Manny Pacquiao Vs. Antonio Margarito: To Boycott Or Not To Boycott

So begins our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2010, Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13. Now: the debate over purchasing the fight. Next: the stakes of Pacquiao-Margarito.

Among hardcore boxing fans, it seems there are two major camps as it pertains to the junior middleweight fight between Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito: those who are offended by the fight because Margarito very recently was exiled for being caught with loaded gloves, and those who look down on those who are offended by the fight.

As someone offended by the fight, I am nearly as ticked off about those who question the sincerity and reasonable-ness of my kind as I am about the fight itself. As such, before this site considers the nitty-gritty of the match-up — why it matters, how the two men stack up physically and strategically, et cetera — I’d like to address the underlying question of whether one should pay for the bout at all.

It is no small question. We are talking about Pacquiao, the biggest attraction and best boxer in the sport, facing the most disgraced boxer in the sport. It’s unlike any fight I can recall in that regard; there is no obvious historical parallel. It’s one of the reasons there have been such extremes of opinion against the bout. But I fear that sometimes, neither side has fully understood the other. And at the end, I’ll explain what I, myself, intend to do.

Boxing Is Immoral

You’ll hear the view among those supporting this bout that boxing is the red-light district of sports, that anything goes and that’s fine by them. Except no one REALLY believes that.

You can throw any number of scenarios at people that they would find hard to embrace, unless they were being disingenuous. Would they support fixed fights, where one fighter was paid to fake a defeat? Would they support someone punching an opponent on the back of the head deliberately until they got brain damage? Would they support a fight between a 105-pound man and a 250-pound man?

Every rule in boxing is about one of two things, or both: 1. enhancing competitiveness; 2. safety. Safety is, at its foundation, a moral question. Is there any other reason for safety than that? I can’t imagine it, if there is.

If someone wants a sport where anything goes, they don’t want a “sport,” per se. They want uninhibited violence. If someone wants to watch combat where two people are allowed to hit each other with bricks, or punch each other on the back of the head until someone gets brain damage, they can find underground videos of this on the Internet. If they want to enjoy boxing, they have to accept that there are rules that are based on a moral foundation and that some are going to support those rules because of it.

Sincerity Of Opponents

I hear the term “selective morality” thrown around all the time in reference to those who take offense to Pacquiao-Margarito. It might be the most ridiculous claim of them all.

As someone who is offended by this bout, my view has nothing to do with anything I “selected,” as though I sat around deciding what to get all snooty about for some reason related to… well, I don’t know what. A decision to feel morally superior to someone else? I’ve heard that one, but I’m not sure where it comes from.

There are too many mind-readers among boxing fans. So many of them know claim to know who’s faking an injury and who’s really injured, whether any evidence exists or not. If you think I’ve decided to do something so diabolical as gin up my phony outrage so I can look down upon you, what’s your evidence? And if you don’t have any (you don’t), aren’t you on thin ice making such an evidence-free claim? Isn’t that a good enough reason to back down?

The very act of looking down on people offended by this bout — and make no mistake, accusing people of not truly being offended by this bout is looking down on them — implies a deeply-held sense of superiority in and of itself.

I live in Washington, D.C. There are marches here all the time on political issues. Among the most passionate are debates about abortion. Yet I never hear anyone on the abortion rights side accusing those on the anti-abortion rights side the other of not meaning it, nor vice versa.

Only in boxing is such a preposterous projection of false motives so frequently thrown around as though it is a legitimate argument. I can assure you of this much: I have no evidence whether those who aren’t offended by Pacquiao-Margarito are secretly offended and lying about it. So I won’t pretend to doubt the sincerity of those who say they have no qualms about Pacquiao-Margarito.

Margarito’s Offense Vs. Those Of Others

This is somewhat related to the first two points. The thinking of those who have no issue with Pacquiao-Margarito and take issue with those who do is that somehow, opponents of Pacquiao-Margarito are holding Pacquiao-Margarito to some standard they don’t hold other offensive activities to.

There’s some truth to that. But it’s related to simple concepts that have parallels in our society’s understanding of crime and punishment.

To those of us who find Margarito’s actions particularly offensive, there is a systematic reasoning about it. I won’t go into great detail here, but here’s a simplified version: Margarito’s illegal actions have as their closest historical equal the Resto-Collins scandal. You would be hard-pressed to find a more disgusting case in boxing history. A boxer’s career was ended by someone cheating with loaded gloves. Margarito’s actions had similar potential, had he not been caught prior to the Shane Mosley bout, and even Margarito’s defenders allow for the possibility that he successfully cheated in previous fights. Intent, plus outcome or potential outcome, plus violation of standards meant to reduce unnecessary harm, hit squarely in the zone of any discussion of morality.

Those who criticize Pacquiao-Margarito opponents say, “Why aren’t you complaining about other immoral or illegal things in boxing?” This is the straw man to end all straw men. There is no one I know who is offended by Pacquiao-Margarito who hasn’t also criticized, say, the steroid use of Shane Mosley. The question is: What offends you most? And where do you devote most of your energy?

You don’t have to believe that Margarito’s form of cheating is worse than steroid use. I’d say it is; there is no demonstrated record of steroid use ending a boxer’s career the way Resto-Collins ended a boxer’s career. But to allege that there’s not at least a reasonable argument that someone who’s more offended by Margarito’s actions than, say, low blows is in and of itself unreasonable.

And if you accept the possibility that someone can find something more offensive about Margarito’s actions than other examples of cheating, you have to accept that there is no contradiction in believing that Margarito’s actions deserve greater punishment. Greater offense. Greater punishment. Simple — like different jail sentences for pot ownership compared to rape (not that what Margarito did was rape; it is merely an example of two different kinds of crimes). Some, such as myself, believe Margarito deserved a longer suspension than he received, rather than being rewarded with his biggest-ever purse. We support James Toney’s steroid suspension, too, but think Margarito’s offense was worse and therefore deserves a greater punishment. This is as simple a concept as exists in our system of law and regulation, and Margarito’s actions fall under the regulations of authorities.

What Margarito Knew

Some argue that there’s no proof that Margarito knew of his loaded gloves. From the standpoint of rules and the punishment for breaking them, this is completely irrelevant. Under those rules, a boxer is responsible for what goes into the ring with him. Margarito, whether he knew or not — and some of us believe, because of any amount of evidence, that he did — was responsible for his loaded gloves.

If that seems far afield of any question of morality or boycotting, keep in mind that rules prohibiting loaded gloves were implemented for the safety of fighters, and safety is a moral question. The rules furthermore are created to prevent themselves from being circumvented. You don’t have to agree with the rule that a boxer is responsible for what goes into the ring with him if you don’t want, but de facto, you have now opened the door to boxers using steroids in every fight without fear of reprisal. That’s why Margarito is responsible for what goes into the ring with him — because if he wasn’t, he could go into the ring cheating every single time and enter the ring two weeks later cheating in the exact same way, so long as he could blame it on some outside party.

Why And When To Boycott

The concept of a boycott is for consumers to exert what pressure they can to enact change, or, failing that, to avoid culpability in something they disagree with.

Someone who boycotts Pacquiao-Margarito has those things in mind. If a consumer refuses to pay the $50 to $60 for Pacquiao-Margarito, and enough consumers join in this, perhaps those responsible for Pacquiao-Margarito will get the hint that Margarito won’t make money and he’ll be denied future big-money bouts. By doing this, the consumer is attempting to do what he or she thinks the Texas state commission should have done, which is to honor California’s refusal to license Margarito.

On a lesser level, perhaps the consumer simply doesn’t want to be directly responsible for enriching Margarito, a boxer they don’t think should be rewarded for his actions.

Again, someone who doesn’t share these objectives needn’t boycott the bout. But I’ve known people who boycotted the most recent bouts of Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather after the two were unable to agree to fight one another, or who refuse to support pay-per-view cards that feature mismatches. These people are doing the same thing as those who are opposing Pacquiao-Margarito. There is nothing original about boycotting a match in boxing, as some claim — it happens all the time.

How Much To Boycott

Some have suggested that if someone is boycotting Pacquiao-Margarito, one must also boycott all responsible parties or otherwise refuse to provide any attention to the bout. This isn’t a very realistic view of the world.

If someone wants to boycott HBO or Top Rank — which have lent its support to the bout — that is their right. It’s at the highest level of boycotting and has impact beyond boycotting Pacquiao-Margarito alone. But it is not a requirement. One can boycott Pacquiao-Margarito without boycotting HBO or Top Rank and send a similar, if not identical, message.

Boycotting Pacquiao-Margarito (or any bout involving Margarito) is the most direct way to protest bouts involving Margarito. He is the most responsible party, and the one whom opponents would most like to see deprived of reward.

Moral perfection is not a prerequisite of any action whatsoever taken in the name of morality. There is no one who is perfect morally. Even the most radical environmentalists are still consuming food or acquiring shelter from the land, which can damage the Earth in some way. Someone who buys a hybrid is doing less damage than someone who buys a Hummer. The question in morality is, figuratively: How much blood is on your hands? Less is always better. Absolute blood-free hands cannot be achieved. You do what you can.

If someone wants to boycott HBO over Pacquiao-Margarito, they will have effectively ended their opportunity to be a boxing fan. HBO airs the biggest bouts in the sport. It is possible to make a point about Pacquiao-Margarito without ending one’s boxing fandom entirely.

Right To Boycott

Anyone who wants to enjoy Pacquiao-Margarito is well within their rights. Anyone who wants to boycott it — or encourage others to boycott it — is likewise within their rights. I’ve heard those who plan to enjoy Pacquiao-Margarito talking as though a boycott is beyond the pale of acceptability, somehow.

I’d refer again to my experience living in Washington and watching marches of every kind. In all those marches, no matter how passionate the crowd, I’ve never heard anyone suggest the other side doesn’t have the right to express their opposition by boycotting any behavior they want to boycott. I’ve heard people mock or disagree with the reasons for the other side’s protest. I’ve never hard anyone say the other side was ginning up false reasons to boycott something and that their very act of protest was wrong or worthy of contempt.

My Decision

Many writers I respect, and who share my disagreement with Pacquiao-Margarito happening, have decided to boycott the fight. They include The Boxing Tribune’s Paul Magno, TQBR’s Scott Krauss and 411 Mania’s Joe Roche, and many more fans echo them. Their decisions — Kraus has gone as far as to step away from boxing almost entirely, and Roche has gone as far as refusing to cover the bout — are commendable expressions of protest that make powerful individual statements of belief. Perhaps, together, they will have some impact. Perhaps not. But it’s a good thing that they want to influence things in what way they can. In the end, it’s all we can do in this world, no matter how significant or insignificant we all are.

Already, I think the backlash against Pacquiao-Margarito has worried Top Rank. Some thought Top Rank would play up the controversy angle to generate sales. They’ve done quite the opposite. Top Rank sends out news constantly hailing Margarito as an innocent humanitarian, and forwards any article suggesting that Margarito might not have been responsible for his loaded gloves. They know, I suspect, that the fight’s sales suffer from the controversy more than they benefit.

Upon months of contemplating whether to purchase Pacquiao-Margarito, I decided that, as powerful as the statements of those other writers were, that I would purchase and cover the fight. This site is not a news outlet, exactly, but some readers are interested in the fight and others are not. I weighed my personal beliefs and my obligation to readers of this site and decided to err on the side of my obligation to readers of this site. It is a noteworthy event when the biggest fighter in the world is in the ring. It is a big story when he fights the most disgraced fighter in the world. I’m not saying the other writers have no regard for their readers — they do. But they won’t be covering this fight live for them, and I’ve decided I should.

One option would be to steal it via illegal stream and still cover it without paying money to Margarito, but I have never supported illegal streams when paying for a fight is an option.

My position means I can only encourage those who oppose this fight to act on their impulses to boycott it. Were I not a boxing blogger with an audience of respectable size to whom I felt some obligation, I assuredly would not purchase the bout. It’s not a match-up that thrills me for any variety of reasons, and the moral objections I hold would be foremost amongst them.

There is no contradiction there. If I were the chairman of my local city council, I would probably vote against smoking prohibitions in bars. But as a non-smoker who frequents bars, I can’t say I am unhappy with a smoking prohibition. The action I take might be one thing, but it doesn’t mean I can’t support the outcome favored by those who would do another thing.

If any of this sounds self-important, I can’t control that. I’ve argued before that there’s nothing self-important about having moral views about a thing, and talking about them. I suppose that to some, having strong moral beliefs makes me, and those in my camp, uncool. But it’s how my momma raised me, and once I grew up and began thinking about it and challenging it, I came to it honestly.

To those who find no moral objection to Pacquiao-Margarito, I don’t agree with you or find your reasoning compelling. But I don’t begrudge you your right to your beliefs, or think you some evil or phony person. You don’t have to join the boycott or any such thing. But for another week, maybe you can recognize why someone might have a different view than you yet not be a hypocrite — and stop casting aspersions on their motives, sincerity, supposedly contradictory beliefs and right to protest.

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.