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Mitt Romney's awkward pep talk with Manny Pacquiao
Watch the losing presidential candidate give some ill-fated encouragement to the soon-to-be-KO'd Filipino boxer
 
Mitt and Ann Romney sit ringside at the Marquez-Pacquiao fight on Dec. 8.
Mitt and Ann Romney sit ringside at the Marquez-Pacquiao fight on Dec. 8. Al Bello/Getty Images

"For sheer happy weirdness, nothing quite rivals the surreal encounters that occur at a major boxing match," says Michael Leahy at The Washington Post. That was certainly true on Saturday night in Las Vegas, before the rare fourth fight between Filipino star Manny Pacquiao and Mexican arch-rival Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao was in his dressing room, playfully interviewing HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant. "Then it got surreal," says Greg Bishop at The New York Times.

In came Mitt Romney. Yes, that Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and the presidential runner-up, every hair on his head in place. Romney, in fact, came in twice. His introduction was at once awkward and hilarious. "Hi, Manny," he said. "I'm Mitt Romney. I ran for president. I lost." All that really happened, truth stranger than fiction. Or just another Pacquiao fight.

Romney's lighthearted introduction — the dressing room "exploded in laughter," Pacquiao publicist Fred Sternburg said Sunday morning — was not caught on camera. But this is the brief Romney pep talk that followed:

Romney and his wife Ann then watched the match ringside, as guests of Nevada State Athletic Commission chairman Bill Brady, a Romney campaign fundraiser. "Unfortunately for Pacquiao, Romney's pep talk turned out to be the curse it sounded like," says Caroline Bankoff at New York: After an aggressive start, he was knocked down in Round 3, delivered a reciprocal knockdown to Marquez amid a fierce comeback, then was knocked out cold in the sixth by a close-range right hook from Marquez's glove. After one draw and two split decisions in Pacquiao's favor, Marquez provided a clear ending to their fourth fight. And Romney had quite the reaction:

Presidential candidates famously isolate themselves before their equivalent of the big fight, the debates. So "for the non-boxing fan, it is often a shock to discover a fighter willing to meet a stranger shortly before stepping into the ring," says The Washington Post's Leahy. But the pre-fight dressing room "regularly serves as the American intersection between celebrity, sports, and politics," with great boxers playing host to show their composure and confidence. And Romney and Pacquiao have politics in common, the Filipino star having won a seat in his country's legislature and harboring possible presidential aspirations, too.

So perhaps Romney should have saved their meeting until after the match, when Pacquiao had "a moment that no one in the arena understood perhaps as well as Romney," says Leahy. Right before he was taken to the hospital for a CAT scan, and just one round after "having seemingly seized the upper hand" in a spellbinding fight, "a sad but philosophical Pacquiao reflected on what he felt only seconds before the fight's sudden and fateful turn: 'I was just starting to feel confident.'" And Romney, 32 days after his own stinging defeat, showed that life goes on: At first "his tight smile reflected the mien of a man endeavoring to transition from a searing disappointment," but over time Romney "embraced the weirdness of Vegas" and an evening that, among other strange moments, included a brief meeting with rapper and amateur boxing promoter 50 cent.

 

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