Time for the Pacman to Call it a Day
By: Matt O’Brien
Following a short-lived “retirement” from boxing, Manny Pacquiao returned to action on Saturday night and reclaimed a portion of the welterweight title for the third time. Once again the Pacman demonstrated that he is levels above the vast majority of 147lb boxers in the world, dominating and widely outpointing a respectable, ambitious world champion 10 years his junior.
Although displaying shades of the combination punching and fast, powerful left hands that brought memories of the old Pacman gobbling his way through the weight ranks, once again he was unable to finish a downed and well-beaten foe. In fact, that’s now the twelfth time in seven years that the Pacman has gone the 12-round distance, despite scoring a total of thirteen knockdowns during that period, and despite trainer Freddie Roach’s insistence in the lead-up to every single one of his bouts that Manny is “back to his old self, killing the mitts in the gym, battering guys in sparring” and will “definitely win by knockout this time”.
The fact that Pacquiao can not only compete effectively at this level as a 37-year-old, but also outclass younger world champions, is further evidence – if we needed it – of just what a special fighter he is. For me though, the question of Manny Pacquiao’s greatness was answered long ago, and one has to wonder what purpose the comeback can really serve, other than replenishing his bank account. With Floyd Mayweather Jnr. seated at ringside, the obvious answer would seem to be a rematch and a shot at revenge against his “retired” rival. For Pac fans this would undoubtedly be a welcome opportunity, but for the sport of boxing as a whole, I think, it would be an unfortunate development.
Rightly or wrongly, boxing has taken a roasting in the media over the last few months, with numerous figures declaring the sport to be on its deathbed or experiencing its “worst year in history”. As exaggerated and misleading as these claims are, the fact is they are being widely circulated, and considering the magnitude of the disappointment of the first May-Pac event, another anti-climactic go-around is the last thing the sport needs.
That’s not to say that the event wouldn’t sell – or that I wouldn’t tune in to watch it. It would, and I would. May-Pac II would almost certainly out-sell any other fight you could make in boxing today, and even if they sold 50% of the units they sold last time, it would still be the second highest grossing PPV in history. If the first event taught us anything though, it should be that the massive short-term financial gain of an event of that magnitude does not necessarily contribute to the long-term health of the sport. On the contrary, another damp squib could do it irreparable harm.
Firstly, the inevitable decline in PPV numbers from their first fight would be widely cited by those declaring that the sport is on death’s door as further proof of its demise (whereas in reality it would simply be proof that an awful lot of casual sports fans were not prepared to be conned by the $100 hype they fell for the first time). Secondly, even for die-hard fans of the sport who would pay to watch these two fight every day of the week and twice on Sunday, in terms of each man’s legacy the fight proves almost nothing, and it would be even less likely than the first bout to deliver the goods it promised us for so many years.
After all, Manny Pacquiao would be knocking on 40’s door by the time any return match came together, and Floyd Mayweather would have already kicked it down. Like it or not, both fighters missed the chance to box each other when it meant the most, and when they finally did meet they served up a monumental disappointment. That ship has sailed now; reviving their rivalry and saturating the mainstream media with the illusion that a second contest between them actually means something is only going to further damage the sport’s beleaguered image.
Of course, there are other competitive fights out there for Pacquiao besides Mayweather II, with the welterweight division stacked with potential opponents and the divisions north and south both containing some excellent champions. What would any of these bouts really prove, though?
At welter there are good fights against the likes of Kell Brook and Amir Khan available, though for me those bouts are exciting because I’d love to see my countrymen get the opportunity to fight a legend, not because I think beating either is necessary to enhance the Pacman’s CV. Fights against the likes of Porter, Thurman, Garcia and Broner et al could all be fought and won. But, again, what would that really prove, other than that Manny Pacquiao can still defeat all but the crème de le crème of the sport? We already know that.
A move north to light-middle and a potential blockbuster meeting against Canelo Alvarez has been mentioned by Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach. Considering that the Pacman’s only previous fight in that division stipulated that opponent Antonio Margarito couldn’t weigh more than 150lbs, and that Canelo is basically a middleweight barely still squeezing his frame into the 154 class, physically it just doesn’t make sense for Manny to fight at such a disadvantage. If it did happen, it would be a huge attraction, but boxing-wise it wouldn’t be a sensible career-move for the Pacman.
A move south to 140lbs seems to be the weight that would most suit the Pacman at this stage of his career, but then the most likely opponent in that division – WBO/WBC champ Terrence Crawford – is also the most stylistically troublesome for Pacquiao. Freddie Roach saw this first-hand when Crawford beat his fighter, Victor Postol, in their July unification fight. Afterwards, the normally confident trainer was notably lacking in enthusiasm for a Pac-Crawford match-up, admitting that it would be “a tough fight” because he can “move for 12 rounds and is a pretty good puncher”. Translation: he is a fistic nightmare for Pacquiao.
As fans, again this would undoubtedly be an exciting fight to watch, and it would be a good chance for Crawford to establish himself as a star off of Pacquiao’s back – but for Pacquiao, is the risk really worth the reward? Having already defeated the likes of Barrera, Morales, Marquez, De La Hoya, Hatton, Cotto, Margarito, Mosley and Bradley, and having captured a plethora of titles across an unprecedented eight weight divisions, his standing in the history of the sport is secure and a guaranteed first-ballot place in the Hall of Fame is already being kept warm for him. It would be a shame to see a faded version of the Filipino warrior endure a battering at the hands of the next generation, as so many of the greats before him have done. If he keeps taking on the biggest challenges available though, history has shown us sooner or later that will be the inevitable outcome.
Pacquiao has never been the most difficult fighter to hit, and the shocking knockout defeat to Marquez almost 4 years ago has clearly taken something of the old killer instinct away. He is much more hesitant in looking to finish a wounded opponent now and far more wary of incoming counter shots. Even so, Jessie Vargas was still able to find a home for some stinging right hands in their contest this past Saturday, and one has to wonder what damage a more dangerous opponent could inflict.
In short, there’s no doubt that the Pacman could go on to beat a number of top fighters out there if he chose, but losing even half a step makes him much more vulnerable against the best-of-the-best – many of whom he would’ve readily dealt with a few years ago. As such, his health and his proud legacy are more likely to be damaged than enhanced by a continued comeback, and the sport simply doesn’t need the spectacle of another over-hyped, under-whelming match with Mayweather.
If you can convince me that comebacks of great fighters approaching 40 years old have a habit of producing happy endings, I might be more inclined to think that Manny’s latest venture is a good idea. As things stand though, I’d rather he left his amazing record to sparkle as it is, and let the sport’s next generation of stars shine through.