ARLINGTON, Tex. – Manny Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach promised a stoppage. Pacquiao couldn’t deliver. He didn’t have to. The building did it for him.
Cowboys Stadium’s star-power was the show stopper Saturday night in Pacquiao’s unanimous decision over Joshua Clottey.
From former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman among celebrities at ringside to a blue-collar crowd paying $8.50 for a bottle of domestic beer in the cheap seats, it was also a show that demanded a rematch. Not with Clottey.
But with the building.
“Of course,’’ said Reyna Aldrete, a Filipina-American and nurse in the Dallas area who showed up at Cowboys Stadium with a poster that included a red heart next to one name, Manny. “Who wouldn’t want to come back here?
Aldrete, one of many in pro-Pacquiao crowd, was also one of many who witnessed her first event at Cowboys Stadium. NFL games are expensive, even more expensive than a beer. In Pacquiao, she saw reason to return. A reason an encore.
A couple of hours before the first televised fight, Irish middleweight John Duddy’s split decision over Mexican Michael Medina, there were more ushers and beer vendors than customers. On the 11,250 square feet of high definition viewing on a screen nicknamed the “Jerrytron,” most of the seats looked the same: Virtually empty.
They didn’t stay that way for long.
Like anticipation for the main event, the crowd first grew slowly, then steadily. Suddenly, it looked as if it was big enough to be another municipality between Dallas and Fort Worth. Call it “Jonestown,” another local nickname for an NFL arena identified by the Cowboys’ celebrity owner, Jerry Jones.
The expectation was 45,000. At opening bell for Mexican lightweight Humberto Soto’s unanimous decision over Chicago’s David Diaz in the last fight before the main event, you didn’t need high-definition to see more people in more seats than Jones and promoter Bob Arum had envisioned. The crowd was reported to be 50,994 before Clottey and Pacquiao ever stepped through the ropes. That makes it the third biggest U.S. crowd to ever watch a fight in an enclosed arena.
The boxing record is 63,350 at the New Orleans Super Dome for Muhammad Ali’s victory over Leon Spinks in a 1978 rematch. A crowd of 58,891 at San Antonio’s Alamodome in 1993 for the Julio Cesar Chavez-Pernell Whitaker draw is second on the list. Pacquiao-Clottey might not be on any list if the roof had been opened at Cowboys Stadium. The crowd was less than half of the127,000 at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium for a Chavez’ victory over Greg Haugen. It also was less than half of about 108,000 at Cowboys Stadium a few weeks ago for the NBA All-Star Game.
Seats in the upper deck at Cowboys Stadium were never made available for Pacquiao-Cotto. They were hidden, almost imperceptibly, by a dark curtain.
But there were more than just empties behind those curtains. There was potential, hidden for one night, but there and waiting if Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr.,fight. If they ever do, it might finally raise the curtain on a boxing renewal that has been forgotten as often as it has been forecast.
The forecast was there in Pacquiao’s familiar, yet enigmatic smile, as he paraded into the ring to the pounding beat of Eye Of The Tiger. When the crowd wasn’t chanting his name, it must have been smiling with him at the sight of a future that for one night was as bright as that screen 40 feet above the ring.
By the seventh round, there was some impatience. There were scattered boos at a fight that not even Pacquiao’s whirlwind pace could alter because of the stubborn, durable Clottey, who is hard to hurt and won’t be rushed. His defense, upraised gloves, hid his face the way those curtains hid the upper deck. It didn’t make him popular. But he was never the star anyway.
Pacquiao was. The chants and cheers resumed for him in the 10th, 11th and 12th rounds. In the end, it was his victory and his stadium, “Mannytown.”
For the boxing business, it could have been something more. It was in the building.