Manny Pacquiao Is The Latest Newly-Minted Superstar To Get A Big Head, But At What Risk?

narcissus.jpgWhatever the status of the Manny Pacquiao-Ricky Hatton negotiations, my takeaway from this particularly inside baseball phase of a fight’s evolution is that Pacquiao has, for some reason or another, developed a contemptible case of egocentricism.

He’s not the first boxer to get too big for his own britches, nor will he be the last. And as much as I complain about fighters getting a big win and then turning into divas during negotiations for their next fight, as long as the fight happens, rarely does the temper tantrum linger in the boxing public’s imagination and do any serious damage to their careers. What’s galling about it is that it’s a completely avoidable roll of the dice that can backfire terribly if things go askew.

Let’s take a few recent cases.

Antonio Margarito threw a fit during negotiations for a welterweight (147 lbs.) fight with Shane Mosley, arguing that he was the real draw and therefore deserved more cash. I and others warned that Margarito, by putting his ego first, was damaging his reputation as a bare bones, all business, fear no one fight fan’s fighter. In the end, Margarito got an ego-placating undisclosed boost to his end of the deal, and while it’s difficult to determine without knowing how much cash he got whether Margarito backed down or everyone else did, he walked away with more dough and all seems to be forgiven, judging by the expected 18,000-strong crowd for Margarito-Mosley. So the fight got made, and I doubt much of anyone still cares that Margarito felt so self-important a couple months ago.

Coming off a 2006 draw with then-middleweight (160 lbs.) champion Jermain Taylor, Winky Wright demanded a 50-50 split, arguing that he was robbed in the decision and therefore deserved an even share. Few sided with Wright in the debate, and there was no fight. Wright’s career hasn’t really recovered from this misstep. He took a smaller-money fight with Bernard Hopkins in 2007 and hasn’t been seen in the ring since. He wants a 50-50 split with Paul Williams for an April bout, and more people are on his side at the moment, but the damage has long since been done.

Following a draw with Manny Pacquiao in 2004, Juan Manuel Marquez balked at taking $750,000 to Pacquiao’s $1.25 million for a rematch. He ended up taking $35,000 to fight Chris John in Indonesia, lost, and had to spend a couple years rehabbing his career before he got back to where he was and got that rematch with Pacquiao.

Margarito, Wright and Marquez were all at different phases of their careers than Pacquiao is now. Of the three, Margarito would have had the biggest money-making alternatives if he’d walked away from the Mosley fight, but there’s no doubt he would have lost out on a payday with Mosley that would have been the biggest of his career.

And that’s the risk Pacquiao runs by turning his nose up at a 50-50 deal with Ricky Hatton, the junior welterweight (140 lbs.) champion. It’s not that Pacquiao’s career can get thrust into the limbo Wright’s or Marquez’ were. But unless Pacquiao ends up with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. as a substitute, there’s no way he gets anywhere near the payday he’d get against Hatton elsewhere. And frankly, I don’t think a Mayweather fight pays as well as a Hatton fight at this point. Hatton brings the huge U.K. pay-per-view money, and Pacquiao’s team knows it, which is why they wanted to ensure they got a slice of that rather than leave the U.K. to Hatton, the Philippines to Pacquiao and an even split on the U.S. money. Nor would Mayweather likely agree to a split Pacquiao is likely to enjoy as much as 50-50, at least not yet.

Hatton’s team has reportedly offered a 52-48 split to resolve the standoff, and Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter, is said to have upped Pacquiao’s guarantee. (Previously, I’d wondered aloud why Arum didn’t know that Pacquiao would be unhappy with a 50-50 split; subsequent reporting suggests that Pacquiao had agreed to a 50-50 split at one point, only to change his mind. So Arum never appeared to be at fault here.)

We’ll see if that does the trick. I know that even if the fight does come off, Pacquiao’s behavior has hurt his standing with me. I was already dismayed that he didn’t do a third Marquez bout, that he tried to bigfoot Oscar De La Hoya in their negotiations and that rather than strike while the iron on his burgeoning stardom was hot, he’s decided to take six months off. I’m still a huge Pacquiao fan, but I eventually got sick of Mayweather’s egotistic posturing and turned from fan to non-fan. I’d still watch Mayweather fight again in a second, though, so the point here is that egocentricism won’t hurt a boxer if people still want to see him perform. It’s another question whether being an egomaniac stilts one’s capacity to become an even bigger star, as I think was the case with Mayweather, and that’s a whole different chance Pacquiao’s taking, although he’s far from that point.

The biggest immediate, real risk Pacquiao runs is that by thinking so much of himself, he will lose out on a major pile of paper for no reason other than that he was behaving like a proud peacock. You make the call, Manny. Is ther principle of insisting on a 55-45 split worth the risk of losing out on all those millions altogether?

(The painting in this post is of Narcissus, by Caravaggio. That tale, per Wikipedia’s summary, goes: “Narcissus became entranced by his own reflection in a pool. He only realized that it was his reflection after trying to kiss it. As he leaned forward to look at himself in the pool of water, he fell in and drowned.”)

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.