Manny Pacquiao is in an odd position for any athlete. More than just a fighter, Manny is a congressman in the Philippines and a national hero to the level of anything we see here in America. Our country doesn't grind to a halt when LeBron James takes the court. Michael Phelps could outperform his herculean effort from 2008 in the upcoming Olympic games and the amount of national pride still won't come near that of how the Filipino public feels about Manny.
Manny's unique position as not just a fighter but a congressman and national hero means that situations are likely to arise like what we saw in May, when Manny was asked about his feelings on United States president Barack Obama's coming out in support of gay marriage. Pacquiao stated that he felt gay marriage was wrong including a line about "putting God's law before man's." Not exactly surprising from a politician who has made banning condoms in his country a part of his platform based on the warped religious logic that, as Manny put it, "God said, 'Go out and multiply.' He did not say, just have two or three kids." This came just months after the release of a report stating that there had been a huge increase in the number of reported cases of AIDS and HIV in the Philippines.
The author of the original article on Pacquiao's gay marriage views threw in his own comment about the bible and quoted a verse from Leviticus mentioning that homosexuals "must be put to death." Media outlets picked up the story, irresponsibly attributing the Leviticus quote to Pacquiao as "Manny Pacquiao Wants Homosexuals Put To Death" headlines started popping up everywhere from the Village Voice to USA Today, even resulting in Manny briefly being banned from an L.A. mall. Well after it was clarified (by the original author and the fighter himself) that Manny had not said anything about putting gays to death, ESPN ran with the story, letting Skip Bayless and Stephen A Smith pretend the quote was confirmed and engage in a laughable debate over the "financial impact" of his statements. ESPN followed that segment up the next day by having Bayless and Smith act like true heroes who would not apologize for the quotes not being Manny's, but rather blamed "bloggers" for their running the segment. But that is a story that has been well told already.
Floyd Mayweather couldn't let the moment pass with all the media attention focused on Manny, coming out in support of gay marriage, because he loves America and freedom. Of course, as everyone celebrated Floyd's boldness, they seemed to forget his liberal use of the word "faggot" and a segment just weeks before on HBO's 24/7 where he talked about being disgusted by Miguel Cotto sleeping in the same bed as his trainer and a man he says is like a brother to him.
Manny's religion had been a godsend to the fight promotion in this case. As a politician he'd been asked about a hot topic in the world and, through the fallout to his response, the media and public had been reminded that he was fighting Timothy Bradley on June 9.
But Manny's faith has not been all that great for the fight promotion as a whole. Not that a man should reduce his willingness to be a "faithful servant of God" to sell extra pay-per-views, but when Manny won't talk about making predictions for the fight because "It’s against the law of God to predict the fight when the fight is not done yet" it would seem to undercut one of the most standard methods of promoting a fight.
While HBO's Face Off interview has been one of the central points of their fight promotion over the past few years, the newly content-in-God Pacquiao could only muster 110 words over the nearly 15 minute segment, 19 of which were telling Tim that god will bless Tim and Manny is praying for him. Manny and Tim have been doing Q&A sessions for HBO, with Manny spending a bizarre amount of time in his answers talking about bible study and devotion.
Top Rank CEO, Bob Arum, has had to try to make Manny's bible study into a "selling point" for the fight. Most notably when he went on The Fight Game With Jim Lampley and said "My problem is, what Pacquiao are we gonna see? You have to understand since the last fight, last November, he's become a wholly different person. He's super religious. He does Bible study every night. Sometimes, I get the impression that I'm promoting Rick Santorum and not Manny Pacquiao. But be that as it may, who knows what effect it will have on his ring ability on June 9th?"
The entire situation with Manny has led to a tricky sell. Tim Bradley is a dangerous, dangerous fight for Manny (spoiler alert: I'll be predicting a Bradley win later this week) but he also is a complete unknown to the public. Now there's little to no help coming from Manny.
And maybe it sounds cynical and completely unfair, but I find it interesting that Manny's devotion to his faith has become more pronounced as: 1) public sentiment Pacquiao/Mayweather war has seemed to tilt Floyd's way 2) many fans resented Manny for getting a third highly questionable decision win over Juan Manuel Marquez 3) Manny got in legal trouble for criminal tax charges as well as housing a fugitive.
Regardless of if his faith is 100% genuine or partly a ploy to try to re-establish himself as "the good guy," the truth is that the focus on it is is a large part of what has made the promotion for this fight a bust. There's almost no buzz for the bout, despite the threat level to Manny, and, if this is the amount of effort Pacquiao puts into promoting his fights, it'll be hard to continue to argue for a 50/50 split in the Manny vs. Floyd negotiations.
In the end, if Manny wins and looks impressive, we'll hear that his renewed faith in God has him more focused than ever, if he loses or looks unimpressive in victory, he'll have "lost his fire" due to being content in his faith. What we probably won't hear, however, are official pay-per-view numbers as they're almost sure to disappoint.