FEATURE STORY: THE MANNY PACQUIAO GAMBIT
An in-depth report and analysis on Pacquiao's promotional stalemate
24 Dec 2006
In my chess playing days, I used to drop by the Cubao area in Quezon City to try to solve chess puzzles presented by 'chess street hawkers' and get to win a few bucks here and there.
Chess puzzles are very intriguing mental exercise and depending on how the pieces on the chessboard are arranged and the number of pieces involved, chess puzzles, when analyzed and eventually solved, may acquire diferrent characteristics. Some become shocking, others passive, or difficult and yet others are full of drama.
Having followed the Manny Pacquiao promotional imbroglio wherein Pacquiao and everyone else involved is trying to come up with a solution, I felt I was back in my chess playing days -- also trying to figure out a solution for the Pacquiao puzzle that has currently enthralled the boxing world.
How to fight Barrera in March or April 2007 with all the legal mess around?
Fighting Barrera is the obvious objective because this is what everyone seems to want. Pacquiao himself has declared that he wanted to fight Barrera next and had recently sent notice to WBC that he had accepted WBC's order for him to become the mandatory challenger. Barrera, after three years removed from the worst beating of his career, is eagerly anxious to begin training for this fight from his hometown in Mexico City. Seventy-five percent of the 20,000 respondents of Pacland Poll want this fight. Boxing magazines, websites, TV networks and what have you want this fight. In short, this is a fight that should be made now -- and for good reason -- because if this fight will not happen next, if may not happen, ever.
What prevents this fight from happening?
Two words: Top Rank. Aside from signing a promotional contract with Oscar de la Hoya's Golden Boy Promotions (which also promotes Barrera), Pacquiao had also signed a promotional contract with Bob Arum's Top Rank, a signing that has become a major obstacle for the Pacquiao-Barrera fight to happen.
An easy solution would be for Bob Arum to give way. But Arum and De la Hoya are not what you call the best of friends and the two are not expected to settle this dispute amicably. In fact up until last week, before the Gensan celebration, Arum had been perceived to have the upperhand.
"Everything has been smooth up until today," Top Rank agent Michael Koncz told me the day before the Gensan celebration. It was the day Pacquiao's manager Shelly Finkel and trainer Freddie Roach had arrived in General Santos to join the celebrations. Koncz, with the help of Wakee Salud, was instrumental in signing Pacquiao to a 4-year fight contract with Arum notwithstanding the earlier signed 7-fight agreement by Pacquiao with Golden Boy. Arum had announced the fight deal to the stunned media during the Pacquiao-Morales III post-fight press conference in Las Vegas.
The US-based Canadian Koncz, to protect what their camp had achieved, has never left Pacquiao's side since accompanying Pacquiao home after the Pacquiao-Morales III fight. However, the arrival of Finkel and Roach in General Santos signals a grave threat to Arum's hold of Pacquiao. "I'm here to do a job," Koncz said. "And I will counter whatever influence Finkel and Roach will exert on Manny," Koncz added.
MEN WITH MISSIONS
Wakee Salud, the influential Cebu-based promoter who is a close Pacquiao confidant had earlier proclaimed they had an ace up their sleeves to turn the tables on Golden Boy and true enough, Salud working with Koncz, had Manny signed a 4-year contract with Arum. Unfortunately Salud had a failing with Koncz when Salud's name was scratched from the list of people who can go up the ring of the Pacquiao-Morales III fight which Koncz had controlled. Koncz would later comment that it was purposely done because of the bad press Salud had with the Jimrex Jaca debacle. Whatever, Salud broke up with Koncz (and by affiliation Top Rank) and is now leaning to support the camp of Freddie Roach.
Freddie Roach, working in the corner of Filipino phenom Rey "Boom Boom" Bautista in Tampa, Florida, would tell us he was going to the Gensan celebration together with Shelly Finkel to purposely convince Manny to honor the Golden Boy contract. It was no secret that Roach had some animosity going on with Michael Koncz. Koncz had been declared persona non grata at Roach's Wildcard Gym in LA. Additionally, Filipino boxer Diosdado Gabi, who was previously handled by Koncz is now being managed by Roach.
Shelly Finkel, the remarkable American boxing manager who at one time successfully managed Mike Tyson and a host of other popular boxers and who had helped Manny extricate from Murad Muhammad promotional contract, have also travelled to General Santos to pitch for his own managerial contract extension, aside from convincing Manny to honor the Golden Boy contract.
THE GENSAN CELEBRATION
So the stage was set for a major celebration in General Santos City, Pacquiao's hometown, on December 17th. The day was set to celebrate, among others, Pacquiao's 28th birthday, christening of Manny and Jinkee's only daughter "Princess", blessing of Pacquiaos' newly minted 35 million peso residence and Pacquiao's victory party for his triumph over Morales last Nov. 18th -- a grand celebration covered by a national television fit for Pacquiao's stature as a national treasure.
While everyone seemed to be enjoying the whole-day spectacle, it was clear that the tug-of-war on Pacquiao's signed promotional contracts with Top Rank and Golden Boy, and the uncertainty of his upcoming fight with Marco Antonio Barrera had played a major counterpoint of the day's celebration. Almost always the subject comes up when people gather together throughout the day. Sure Shelly and Freddie had made their representations to Pacquiao - before, during and after December 17th. Surely, other insiders within hearing distance of Manny had made theirs as well.
Like a chess puzzle that offered many variations, the following suggestions on how the Pacman could extricate himself had been offered and discussed:
1. Use the Finkel card. Because Shelly Finkel, as Pacquiao's legal manager, was not involved in the contracts signed by Pacquiao with Top Rank and Golden Boy, have Finkel nullify them and re-nogotiate with Top Rank and Golden Boy.
2. Do nothing and wait for the verdict of a U.S. court that is hearing a case filed by Arum on which contract is legal.
3. Go on with either promoter, proceed with the next scheduled fight and let the courts decide on whether an injunction will be issued to stop his next fight or not.
Whatever line of action Pacquiao would take, the world will be waiting with a bated breath. And everyone directly involved may have another sleepless night at its every passing day.
-- The WBC, which had previously set a deadline for the fight's negotiation and a purse bidding on January 12, 2007 has suspended all actions until further notice.
-- HBO had reportedly given a deadline last Wednesday, Dec. 20, to the Barrera camp to decide on who will be Barrera's opponent on the scheduled March 11 HBO fight. However, HBO may be forced to adjust its own schedule for a possible Pacquiao-Barrera fight in April.
-- Marco Antonio Barrera has been reported in Mexico to be agonizing on what action to take in the next few days -- whether to now decide to take on Marquez or to wait a little longer for Manny Pacquiao to make his move. It is the general consensus that if Barrera takes on Marquez and Barrera loses, the Pacquiao-Barrera II fight, with its huge financial windfall, is forever gone.
The Gensan celebration has come and gone and individual members of Team Pacquiao had returned home one by one. Finkel had left; Roach had declared in Cebu that he may stay a bit longer until Pacquiao makes up his mind but finally left last night telling Nick Giongco of the Manila Bulletin that he wouldn't want to miss Christmas at home and that Pacquiao had said he will make a major announcement on January 1, 2007. Throughout this ordeal, Pacquiao played it cool and may have reprised his response many times after intently listening at everyone's sales pitch by declaring, like Jesus in the Last Supper spreading his hands: "This is a time to celebrate and not to decide on this matter."
Or has our Top Rank man ably holding fort? Michael Koncz, who had been following Manny wherever he went including the restrooms since Manny signed the contract with Top Rank, is reportedly back in Gensan together with Manny after Manny's Folk Arts concert last night.
One time, I was staring intently at the chess pieces as I was trying to solve a puzzle thrown at me by a Cubao chess hawker. I couldn't solve it so I gave up. Returning home, I recreated the position on my chessboard and tried to solve it all night but to no avail. Facing a blank wall, I then realized that the puzzle that was given to me had no solution.
I asked Atty. Jeng Gacal in Gensan -- Jeng has been Manny's legal adviser since Manny's early days -- if he was indeed present during the signing of both the Golden Boy and Top Rank contract signing. He said he will not deny it. I then asked how could he do it as Manny's legal adviser? He replied that "it was Manny's wishes and besides we had an independent American lawyer who went over the two contracts and who had recommended the signing with Top Rank. And," Gacal added, "I'm willing to be perceived as the bad guy as long as it is for Manny's benefit."
Obviously, our hero Manny Pacquiao is not blind while all of these are happening. He may be swayed one way or the other but finally it is his decision to make. In other words it is Manny Pacquiao's gambit. At this point though there is good reason to believe that the world would be willing to accommodate him -- but the question is for how long? Let's hope that he will not end up in a legal mess that could indefinitely delay his next fights -- otherwise he could be facing a blank wall all night.
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