As the first and only boxer to earn a title belt in eight weight class divisions through his career, Pacquiao was once crowned boxing’s pound-for-pound king by Ring Magazine. Over the years, he has defeated many of boxing’s big names, including Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley, and Oscar De La Hoya. At the height of his career, fans clamoured for him to take on boxing’s other undisputed champion — Floyd Mayweather. It was a fight that all hoped might actually match (even challenge) Mayweather’s superhuman technical skill, and was anticipated to earn millions for both fighters. Yet, despite intense negotiations between both camps (that devolved into vicious and even racist feuding) this fight has yet to manifest.
In 2012, Pacquiao suffered two consecutive losses that may have put the final nails into the coffin for a Pacquiao-Mayweather bout. For a fighter whose rise in boxing was meteoric, his fall from grace was equally as long a fall. In the 2012 spring season, Pacquiao suffered a controversial scorecard loss to the up-and-coming young fighter Timothy Bradley (a defeat that even I thought was an example of bad judging). Although boxing fans wrote this off as Pacquiao being a victim of the sport’s innate arbitrariness when it comes to scoring, fans were also certain that in the ring he looked more sluggish than we were used to.
Well, after an 11 month hiatus, Pacquiao was back in the ring, fighting the young and brash boxerfighterbrawlerplatypus with boxing gloves Brandon Rios (look for the Storify of my live-tweet coverage of the night at the end of this post, after the jump). To folks like me, it was as if Pacquiao had something to prove — that he wasn’t going to exit boxing with his face in the mat. That, despite his many other accomplishments, he still needed to be a boxing superstar.
And, after 12 rounds of one-sided action, one thing is clear: Manny Pacquiao is back. Sort of.
I’m not usually a huge sports fan — I’m one of the few Asian American bloggers who didn’t weight in on Linsanity (or Linsanity, part 2) because I don’t watch basketball. But, I make an exception for boxing, which I’ve been into for a few years. Those of you who are boxing fans (and perhaps all of you who are Filipino/Filipino-American, whether or not you watch boxing) are aware that this weekend is a big date in boxing: Manny Pacquiao, a major athletic figure turned Filipino congressman, is scheduled to stage a comeback this Saturday.
Last year, Manny Pacquiao — the one-time fighter heralded as boxing’s pound-for-pound greatest — suffered one of the most bruising falls from grace in the sports history. Last December, in the fourth rematch against Juan Manuel Marquez, this happened:
It was speculated that Pacquiao’s defeat last year occurred as a combination of excessive self-confidence, poor training, lack of mental focus, and distracting personal problems. Since that knockout, Pacquiao’s camp has been largely silent, and I personally felt like it was time for Pacquiao — already an aging fighter — to hang up his gloves and focus on other pursuits like his successful political career.
But, like almost all maturing boxers, Pacquiao can’t seem to see the writing on the wall. Two months from now on November 24, Pacquiao is scheduled to fight Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios in Macau, a fight largely seen by boxing fans as an all-in, must-win fight for Pacquiao. Should Pacquiao lose this fight, it will be almost necessary for him to retire. Furthermore, after the embarrassment of his knock-out by Marquez, fans also believe that Pacquiao needs an undeniable victory — preferably by knock-out — to maintain any claim to be at the forefront of boxing. It will not be good if the fight goes to the score-card.
While I personally dislike Pacquiao’s fighting style (I prefer technical and tight boxers and dislike how Pacquiao has a tendency to lead with his forehead), Pacquiao is a great fighter who if in peak fighting condition should have no problem with Rios. This is, after all, intended to be a comeback fight, and has even been organized for Pacquiao’s home turf.
Yet, even with everything that went wrong for Pacquiao in Pacquiao/Marquez IV (which culminated in that devastating knock-out linked above), Pacquiao still seems bizarrely unconcerned about preparing for his fight with Rios. Earlier this week, BoxingScene.com reported that Pacquiao had sprained an ankle in a pick-up game of basketball — his third consecutive game of the day. This happened despite reservations from Coach Freddy Roach that basketball games could lead to an injury.
What’s more concerning is further in the report, wherein Pacquiao says he’s not yet in “serious training” for his November 24th fight, and that serious training will begin when Roach flies to Macau October 6th after he finishes training Miguel Cotto.
Now, I get it. Fighters shouldn’t overtrain too early prior to a big fight: they risk exhaustion and serious injury. But, Pacquiao’s report that to-date his training is limited pretty much to “jogging and light training” makes me worry that Pacquiao hasn’t learned from his last fight that he needs to take his fighting career seriously. The upcoming bout with Rios is — like literally — the fight of Pacquiao’s career; a defeat will finish Pacquiao as a fighter.
So long as Pacquiao fails to consider the ramifications of a loss in November, so long Pacquiao continues to believe he can “wing” this and other fights, so long as Pacquiao persists in failing to take this upcoming fight or any other fight seriously, Manny Pacquiao’s days as a boxer will continue to be numbered.
I just got home from watching Pacquiao-Marquez 4. By now, you’ve probably heard the news: Manny Pacquiao, at one time the greatest pound-for-pound boxing champion in the world, was knocked out cold by Juan Manuel Marquez in the final seconds of the sixth round, ending both the fight and possibly Pacquiao’s boxing career.
In truth, perhaps it’s time to let Pacquiao’s boxing career go quietly into the good night.
Pacquiao is no longer a young fighter. At 33, Pac-Man is older, slower, and heavier than the speedy, youthful fighter who debuted in 1995 in the light flyweight division at 16 years old and less than 100 pounds. In the following 17 years, Pacquiao has moved up eight weight classes, and become an undisputed champion in each.
I’ve been a begrudging Pacquiao fan for the last few years. Let me tell you why: as a boxer, Pacquiao is undisputedly great. Before Pac-Man, no boxer had dominated in as many weight classes as he had. And, further, Pacquiao is a household name in boxing, and he’s Asian; for Asian Americans, Pacquiao was a direct, headlong challenge to the stereotype of the emasculated, weak Asian/Asian American male. Throughout the controversial negotiations that aimed to set up a fight between Manny Pacquiao and the talented boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather — negotiations that were often bitterly racist — Pacquiao was remarkably poised and dignified, earning him further respect within the Asian American community.
But, Pacquiao’s star has also shone at a time when boxing, as a sport, is waning. In boxing, a fighter is only as good as his opponents, and Pacquiao dominated in multiple weight classes while there was a dearth of superstars for him to challenge. And, I’ve always felt that Pacquiao was most comfortable in the lighter weight classes; every time he moved up in weight, his technique seemed to suffer.
Among the fighters that Pacquiao has fought is Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao and Marquez were among the most evenly matched fighters we have seen in modern boxing. Their first fight ended in a draw, with two judges scoring on opposite ends of the spectrum, and the final judge scoring the fight a tie. The remaining two fights were both given to Pacquiao by scorecard, but the decisions were controversial with many believing that at least one of the two should have been decided in Marquez’s favour.
Fast forward to tonight. Pacquiao-Marquez 4 was supposed to be the final showdown between these two fighters, and it was an edge of your seat fight with both boxers earning knockdowns. But, the final seconds of Round 6 were definitive and unquestionable; and potentially devastating for Pacquiao’s boxing future.
There’s no ambiguity here. This punch was the winning salvo in the war between Pacquiao and Marquez. This punch eliminated any possibility that Pacquiao is still boxing’s greatest pound-for-pound fighter. This punch destroyed any possibility of a Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. This punch, most likely, ended Pacquiao’s boxing career. And, it goes without saying, this punch could have caused permanent damage to Pacquiao’s brain.
If Pacquiao can’t prevent a blow like this — whether due to age or fading athleticism or deficits in skill — it is simply no longer safe for him to be boxing. It is time for him to retire.
In truth, this is tragic. Like him or hate him, Pacquiao is a great fighter who also helped repopularize a dying sport. He deserved to retire gracefully from boxing, with either a knockout win or even a close technical decision. He deserved the opportunity to maintain a claim to being one of boxing’s true greats. He deserved better than to be eulogized in the sport of boxing with an image of him knocked out cold with his face buried in the mat.
But, perhaps I’m being too hasty. Perhaps Pacquiao will stay in the sport. Certainly, there have been other fighters who have failed to see the writing on the wall, and who have continued to fight long past when they should have. Hopefully, Pacquiao will not follow in their footsteps, because these stories often end in true champions on the receiving end of devastating knockouts at the hands of unworthy opponents. Nonetheless, if Pacquiao chooses to continue fighting, than these are the lessons he must learn from this knockout defeat:
Keep your guard up. Pacquiao (like many boxers) suffer from guard laziness. In this fight, Pacquiao was knocked down (and the second time knocked out) twice by an overhand right to the face left wide open by a left guard that Pacquiao routinely leaves sagging. All boxers, even Pac-Man, need to be reminded of the consequences of leaving your defenses down.
Quit fiddling with your shorts. Bold. Underline. This is one of Pacquiao’s most bizarre bad habits. Pacquiao routinely drops both his guards to pull his pants up; which makes even less sense when one realizes that it’s impossible to pull your pants up when you have boxing gloves on your hands! Also, ridiculous when you consider that your shorts aren’t going anywhere! This weird habit appears to be part of Pacquiao’s rhythm in the ring, but one that I’ve maintained is dangerous because it leaves your guard wide open. It only takes one skilled fighter to clock him while he’s busy messing with his shorts to end that nonsense.
Stop trying to win rounds with the wild final 10 second flurry. Pacquiao has the bad habit of hearing the 10 second warning clapper and going into full-out Tazmanian Devil mode, windmilling wildly with left and right hooks designed to steal the round on a judge’s scorecard. Here’s the problem: it’s full-out, out-of-control Tazmanian Devil mode. All it takes is one skilled counter-puncher (re: Juan Manuel Marquez) to take advantage of this predictable behaviour. In fact, Pacquiao’s reliance on this strategy is so consistent that I predicted back in round 3 that Pacquiao would be knocked out in the next few rounds in the final seconds of the round when he left his head open during some crazy windmilling. And, lo and behold…
You are not Superman. This is the most important lesson to learn. No boxer is invulnerable. You, too, can get popped.
Asian Americans will predictably be disappointed if Pacquiao does, indeed, decide to announce his retirement from boxing in the coming weeks. But, while Pacquiao was an undeniable great, he is not the sole Asian American who has, or will, dominate in the sport of boxing. Indeed, tonight alone we saw Michael Farenas, another Filipino fighter, fight in an undercard match against Yuriorkis Gamboa. Although Farenas lost the fight, he demonstrated better skill, strength, and heart than his opponent, and I believe he is a rising star in the sport worth keeping our eye on.
And either way, whether this is the coda to, or a mere hiccup in, Pacquiao’s boxing career, Manny Pacquiao will go down in history as one of boxing’s greatest fighters. And no one, not even Juan Manuel Marquez’s right hook, can take that away from him.