Friday, November 27, 2009

Pacquiao should be in hunt for Sportsman of the Year

Critical acclaim for Manny Pacquiao after his stoppage a couple of weeks ago of stubborn Miguel Cotto included a moment in the post-fight news conference that defined the Filipino’s ongoing emergence and pointed toward recognition that he has yet to achieve.

Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum called him “boxing’s Tiger Woods.’’

Yahoo columnist Kevin Iole offered an amendment, saying that Tiger Woods is “golf’s Manny Pacquiao.’’

From pillar-to-post, from tee-to-green, Arum and Iole are dead, solid, perfect. I only hope that Sports Illustrated and Associated Press were listening. With the Holidays already here, it is the season to think about end-of-year prizes. Pacquiao is a lock for Fighter of the Year. Who else?

But Pacquiao deserves more. I’ve seen some of the usual, perhaps predictable names – tennis star Roger Federer, LeBron James of the Cavaliers, Kobe Bryant of the Lakers and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees – tossed around for the year-ending biggies, SI Sportsman and AP Male Athlete.

Unless I’ve missed it, however, there’s been no mention of Pacquiao for awards that rarely go to boxers. For AP, there have been four – Joe Louis in 1935, Ingemar Johannson in 1959, Muhammad Ali in 1974 and George Foreman in 1994. For Sports Illustrated, there have been three – Johannson in 1959, Ali in 1974 and Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981.

It’s hard to believe that the original Sugar, Ray Robinson, wasn’t a winner and hard to believe that Pacquiao isn’t at least a contender. Any ballot without him has been put together by a crowd that hasn’t been paying attention.

It’s not often that any athlete can single-handedly captivate a nation. But Pacquiao has. Federer, James, Bryant and Brees are all terrific athletes and ambassadors for their respective sports. But Pacquiao has become a reason to cheer, almost an island of hope, for Filipinos hit by typhoons in October and political violence during the last week.

I’ve heard a Pacquiao story that might be apocryphal, but it is worth repeating. Warring rebel and government troops call a cease fire when Pacquiao fights so they can watch and/or listen. After it’s over, they go back to war. If that’s even close to true, the Nobel people got the wrong guy when they picked President Barack Obama for their peace prize. It should have gone to Pacquiao.

What we do know for sure is that Pacquiao has begun to fascinate some unusual sources. There was Time magazine, which put him on the cover of its Asian edition before his 12th-round technical knockout of Cotto on Nov. 14. The Wall Street Journal mentioned him.

Even the New York Times is interested, although I’m not sure the newspaper would have been at ringside for Pacquiao-Cotto is if not for a letter from HBO’s Larry Merchant and a thorough story by Thomas Hauser, who detailed just how much it had abandoned boxing.

Whatever motivated The New York Times, it and other media are beginning to look at Pacquiao as though he was another emerging Asian market. What’s more, his brilliance against Cotto was a dramatic affirmation of skill and athleticism. He’s more than just a good story from a country that desperately needs one. He is a hell of an athlete.

Maybe Sports Illustrated and The Associated Press will figure that one out.

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