KEY POINTS

  • Nike produced a boxing and training shoes for Manny Pacquiao during his heyday
  • Pacquiao's line failed to reach a fraction of the Jordan Brand's popularity
  • Boxing shoes might never find a life outside of its intended purpose inside the ring

Retired Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao was one of Nike’s most recognizable athletes thanks to his prowess and accomplishments in the sport of boxing.

To many of his countrymen, he was their own version of Michael Jordan--someone that they could look up to and aspire to be like if they work hard enough on their craft coupled with a bit of luck.

However, if there is one thing that separates Pacquiao from being Jordan, it is that the “PacMan” was never able to translate his in-ring achievements into becoming a recognized brand of his own across the world.

Sure, people loved Pacquiao for being one of the most dominant boxers of his generation, but he was not able to generate the same amount of widespread appeal and daily lifestyle impact as Jordan did with basketball.

Filipino journalist Santino Honasan encapsulated 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 because of being able to incorporate sneakers into your daily lifestyle. That’s why basketball sneakers like the Jordans and the Kobes are so big right now because they transcended their purpose of being a function shoe. They became lifestyle shoes, something that you would wear outside of the basketball court,” Honasan told Round By Round host and combat sports analyst Nissi Icasiano.

“It’s hard to replicate the same success in boxing because if you leave the house wearing HyperKOs or other boxing boots, [they don’t look as good for casual wear]. Boxing as a sport itself isn’t as lifestyle-friendly when it comes to apparel compared to basketball or running. It isn’t as culture-friendly when it comes to style and fashion.”

Case in point, Jordan became such a recognizable name that people across the world, regardless of race, religion, color, and creed.

The public’s love for Jordan became so overwhelming that Nike decided to start selling his basketball sneakers to become the foundation of the now-famous Jordan Brand, allowing people to be more and more “Like Mike” in at least one way.

Because boxing shoes are not 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 Nike AirTrainer1 “Lights Out,” Pacquiao has had his branding put on some of the Swoosh’s most respected pairs.

However, none of them were able to reach “cult classic” status like that of the Jordan Brand, and even the Kobes, outside of the most diehard Pacquiao fans.

Comparing the HyperKOs and the Jordan 11s side-by-side as an example, one can already guess which pair is best suited for which sport.

The high-cut HyperKOs have a more boxing-centric look to them, while the Jordan 11s look like something one would wear to the basketball court but also looking good enough to rock on a day out with friends.

Boxing’s identity as a niche sport did not help as well and memories of Pacquiao’s time as a great boxer was relegated to other merchandise like shirts and posters--memorabilia that were much easier to produce and store for the long run, made at a low cost and subsequently sold as collector’s items.

To Nike’s credit, Pacquiao’s HyperKO shoes actually were one of the best boxing boots--and sports shoes by extension-- ever produced.

The Swoosh was still experimenting with its Flywire technology combined with the forefoot strap, something that subsequent Nike pairs took advantage of.

Take the case of NBA stars Paul George and Kyrie Irving’s respective signature shoe lines.

The PG 1s had both the forefoot strap and Flywire technology woven into it when it was released to much critical acclaim in 2017, to which Nike improved upon in the PG 2 released in 2018 by removing the Flywire and forefoot strap but featuring variations of the beastly herringbone outsole found on the HyperKOs.

As for Irving’s line, it also featured variations of the herringbone outsole that were present in the Brooklyn Nets star’s signature pair of sneakers from its original release in 2015 until the latest model--the Kyrie 7s.

Another thing that Jordan had going for in the sneakers department was that celebrities and people from all walks of life started wearing his pairs outside of the court, whereas Pacquiao’s shoes were limited in their appeal due to how it was 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 simply too difficult to incorporate into daily outfits.

It was too focused on the shoes' in-ring performance rather than the lifestyle flexibility offered by that of the Jordan sneakers.

Nike ended its partnership with Pacquiao after the famed boxer had some controversial comments regarding same-sex marriage ahead of his bid for a seat in the Philippine Senate.

Jordan had his fair share of controversial statements in the past, most notably his “Republicans buy shoes too” remark back in the nineties, but Pacquiao’s remarks had dealt too heavy a blow to the public image of Nike which led to them dropping him.

Anta then signed Pacquiao to their growing stable of athletes in 2016, but his brand name had already been dragged through the mud enough for it to gain any traction among the youth.

To sum it all up, Nike definitely put in a ton of hours in designing Pacquiao’s shoes for one of boxing’s greats and his in-ring pairs were definitely one of the best put out at the time.

However, boxing is simply not the most apparel-friendly out there and it certainly affected the public performance of the shoes Nike released in partnership with Pacquiao.

If Nike and other brands are looking to try their hand in developing a lifestyle-centric line among boxers, signs are pointing towards it being a lose-lose investment as boxing personalities need to be more open to the idea of change.