It used to start with a press release on Nike’s news portal. Or maybe you would see some shirts hit early at retail. There was even the time the Nike BOOM app (remember that one?) had the exclusive on a really cool Ultimatum KO hoodie. And if you were lucky enough, you might have caught a glimpse of the champ at the Montalban Theater during a fan event.
That’s what Nike used to do for Manny Pacquiao. For a few years, he was one of the most popular athletes on the entire roster. But before this past Saturday’s “Fight Of The Century” against Floyd Mayweather? A training video that did not feel uniquely Pacquiao’s and some t-shirts that sold briskly… probably because they didn’t make a lot. That’s it; the most exposure he got while wearing Nike product was for a pair of Foot Locker commercials and half the time he was wearing Kobe gear.
It’s sobering to see what Pacquiao’s place in Nike used to be and where it is now. His stature in the brand was so high at one point that there may have been internal talks that would have landed him with Jordan Brand. There were the limited edition colorways of popular Nike trainers that would sell out in seconds. You might attribute some of that to resellers, but Filipino and boxing fans alike were also copping them to show support for the champ. Even Kobe Bryant acknowledges that the Nike Kobe 9 Elite, only one of the most divisive (and worn by NBA players) signature basketball shoes of the past several years, was partially inspired by Pacquiao. If it was that big of a deal and Pacquiao couldn’t even get a Kobe 9 Elite or Kobe 10 Elite PE for the fight? Things just aren’t the same anymore…
To be honest, things haven’t been the same for a while. Not since Pacquiao’s face met Juan Manuel Marquez’s right hand back in late 2012. I remember talking to several people close to the situation prior to the fight and they said that Pacquiao “needed” to win that fight. He was coming off a controversial “loss” against Timothy Bradley and another year that a Mayweather fight didn’t happen. And in a sport where we only see the best fight maybe once or twice a year and they spend the rest of their time ducking each other, maybe Nike was losing interest if the big payoff (a Mayweather fight) wasn’t going to happen.
It was one of the most shocking sports moments of this century, mainly because of the violence of the knockout and how it looked like Pacquiao died in the ring. The hell with boxing, I doubt I was the only person who saw that as it happened and just hoped that he would just get up and not be dead. That’s not to say that the fear of another Marquez-style knockout has been in Pacquiao’s head since, but it probably didn’t help matters.
But Manny came back because of course he did. He could have easily retired after that Marquez fight, but the desire to prove doubters wrong, allure of the fight and the money that comes along with it was too much to let go. But ever since that knockdown, Nike’s desire to support Pacquiao was not what it once was. We still got the t-shirts, but the super limited stuff and kicks in the colors of the motherland was gone.
Considering the hype and the hundreds of millions of dollars involved in the Mayweather fight, you would think that Nike – the brand that never backs down from anybody – would spare no expense to make sure everybody knew Pacquiao was representing the swoosh. Commercials, print ads, a web series, limited product drops all could have been there but they weren’t. Maybe they felt like most people did that the fight was five years too late and that Mayweather was going to bob and weave his way to a victory that bores the hell out of everybody*. And they were right, like they usually are. Nike’s smart like that**.
So what’s next for Pac’ and Nike? They had a great run that had never before been seen in boxing and not since Yao Ming (and Jeremy Lin for two weeks) has an Asian/Asian-American athlete crossed over to the mainstream in such a big way. I can’t imagine that they will drop Manny because he’s still beloved by the casual fans and his status as a hero for the Philippines is unscathed, but even a win against Mayweather in a hypothetical rematch probably won’t be enough to bring back the old promotional machine. Unless something unexpected happens, Manny will always have a banner in Beaverton and maybe even a bust on the campus, if it’s not already there. But the plans for a Manny Pacquiao Building might be on hold for a while.
*I know that’s going to piss a lot of Mayweather fans off, but that’s reality. Personal feelings about his past transgressions aside, Money is a great fighter and the best of this generation by a really wide margin. The way he has managed to game not only the business the boxing – by becoming his own promoter and never backing down from his terms regardless of public demand – but the sport should be taught in school. But he’s boring to watch. Money fans should already know this, but he is the pay-per-view king because most people foolishly buy his fights to see him get knocked down, not because they want to see him dance for 12 rounds and collect a paycheck. The idea of the methodical fighter who never takes a chance and only does the absolute minimum to entertain might sound appealing to some, but I would rather watch Haggler-Hearns on loop for an hour than watch another Money match. But what do I know about what’s boring or not? I love golf…
**Citing a shoulder injury post-fight? Not so much, Manny.
Also, if you were looking for the best recap of this match, look no further than this video that was made before the fight. Because of course it went down like this…