Manny Pacquiao waves as he joins his trainer Freddie Roach, left, and promoter… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)
They served lunch Tuesday at a Manny Pacquiao news conference. That was quickly followed by some real food for thought.
The official fanfare was for the announcement of Pacquiao's next fight, a June 9 Las Vegas matchup with Tim Bradley of Palm Springs.
That was not news. Everybody who cares knows everything about Pacquiao the Top Rank Promotion machine is willing to make public. Its job is to hype and sell, and seldom has a promotional firm had more to work with than the likable, recently unbeatable boxing congressman from the Philippines.
But for the last several years, and for the foreseeable future, any Pacquiao appearance comes with an elephant in the room: Will he fight Floyd Mayweather Jr.?
During the formal presentation for the media, Bob Arum, Top Rank's boss, took the first swat at the elephant. Arum, in his calculated news-conference gushing, described Pacquiao as a "decent" man. Clearly understood was who wasn't a decent man.
Then Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, whose feelings of warm-and-fuzzy toward Mayweather equal Arum's, got in his shot for the crowd of gathered autograph-seekers and groupies — plus perhaps two dozen actual journalists. "It's nice to be fighting a fighter [Bradley] who is unbeaten," Roach said, "and who won't worry about losing that zero in his record."
Mayweather, 42-0, will probably respond with nasty tweets, unless he is not finished Twittering himself to new heights of insensitivity over Jeremy Lin.
With the gauntlet thrown by Arum and Roach, it was appropriate to wander, ask and listen. Turns out, there was much to hear.
Bradley, smart and articulate and a possible star in the making, said, "We are hearing a lot of stuff out there on the grapevine, that Manny wants to do different things with his life. He has become very religious."
Bradley is asked whether he is saying he might be the end of the line for Pacquiao's boxing career, win or lose. He nods.
Roach, cornered in a scrum of cameras, tape recorders and microphones, unknowingly pushes the story along a bit more.
"Manny is a changed person," he says. "He sold his cockfighting farm. There is no more gambling, no more drinking. He is getting along much better with his wife now. They have become very close."
Come to find out, Manny and his wife, Jinkee, were not very close leading into Pacquiao's most recent fight, his surprisingly narrow decision last Nov. 12 over Juan Manuel Marquez. Whether marital discord had any affect against Pacquiao in the Marquez bout is only speculation.
But there seems little doubt that Pacquiao, a Roman Catholic, has recently increased his devotion to a higher being, and we don't mean Arum. Pacquiao started his news conference speech Tuesday by thanking God. He ended it the same way. That was a first.
The wandering and listening brought stories of recent Pacquiao dinners, dominated by discussions of the Bible. Arum reported Pacquiao attended a tribute for Muhammad Ali on Saturday in Las Vegas and left early to get back home to Los Angeles by midnight, so he wouldn't dishonor the Sabbath.
"He's like an Hasidic rabbi," Arum said.
In the always-silly staging for the photographers immediately after the formal news conference, the norm for fighters is to look mean, then stand face-to-face and look meaner. Pacquiao stood face-to-face with Bradley, held his "mean" pose for about five seconds and then broke into a giggle. Soon, he was borrowing one of the photographer's cameras, snapping pictures of Bradley and showing them to him. Soon, the two of them were nodding over the photo like a couple of school-girl chums.
Have we lost forever the time-honored tradition of boxing news conferences, where chairs get smashed and legs get broken? Have we lost the disgusting, boorish behavior that has made the sport great? Say it ain't so, Mike Tyson.
Arum said he has no idea whether Pacquiao-Mayweather will ever take place. He said he has come to grips with the possibility that it may never happen, which is coming to grips with the possible loss not only of a huge personal paycheck, but of a $200-million showcase for his sport.
Pacquiao "keeps telling me he wants to fight through 2013," Arum said, "but I really don't know. He has changed his life so much. He is ultra-religious now."
Arum said his most recent negotiation for a fight this fall with Mayweather broke down because Mayweather went back to demanding more than a 50-50 split. Pacquiao told reporters that Mayweather recently offered him a $40-million guarantee, but that all the pay-per-view revenue would go to Mayweather. Pacquiao characterized that as embarrassing, and speculated, once again, that Mayweather didn't really want to fight.
Sadly, confirming any of this is impossible. Verifying facts in boxing is like eating Jello with your bare hands.
About the same time Pacquiao was calling Mayweather's offer embarrassing, he was responding to a question about Mayweather by quoting scripture, something about "not judging another man…"
Holy Rocky Marciano! What's going on here?