- Nike produced boxing and training shoes for Manny Pacquiao during his heyday
- Pacquiao’s line failed to reach a fraction of the popularity of the Jordan brand
- Boxing boots may never find a life beyond its intended purpose in the ring
Retired Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao was one of Nike’s most recognizable athletes thanks to his prowess and achievements in the sport of boxing.
To many of his compatriots, he was their own version of Michael Jordan—someone they could look up to and aspire to if they worked hard enough at their craft and had a little bit of luck.
However, if there’s one thing that sets Pacquiao apart from Jordan, it’s that the “PacMan” has never been able to translate his performance in the ring into a globally recognized brand.
Sure, people loved Pacquiao because he was one of the most dominant boxers of his generation, but he was unable to generate the same amount of attraction and everyday impact on his lifestyle as Jordan did with basketball.
Filipino journalist Santino Honasan summed up this thought perfectly in an episode of a local online boxing show titled ‘Round By Round’.
“I think what made sneaker culture what it is today is that you can integrate sneakers into your everyday lifestyle. That’s why basketball sneakers like the Jordans and the Kobes are so big right now because they serve their purpose “We had moved beyond a functional shoe. They became lifestyle shoes, something you would wear outside the basketball court,” Honasan told Nissi Icasiano, host and martial arts analyst of Round By Round.
“It’s hard to repeat the same success in boxing because if you leave the house wearing HyperKOs or other boxing shoes, [they don’t look as good for casual wear]. Boxing as a sport itself is not as lifestyle friendly when it comes to clothing as compared to basketball or running. It’s not that culture-friendly when it comes to style and fashion.”
Thus, Jordan became such a recognizable name that people all over the world irrespective of race, religion, skin color and creed.
The public’s love for Jordan became so overwhelming that Nike decided to start selling its basketball sneakers to become the foundation of the now famous Jordan Brand, allowing people to become more and more “Like Mike” in at least one way.
Because boxing shoes aren’t as widely regarded or as popular as basketball shoes, few sneakerheads even remember the multiple pairs released by Nike in partnership with Pacquiao.
From the celebrated HyperKO MP boxing boots to the beautifully crafted Air Huarache TR Lows and the extremely limited edition Nike AirTrainer1 “Lights Out”, Pacquiao has had his branding applied to some of the Swoosh’s most revered pairs.
However, none of them were able to achieve “cult classic” status like that of the Jordan brand, and even the Kobes, outside of the most diehard Pacquiao fans.
For example, if we compare the HyperKOs and the Jordan 11s side by side, one can already guess which pair is best suited for which sport.
The high-cut HyperKOs have a more boxing-focused look, while the Jordan 11s look like something you’d wear on the basketball court, but also look good enough to rock out on a day out with friends.
Boxing’s identity as a niche sport didn’t help much and memories of Pacquiao’s time as a great boxer were relegated to other merchandise such as shirts and posters – memorabilia that were much easier to produce and store for the long haul, made at a low cost and subsequently sold as collector’s items.
To Nike’s credit, Pacquiao’s HyperKO shoes were actually some of the best boxing shoes — and by extension athletic shoes — ever produced.
The Swoosh was still experimenting with its Flywire technology combined with the forefoot strap, something later Nike pairs took advantage of.
Take the case of NBA stars Paul George and Kyrie Irving’s respective shoe lines.
The PG 1s had both the forefoot strap and Flywire technology woven into it when it was released to critical acclaim in 2017, which Nike improved upon in the PG 2 released in 2018 by removing the Flywire and the forefoot strap, but with variations of the beastly herringbone outsole found on the HyperKOs.
As for Irving’s line, it also featured variations of the herringbone sole that was present in the Brooklyn Nets star’s signature pair of sneakers from its original release in 2015 to its latest model – the Kyrie 7s.
Another thing Jordan went for in the sneakers department was that celebrities and people from all walks of life started wearing his pairs off the court, while Pacquiao’s shoes were limited in their appeal due to the way they were styled.
Whether it was the wild colorways or the fact that they stand out way too much in public, Pacquiao’s line of shoes was just too hard to fit into everyday outfits.
It was too focused on the in-ring performance of the shoes rather than the lifestyle flexibility that the Jordan sneakers offer.
Nike ended its partnership with Pacquiao after the famous boxer had some controversial comments on same-sex marriage ahead of his bid for a seat in the Philippine Senate.
Jordan had made quite a few controversial statements in the past, most notably his “Republicans buy shoes too” in the 1990s, but Pacquiao’s comments had damaged Nike’s public image too much, causing them to drop.
Anta then signed Pacquiao with their growing stable of athletes in 2016, but his brand name had already dragged through the mud enough to gain some traction among the youth.
To sum it all up, Nike certainly spent a ton of hours designing Pacquiao’s shoes for one of the great boxers and his in-ring pairs were definitely some of the best released at the time.
However, boxing just isn’t the most clothing-friendly out there and it certainly impacted the public performance of the shoes Nike has released in partnership with Pacquiao.
If Nike and other brands want to do their best to develop a lifestyle-focused line among boxers, signs point to it being a lose-lose investment as boxing personalities need to be more open to the idea of change.