On a Saturday night in May 2009, I was alone in my apartment and surprised when my Twitter feed exploded with updates of the same, seemingly anachronistic event: a boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton.
A publicist I knew in Toronto wrote: What would Manny P do? A hipster friend in Texas tweeted: I wouldn’t trade places with Ricky Hatton’s jaw for all the Maker’s in Williamsburg. Mariah Carey observed: Pon de seats in the arena then This is really violent and then Woah. And then perhaps most strangely, several feminist critics wrote: Tagalog phrase: NANALO SI MANNY. English translation: MANNY WON.
Boxing is a disgusting sport, my mother always says. It’s all rich people watching poor people punch each other to death. Boxers aren’t poor, I say. Some get millions of dollars a match. But my mother is insistent. Look at tennis, look at golf, she says. Those are rich men’s sports; they don’t have to beat each other in the face. Yet for some reason, everyone I knew, from a vast variety of ideological backgrounds, had simultaneously fallen in love with a Filipino boxer who turns a coarse sport new again. On Saturday night, Pacquiao fights for the first time since May, in a hotly anticipated pay-per-view bout against Juan Manuel Marquez, a fighter he has battled twice before—the first bout ended in a draw; Pacquiao took the rematch, but barely.
Pacquiao makes boxing lovable by being lovable: He overcame immense poverty to become an international phenomenon worth ...