A tribute to ‘small’ athletes

Peter Cariño

Conrad M. Cariño

I never cared to watch the fight between Wladimir Klitschko and Alex Leapai, for the simple reason that the outcome was predictable: Klitschko, with his huge advantage in height and reach, would pulverize Leapai.

Klitschko might break the record of heavyweight great Joe Louis in title defenses and length of reign as champion, but the Ukrainian giant’s legacy so far pales in comparison to the thunder that our very own Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather generated for the sport.

And this is perhaps the dilemma of the big men in the sport today—the smaller guys who can put up a more competitive showing can steal the limelight from them. Besides, the Rocky series of Silvester Stallone was successfuly because Rocky Balboa was always at a physical disadvantage.

Small men taking away the limelight from the big guys is not only happening in boxing. In the National Basketball Association (NBA) for instance, the most identifiable big man is Dwight Howard, a marquee center who has yet to win a championship. But Howard’s fame has been challenged by smaller players in the NBA, like his team mates James Harden and Jeremy Lin, and established marquee player Kobe Bryant.

So what makes the smaller guys in sports like boxing and basketball shine more than the giants?

The cases of Pacquiao and Lin provide the answer: sports fans also love the underdogs.

When Pacquiao was on his way to the top from 2007, did anybody care to ask the question as to how and why a Filipino was beginning to become the darling of the sport? And he was no giant when it came to physical stature.

Pacquiao represented the dreams of a big percentage of sports fans and the common man: get out of poverty and earn a huge fortune. And Pacquiao was never the perfect boxer, because he was never a technical fighter and he even got his share of bloody fights on his way to the top.

As for Lin, his crashing into the NBA in a manner never seen before proves that those who are not physically gifted can make it big in the world’s most watched sports spectacle.

As for Mayweather, let us give him credit for maintaining his unbeaten streak and also stealing the thunder from the big guys of the sport. On his way to the top, Mayweather also had his share of fights against bigger opponents like Jose Luis Castillo and Oscar Dela Hoya, proving that the small guys can beat bigger men.

So what becomes of Wladimir once he breaks the record of Louis in title defenses and length of reign as champion? Well, he will be remembered along with his brother Vitali for being outshined by Pacquiao, Mayweather, and even up to a certain extent, by Nonito Donaire, who has earned Fighter of the Year and Knockout of the Year honors.

Besides, do most of sports fans want to see bigger men clobber smaller guys, and in the case of the Klitschkos, they are way bigger than the average heavyweight. Unless you are a Ukrainian, the sight of the Klitschkos clobbering their smaller opponents is surely a source of enjoyment.

But watching two equally matched opponents, or at least with the bigger one not dwarfing the other, can provide a degree of unpredictability. And that is what sports should be all about—genuine competition. And we have seen those in the fights of Pacquiao against Marquez, Erik Morales and even Timothy Bradley.

In the case of Lin and Howard, what is the more spectacular reel: Howard dunking over men his size or smaller than him; or Lin slicing through bigger defenders to sink his acrobatic shots. Obviously, the latter still presents an unpredictable outcome, but is not as uneventful as Klitschko predictably knocking out Leapai.


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  1. Problem is that The Philippines is never going to become world beaters at basketball, never have, never will, quite simply because of the size issue. The country has backed itself to a sport where being tall is simply the biggest advantage you can have. Other local countires have found they can excel in sports such as badminton, table tennis where again size is important, but small size.
    And just look at Philippines rugby! large and fast are the best attributes, not necessarily tall, and with football, note that Lionel Messi is only 5’4″.

  2. That today is a problem with the heavyweights, as the top weight is whatever it is, there is no limit so guys who just come in over the heavyweight limit are at a huge disadvantage. In years gone by very few were big heavyweights but look at a lot of them today , over 6′ 5″ & over 240lbs, now that is what i call big. An up & coming heavyweight deontay wilder has won every single fight by ko, admittedly his opposition has been very limited & how he has got rated so high with a chance of a title shot without having fought anyone in the top 30 is beyond me.