Even without admitting it, the organizers, protagonists and handlers of the most talk-about “dream match” between PPV king Oscar De La Hoya and world’s best pound-for-pound fighter Manny Pacquiao are emulating the hype and promotion of past Muhammad Ali spectacles. Just in the way they are now show-boating the much awaited fight scheduled on December 6 in Las Vegas and showing off for photo opt the fighters to the public and the press, their shows has everything copied from vintage Ali tactics and antics. During his time, however, Ali was just alone in drum-beating and spicing up interests to his every fight while in today’s event, all those involved with the fighters are doing just that, too – promote the fight to its maximum.
With so much at stake in this spectacle; honor, prestige, money, you name it, De La Hoya being one of the protagonist and at the same time also the sole promoter can’t ill afford to let this just happen without much fanfare or set new records of sort. As expected, this venture will surpass all previous De La Hoya fights including his fight last year against Floyd Mayweather in earnings and attendance despite losing that fight by a close decision. Having already set many records like being the first to win six world titles in six weight divisions and as the biggest star in the pay-per-view business, De La Hoya is so determined again this time to show that despite his age and close to retiring, he can still command the biggest draw in boxing. But where he is most interested is in selecting and fighting Pacquiao as his priced opponent and in the fact that Pacquiao now outshines him in every way that he vowed he will beat the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter.
In trying everything to sell the fight in the US, De La Hoya went on a six city publicity tour with Pacquiao that started their presentation at the Statue of Liberty in the state of New York, then Illinois, Texas and tapered off in De La Hoya’s hometown in Los Angeles, California. Although it was to drum up support and interests to the fight, it somehow differed from Ali’s gimmicks as it lack the Ali appeal in all sense. Even during the early stage in his career and while alone in selling his fights every time, Ali has attracted huge crowd every time that spanned for over two decades. With assorted jokes or rhetoric to show off or express every day prior to each fight, Ali was so well versed he has almost mastered the trade of promotions. But his most talked about and well covered scheduled fight was his third fight with Joe Frazier in 1975 that was also known as the Thrilla in Manila. With the Philippine government as co-promoter alongside Don King’s outfit, the Don King Promotions, Inc., and with the country still under Martial Law, the conduct of the fight was so smooth from start to finish that even Ali called it his “greatest fight of all”. As a spectator of that historic event, this writer calls it, too, as his own “experience of a lifetime”. And who would not be.
Since arriving in Manila ahead of Frazier, Ali took Manila by storm. Even before he arrived, Ali’s pictures already graced the headlines of every major Manila newspapers and the more as the fight nears. Ali was so gifted he never runs out of never ending issues to tell reporters and fans everyday. In fact, the famous title Thrilla in Manila was coined only after Ali said or commented before television cameras in a press conference together with Frazier that this fight will be “a killah and a chillah and a thrillah when I meet the gorilla in Manila” to the amusement of the crowd and to all those present. Exhibiting a rubber gorilla toy and playfully punching it, Ali soon put it in his breast pocket after saying his prepared script, tapping it with his hand that he himself looked amused by his act. However, no matter how Ali made it as just for fun, Frazier took it seriously he wanted to flare up every time Ali does some funny things about him that he later vowed never to appear together with Ali in future tv interviews. Sensing that Frazier was reacting to his psychological warfare and to everything he does, Ali took advantage of the situation until fight time. And as history now tells us, Ali annihilated and humiliated Frazier in this fight when Frazier’s corner threw in the towel after the 14th round giving Ali a 15th rd tko win to retain his world heavyweight title.
Today, despite the biting rhetoric between De La Hoya and Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach, they are still a very far cry from Ali’s ability to attract attentions. As a sample, Roach describes De La Hoya prior to the makeup of this fight as incapable now of “pulling the trigger anymore” that posed as a challenge to De La Hoya leading to the signing of this match. So as to show what he meant, Roach brought and gave De La Hoya a plastic toy gun that doesn’t fire in their stint in San Francisco to the amusement of the crowd. For their part, De La Hoya sang with gusto the famous song “I left my heart in San Francisco” dedicating it to Pacquiao and Pacquiao in return, spoke some broken Spanish that bewildered the crowd.
If these are not copycat ideas taken from what Ali had done years ago, then, perhaps these will make history on its own merits. This we have to see that up to this point – so far, so good.
To be continued…