Manny Pacquiao’s moment of truth is just a few days away. This Saturday (Sunday in Manila), Manny enters the ring to try to wrest the WBO world welterweight crown from Timothy ‘The Desert Storm’ Bradley Jr in a much-awaited rematch that will have a great significance on the careers of two of the world’s best pugilists today. The winner of this bout will undoubtedly have his name mentioned in the same breath as that of the other flamboyant unbeaten champion, Floyd Mayweather, for what could be the richest fight in the world ever. The loser will be relegated to the sidelines for good, possibly even causing the end of a fabled career if Manny were to suffer a beating.
Manny Pacquiao had a horrendous 2012. He absorbed two consecutive losses; the first was that controversial split decision to Bradley; and the second one by a nightmarish knockout to his arch-rival, Juan Manuel Marquez.
The second one was excruciatingly more painful, coming with just a second left in that fateful 6th round, and JuanMa’s nose bloodied and broken. With JuanMa desperately trying to breathe through his mouth, not a few boxing aficionados were predicting then that it was just a matter of time before the Mexican warrior would wave the white flag. Except that Manny walked right into a picture-perfect right straight, rendering him unconscious for what seemed like an eternity.
Calls for his retirement were heard after that crushing loss to Marquez. Even in the Philippines, medical heavyweights weighed in to debate whether Manny should be allowed to fight again. Even his outspoken mother came out in the open to ask him to seriously consider retiring. Manny took a break from the fight scene for a while, reassessed his life, his physical condition, and his plans for the future.
But after some serious circumspection, Manny realized that he had to come back to the ring. He wasn’t ready for the pastures. Not yet. He knew he still had what it takes to be up there trading punches with the best of them. He missed the gym, and the smell of leather, sweat and blood. He longed to hear the staccato blasts from the mitts and the speedball, and the laughter and the pained groans and grunts from fellow boxers and their trainers. He missed the cheers and the adulation, even the jeers; plus the excitement as Michael Buffer cried out: “Let’s get ready to rumbleeee!!!” And Manny understood that boxing was what made him. And that he owed it to boxing to try to deliver a better ending to his storied boxing career.
So Manny, with the help of Coach Freddie Roach, Buboy Fernandez and the rest of his team, embarked on a journey. A journey towards redemption that could take a few twists and turns. First step was to find out how much he still had left in his tank. Enter: Brandon ‘Bambam’ Rios, that bull-strong banger who could test Manny’s resolve, his stamina, and his physical condition.
When Manny scored a lopsided unanimous decision win over Bambam last December 2013, fans and detractors swooped down to give their verdict. The diehard fans announced that the win was a virtuoso performance showcasing the fact that he still had his uncanny speed, his stamina, and his cat-quick reflexes. The detractors, on the other hand, argued that Manny had lost his power, and more importantly, his desire to do battle. The killer instinct, the haters sneered, was lost and gone forever.
This weekend, we will witness the second bout in Manny’s ‘Road to Redemption’. This clash of titans will tell us whether Manny still has the desire to mix it up with the best of them, and the killer instinct to finish off a wounded adversary. Coach Freddie said that this time around, Manny is in the best shape in years. It is a good sign for Manny’s fans. He’d better be, for he will be up against a bigger, better, bulkier and badder Bradley come Sunday.
(Other photos courtesy of prommanov.com, craveonline.com, latinopost.com, boxingtribune.com, 15rounds.com, fightnews.com)