacquiao manages to avert the complacency of affluence.

Frantically buzzing across our planet, Pacquiao somehow summons the energy to be Earth's best boxer, a congressman in the Philippines, and a singer (though some question his competence as a crooner).

Even in the brutality of boxing – where, like football, some form of wreckage is assured – the goal is to beat your opponent without bludgeoning him. Indeed, Pacquiao pleaded with referee Laurence Cole to stop Saturday's fight as each unimpeded punch blasted the sweat from Margarito's mangled face, literally breaking it. Margarito just had surgery to repair a broken orbital bone three days after he was knocked into orbit.

But if any boxer earned a beating, it was Margarito, who was forced to fight in Texas because few other states would sanction him. He was busted for wrapping his hands to harden like plaster of Paris before a bout with Shane Mosley. Then, last week, Margarito's camp released an appalling video mocking Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, who has Parkinson's disease. Margarito, his eyes bulging like bloody walnuts, hobbled out of Cowboys Stadium Saturday night without addressing the media. Karma is, well, you know…

Those of us straddling 40 entered adolescence during the boom of arcade games, like Asteroid and Space Invaders and, of course, Pacman. We raced to the local bodega clutching a roll of quarters, and if someone occupied the machine we slapped a quarter on the screen to say we had the next game.

Floyd Mayweather, America's antagonist, keeps his coin in his pocket, wanting no part of this Pacman. Mayweather has regarded Pacquiao with racism and cowardice. Neither quality is illegal, of course, but in a craft fueled by machismo the world knows the only way to settle this score is by fighting, not with YouTube rants from your kitchen.

The country clamors for that fight, comparing it to Ali-Frazier I, on March 8, 1971. There can be nothing like that night or that fight, but there are a few similarities in that each man could not be more different in the ring and beyond. Pacquiao represents the workingman, the blue-collar grit of the brawler who wins by dint of his will. Mayweather has the bling, the ornate persona, and the style of the thinking man, the stick-and-move tactic in the Ali mold, be occasionally gritty but stay pretty.

But the world has turned on Floyd, and we learned that Manny can make money without "Money" Mayweather, banking up to $20 million for battering Margarito. There is a narrowing portal through which these two boxers can strut and revive a sport that has been on life support for years, and allow those of us weaned on the sweet science to commiserate.

Mayweather and his waning fandom insist that Pacquiao is taking steroids; though Manny has passed every test he's ever taken. If that is the only buffer between the two fighters, one question should be answered. Isn't worth $40 million (the minimum each boxer would make) for Floyd to find out? Far lesser fighters than he is stepped into the ring, danced in the de facto slaughterhouse with Pacquiao and have made no mention of juicing

It could just be that Pacquiao has entered the rarest of realms, the distillation of timing and talent where an athlete becomes an artist – even in the paradox of pugilism, where violence and artistry have been odd friends for a century.

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