Ok, raise your hand if you thought Manny Pacquiao was going to wear a Nike Kobe 9 Elite PE when he beat Timothy Bradley Saturday night in Las Vegas. It would have been the perfect symbiotic moment; Kobe Bryant cited Pacquiao as one of his influences for going high-cut with the Nike Kobe 9 Elite and Pacquiao hails from a country that is basketball-crazy to say the least. How great would it have been to see a red, white, blue and yellow colorway in the ring and Nike promote them like they would any of their other limited releases?
But it didn’t happen. And sadly, we’re not surprised. Pacquiao didn’t even get a congratulatory tweet from Nike after the fight. Hell, search for his name on Nike.com and all you get nowadays are speed ropes.
As recently as two years ago, a Pacquiao fight was a cause for celebration for Nike. They would tap into the huge Filipino fan base that reveres him like no other figure and drop limited edition gear and kicks leading up to fight night. The fervor for releases like the “Lights Out” Air Trainer 1 and his various boxing boots (no, really, people were buying boots way before Mamba ever thought of them) It was a proud moment for them to see a Filipino be mentioned and placed in the same ads with the likes of Kobe, Larry Fitzgerald, Allyson Felix and more. But now it seems like that time has passed.
When Pacquiao “lost” to Bradley during their 2012 battle, Nike could easily shrug that off as a minor bump in the road because most people believed that Manny won that fight. But when he was to quote Smokey, “knocked the f**k out” by longtime rival Juan Manuel Marquez later that year, that was a game-changer. Not only was Pacquiao the subject of ridicule and memes the world over, but the Nike swoosh was emblazoned all over the champ that night. Not a good look.
Things looked even bleaker when Pacquiao did make his return to the ring a year later when he fought Brandon Rios in Macau. Without the platform of America to really promote the fight and all sorts of stories “breaking” about him being broke and being a religious zealot or not, there were no Nike trainers with his logo or any new gear. And when the fight came and went without fanfare from Nike, we should have known.
It is unlikely that Nike will ever drop Pacquiao, however, and it’s unlikely Pacquiao will ever go back to his No Fear days (which were unintentionally hilarious). Both are valuable enough to each other that it would seem silly for them to part ways, especially with the fuss another brand would make if they signed Pacquiao (see: Kanye/adidas, Stephen Curry/Under Armour). There were rumors of a move to Jordan Brand as recently as late 2012 and while boxing is not Nike’s highest priority, it doesn’t hurt that the one of the most visible athletes of the sport is wearing the swoosh. It could be like the relationship that Nike had with guys like Penny Hardaway and Gary Payton when they were at the tail end of their careers; they won’t support them with signature kicks anymore but it doesn’t mean they’ll be left high and dry either.
But maybe Nike is just waiting. Pacquiao’s performance on Saturday harkened back to the days when he looked to really knock people out and while he seemed a step slower, the fact that he could still perform at a level where he could beat an undefeated world champion does mean something. If he can finish this revenge tour with another victory against Marquez, then Nike will be back on the bandwagon and truly celebrate a comeback, something they were unable to do with Kobe.