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.
For nearly 30 seconds, Pacquiao lay listlessly on the mat as ring-side officials desperately checked to make sure he was still breathing and Pacquiao’s wife, Jinkee, sobbed hysterically. When he was finally roused, Pacquiao gamely sat up and smiled for the cameras. But, news reports say that the Pac-Man was later rushed to the hospital for a full, albeit preventative, check-up.
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.