A Boxing Memory: Manny Pacquiao
“To the greatest fans and the greatest sport in the world, thank you! Thank you for all the wonderful memories. This is the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but I’m at peace with it. Chase your dreams, work hard, and watch what happens. Goodbye boxing.”
When it came, it was hardly a surprise. The retirement call that should have come much sooner, came in September 2021. And at 42, Manny Pacquiao was finally done with one part of his life.
The Filipino legend won world titles in eight weight divisions in his illustrious career. The achievements are in truth somewhat diluted by the alphabet boys that saturate boxing, but nevertheless, it still says plenty about the talent of Pacquiao. World titles won from 108lbs right up to 154lbs is some statistic, unmatched by any fighter in boxing history.
Introduced to boxing when he was 12 and after a reported 64 amateur fights Pacquiao turned professional in 1995 as a light-flyweight, when he was just 16. A proper rags to riches story, fighting his way out of poverty and earning millions that would have seemed unimaginable in those humble beginnings in the Southern Philippines where his life began in 1978. When he was just 14 he lived on the streets of Manila and earned his money the old-fashioned way, the hard way, in construction.
The final bell sounded after a points defeat to Yordenis Ugas in 2021. Much of the old fire had been missing in recent years, against Ugas, Pacquiao finally realised it had been fully extinguished.
The career of Pacquiao lasted 26 years, 72 fights, 62 of those fights were wins. There were eight defeats, two draws, multiple world titles and one incredible unbeaten run from 2005 until 2012 when somehow the judges gave Timothy Bradley a thoroughly undeserved decision over Pacquiao. For once, cries of daylight robbery were more than justified. The two subsequent victories over Bradley helped balance the books.
Pacquiao climbed through the weights, carrying his power with him. But it was that win over an admittedly faded and weight-drained Oscar De La Hoya in a welterweight showdown in 2008 that launched Pacquiao to another stratosphere. Freddie Roach, who had trained De La Hoya for his fight with Floyd Mayweather, was confident Pacquiao would upset the bigger man, saying his former charge could no longer pull the trigger. He was right.
The stunning chilling knockout over Ricky Hatton followed. At that time, Pacquiao was undisputedly the best fighter on the planet.
But as Pacquiao kept winning, Floyd Mayweather was never far away from his thoughts. And boxing period. Mayweather had periods of retirement, inactivity, a stint in prison and selecting a list of opponents that didn’t include Pacquiao. There were talks, but they never concluded. It looked like a fight assigned to what could have been.
Eventually, boxing found a way. But by 2015, it was a pale imitation of what it could have been. Mayweather won with ease, Pacquiao, citing a shoulder injury, never found his rhythm or the old venom he needed. All the anticipation and the unprecedented hype ended in abject disappointment. Billed as ‘The Fight of the Century,’ it was anything but.
In an illusion of his own mind, Pacquiao tried to say he beat Mayweather, he didn’t.
Pacquiao fought on, but his career was treading water in many ways. We had more than a hint of the inconsistent at times and a defeat to Jeff Horn in 2017 looked like the end. Horn was the supposed walkover opponent, when Pacquiao realised it was a proper fight it was too late.
The killer instinct Pacquiao once had, had deserted him. Against Horn in Australia, Pacquiao looked like an old fighter for most of their fight but nearly saved his night in the 9th round on that strange night. The Pacquiao of old, wouldn’t have needed the judges against the limited Horn.
Steve Bunce wrote of Pacquiao that night:
“He fought like an old man with glittering memories that he could not use.”
But Pacquiao found enough excuses to carry on. We did have the odd reminder of what he once was, especially in the win over Keith Thurman in 2019, Pacquiao had the look of a fighter who had somehow found a time machine. But the uninspiring defeat to Ugas was the final ring-walk. Or so we hope.
There will be some who will remember and judge Pacquiao for the tame effort he gave against Mayweather. But that would be grossly unfair. Both fighters were well past their prime years and it was nowhere near the fight it would have been five years earlier. The resume of Pacquiao is way better than that one night in Las Vegas.
I always thought that a peak Pacquiao would have beaten Mayweather. And I think Mayweather had at the very least, would have known the severe risk he would be taking if he had shared a ring with Pacquiao several years earlier. Sometimes you know by what fighters don’t do.
Pacquiao had some career, as well as the wins over De La Hoya, Hatton and Bradley, he had wins over Juan Manuel Marquez, although Pacquiao was a shade lucky in their brutal but absorbing series of fights. And Marquez finished their rivalry with the last word. But the likes of Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley and others, all found Pacquiao a little too much in his truly astonishing career.
History will be kind to Pacquiao, the type of fighter we are unlikely to see again anytime soon.
Photo Credit: Getty Images