Boxing superstar and Filipino Congressman Manny Pacquiao took to Capitol Hill Tuesday morning on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol. In a press conference coordinated by Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, a politican Pacquiao stumped for in a re-election big this past November, the two lawmakers expressed their kind regard for one another, their mutual respect for their respective countries and ultimately exchanged gifts to commenorate the occasion.
The event had a strange sensibility to it. The event was not a dedicated moment to promoting Pacquiao's upcoming fight with Shane Mosley. But in Washington, messages are conveyed, not spoken. This was an event as much about Mosley as it was partaking in the Pacquiao phenomenon.
Pacquiao is now more than the sum of his parts. Parsed out he is easy to make sense of. He is a cultural icon, the top combat athlete in any weight class competing, foreign dignitary and populist lawmaker. He is man and he contains multitudes. Taken in total, he is more a living monument to achievement. When events are held with and for him, they need not have a clear ask or message. They simply need to have him.
To my left was Top Rank CEO Bob Arum. He was quietly standing in the corner, arms lightly folded over his middle, assuming the posture of a fan enjoying the moment. Like everyone else, he was here to see one of the sport's all-time greats engaged in a special moment. Arum's smile was at once unassuming and beaming. It's the sort of grin that indicates a person is genuinely experiencing joy without even realizing it.
I asked Arum at the close of the conference to contextualize what this all meant. Arum seemed neither to be Pacquiao's business partner nor friend. There was a paternal undertone to Arum's glee. Was this the most proud he'd ever been of Manny Pacquiao?
"Absolutely," Arum said. "It's a wonderful moment. It's an accolade that's well-deserved."
And is there any other boxer alive who could ever reach such heights?
"No, not around now. And the only boxer that was capable of this was [Muhammad] Ali. I remember years ago bringing [Ray] Leonard and [Tommy] Hearns to the Capitol and we met with Speaker [Jim] Wright, but nothing like this. Nothing like this. And the fact that the Senator [Reid] would walk Manny on the floor of the Senate, that's a great, great honor."
It's impossible to find anyone analogous like this in MMA. It's also impossible to find anyone or anything like this in boxing or frankly, any other sport. Arguments about Georges St. Pierre's or Brock Lesnar's pay-per-view buyrate potential become equivalent to ruminations about how many angels fit on the head of a pin in a moment like today's. Whatever their earning potential, none can even sniff the penetration into the global consciousness that Pacquiao occupies.
"Though those of us who serve here are close with our colleagues in the United States Congress - and some even achieve celebrity status inside the Beltway's bubble - few of our names and faces are recognizable beyond our shores," Senator Harry Reid quipped, stating the indisputable.
The event closed quickly and both took just a few questions, most of them too insignificant to write here. But Arum, holding sidebar as he stood near the cordoned-off media space, used the opportunity to give Pacquiao a promotional boost.
The first question was about Pacquiao helping to re-elect Reid: "I think he certainly helped. You can believe or disbelieve polls, but on the Friday before election day Harry was four points behind. On election day the Senator won by five points. Now, a lot of that was the enthusiasm that Manny created. No question about it."
"Sharron Angle," Arum continued, "who was running against Senator Reid, elected to have at her final rally John McCain. I don't know what you think of John McCain, but he's no contest for Manny Pacquiao."
When asked why Pacquiao seemed to resonate with the working class domestically and his countrymen abroad, Arum leaned on Pacman's everyman status. "He symbolizes the Third World," said Arum. "Poverty people all over the globe who can, following his example, rise up and establish a decent life for themselves. That's why he resonates so much in this country and around the world. He's a symbol for all the poor people in all the countries around the world."
The discussion among the press quickly turned to boxing and to Top Rank promotions. Arum used Pacquiao's status as a way to leverage discussion of his powerful new arrangement with CBS and Showtime pay-per-view.
"Manny Pacquiao has become the face of the sport of boxing," said Arum. "He comes at a very fortuitous time. Because if anybody can bring boxing back to the mainstream, if anybody - by his presence get the terrestrial networks thinking about boxing again, be willing to put boxing on free over the air television - it's Manny Pacquiao, as witnessed by CBS and Showtime in promoting and distrubuting this [Pacquiao vs. Mosley] fight."
A Filipino reporter was given the last question to Arum. "Will bringing boxing back to network television be your legacy?"
"That will be his [Pacquiao's] legacy," Arum testified.
It may be his legacy, but even that gift can't save boxing. He is bigger than boxing. It's true he is too big for boxing to fail, but only while he's around. His eventual absence from the sport will only uncover what Pacquiao himself can barely disguise: pessimism and profound indifference about the sport, that when he competes, gets even the pretenders to care.
Until that day, however, we enjoy the Pacquiao phenomenon. We enjoy the undulating path of this world achiever. We enjoy his gifts to the sport from which he came and we enjoy a real life bildungsroman story in our lifetime.
We enjoy the pleasant multitudes of Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao.