They could be boxing’s weirdest couple, Manny Pacquiao and Sean Gibbons, formally the Senator and President. Not that Gibbons would be entering the future Hall of Famer.
“I think it’s a title,” laughs Gibbons. “But I’m a little more humble because when I first started knucklehead boxing in Oklahoma, I always find it weird when someone asks for a picture or calls me for a title. I’m just a guy who has a few breaks in life and has used them. “
Last Friday, Gibbons was late after visiting Griffith Park in Los Angeles with Pacquiao, his training team, and over 200 of their closest friends.
“The man has signed at least 75 autographs and people are waiting in line an hour after his run,” said Gibbons of Pacquiao, who is training for his August 21 bout against Errol Spence Jr. “It’s contagious. He always tells you, ‘just be humble, believe in God’ and if I’ve just been around him, my life for the last few years, I’ll never be able to reach that boxing level with someone like this again. It doesn’t happen in many lives, and there is no one who draws people like him back from all over the world. Canelo (Alvarez) is great in certain areas. Anthony Joshua in certain areas. This guy is like a David Beckham guy wherever he goes. That’s why you will never hear me complain and moan with so much going on, bad boxing stuff and people trying to kid you. I just realized that you just do the things you can do and get them right, and the rest will take care of itself. “
If it sounds like a winning lap to 54-year-old Gibbons, maybe it is, given his journey through the sport and his status as one of the few “real” boxers left. Of course, the “real” part can be positive or negative, depending on the person you’re talking to, because the sweet science has always been the wild west of professional sport. Gibbons found this out right at the start under the wing of his uncle Pat O’Grady, the father of future world champion Sean O’Grady. Boxing looked very different back then than it does today, and the “real” boxers have specialized in being all-rounders.
“I come from setting up the ring to the matches and handling from A to Z, driving fighters through the USA,” said Gibbons, who also fought professionally and set a 14-7-3 record that included a draw with Mickey Rourke and defeats against players like Alex Ramos and Rüdiger May. “People like me, Pete Susens, Bruce Trampler, we all started that way. We all started at the bottom, dragging fighters across the US and doing club shows. ”
It’s a far cry from the crowded arenas where Pacquiao fights in the brightest spotlight. But that’s where the sport was always built, this is where young fighters learned their craft, journeymen gave them the necessary work and fans fell in love with the toughest game. Unfortunately, these days pass quickly if they are not long gone.
“If you look at the foundation of boxing, club shows were the foundation,” Gibbons said. “This is what Fighter built. Red Fortner in Tennessee, Pat O’Grady in Oklahoma, Peyton Sher in Kansas City. You’ve had all of these different promoters in these states, and between them and the commissions that got just too much regulation, you’ve lost that real club-show feel. And build guys up, that’s what you need. You always need your opponents to oppose your good guys. When I was in the Midwest from ’85 to ’97, we did over a hundred shows a year on average in every state imaginable. That was definitely a different era from what we used to do and it just doesn’t exist anymore. “
The men and women who worked during this period were also of a different race. They worked in the shadows, far from the spotlight, but when you were in business or reporting on the sport you knew who they were and talking to them gave you an education you couldn’t find in any book or classroom . It was Sweet Science 101, and while it wasn’t always cute, it was always real.
“I was lucky enough to find Pat O’Grady, I was lucky enough to find Johnny Bos,” said Gibbons. “Johnny Bos sent me to other places in Denmark, Germany and England. (laughs) Johnny was my booking agent and educator. When I went to New York you didn’t go to the fights unless you went to KO JO (Jack Obermayer) and Jowett Boy (Jeff Jowett), Harold Lederman and Johnny. They were guys who grind. They did that. They were in there every day. They weren’t fans with a phone book. You weren’t just some guy who got a number from Facebook or Instagram and called his fighters. They built boys, developed boys, promoted shows. ”
Gibbons chuckles as he notices how things have changed.
“What drives me crazy about boxing today is all these idiots who say, ‘Oh, I’m into boxing.'”
“How are you?”
“I book fights. I just started because I like boxing and then I got a couple of numbers and went to some fights. ”
“Have you ever put your money into it, have you ever built a fighter, have you ever promoted a show, have you ever driven a guy 24 hours from Oklahoma to Montana to do a show?”
“The real hardcore guys,” continues Gibbons, “the funny guys, the characters, the Flash Gordons are legendary.”
And unfortunately most of them are gone. Gibbons continues to fight, figuratively, not literally, however, when he delivered his final blow to his salary in 1996. A year later he left Oklahoma and went to Las Vegas.
“When I left Oklahoma in ’97 and moved to Vegas, it wasn’t fun anymore, so I might as well get a real job,” he said. “(In Oklahoma) It was over-regulation and commissions trying to destroy it and people trying to take over and it just made it so difficult to really promote shows like you did. And that’s one of the reasons I moved from where I was then and went to Las Vegas to work for Top Rank. “
Gibbons had a good run at top rank until he was fired in 2004 following the FBI’s Operation Match Book investigation into alleged combat rigging. There were similar allegations in Oklahoma, but Gibbons was not charged with criminal misconduct in either case, and he ended up at Sycuan Ringside Promotions, where he stayed for five years.
“We had five world champions at once – Celestino Caballero, Carlos Baldomir, Julio Diaz, Israel Vazquez and Joan Guzman,” said Gibbons, who returned to his first love – Knucklehead Boxing – when Sycuan left the boxing business in 2009.
In the years that followed, Gibbons became friends with Pacquiao and began working with fighters who sought help from the Filipino icon. That working relationship grew to the point where Gibbons was named president of MP Promotions, and after Pacquiao’s victory over Lucas Matthysse in 2018, he suggested that Senator’s next stint be Al Haymon and PBC.
“I told him Floyd Mayweather is there, you are there, Al is there so it’s easy to do,” Gibbons said. “When we signed with PBC, the idea was to possibly play the second Mayweather fight. Unfortunately one guy went the other way and one guy still went on. We did the (Adrien) Broner fight, Mayweather came over and looked at it and he said, ‘Okay.’ And when Manny left Keith Thurman on Mayweather’s lap almost in the first lap, he couldn’t get out of the building fast enough. “
Gibbons laughs, and while it was disappointing that the Mayweather rematch didn’t happen, Pacquiao has not only stayed busy, but wins relevant fights and is about to engage in another.
“The treatment he got with PBC, the fights he got were the real fights and the fight against Keith Thurman still counts as one of the greatest welterweight victories to me and I say it based on age. To be 40 years old is phenomenal to have skills at that weight, ”said Gibbons.
But will Pacquiao still have her at age 42 in less than two weeks? You know Gibbons’ answer to this question.
“It was written off four years ago,” said Gibbons. “Now he’s back at the top of the game and I feel very good to have been a part of it and a part of that legacy. The rest will be written on August 21st. If he wins, it will be the greatest moment in welterweight history for me and by far the greatest win of his career for the Senator. “
Not bad for an Oklahoma kid who just loved boxing. Now his quotes fill the papers in the Philippines, and he’s as staple in the Pacquiao camp as Freddie Roach and Buboy Fernandez.
“In a way, it’s all surreal,” said Gibbons, who doesn’t shy away from the limelight but doesn’t call it his favorite pastime either. He’s always seen it that the fighter is the star of the show. The rest are the details that are left to guys like him.
“I like to sit at the computer, work on the phone and organize things so that the guys can go out and do what they do. I’m just Knucklehead Sean from Oklahoma. But I have to be careful when I represent the senator. I can’t go out there and do something absurd or whatever and put his name on it. I stay who I am, I stay with my roots. I’ve always been cool and humble, a few people – the FBI and a few others – tried to pull me down, but I always believe in treating the caretaker and the CEO equally and that makes things easier. “