Yesterday, Manny Pacquiao stepped into the ring to do battle for the 72nd time. With a brilliant professional boxing career that has so far spanned 26 glorious years, after 39 exciting knockouts carved out of 62 scintilating wins, after giving our country more than 3 decades of pride and glory, and after giving and taking a million booms and bangs of hurts and pains, Manny Pacquiao climbed the ring once again. To showcase his extraordinary skills. And to once again provide thrill and excitement to an adoring global boxing community.
This time though, Manny would promptly lose via a lopsided unanimous decision to Cuba’s Yordenis Ugas.
Manny – who had almost single-handedly put the country on the global sports map; who had provided working class people all over the world an inspiration and an example worthy of emulation; whose rags-to-riches story is one so rare, so like a fairy tale – had confidently announced his readiness to do battle once again. Coach Freddie Roach was quick to reassure the faithful, and predicted that Manny would most probably score a 6th round KO over the relatively inexperienced Ugas. Despite the creeping threat of advancing age, despite the ominous danger coming from the challenge of the young and the hungry, and despite the growing pressure of political distractions outside the ring, Manny would once again don his well-worn boxing gloves, confident in the thought that he would be further enhancing an already illustrious legacy in boxing.
The entire country – and the world – watched this Legend once again. We watched intently, wondering silently if we would be feted with the Manny of old, or see an old Manny. We looked forward to savoring vintage boxing at its best. We craved to see the grace and beauty of the dance, the cunning manuever of the hunt, and the possibility of another stealthy kill. But yes, we did wonder if he still had that fire in the belly. Or if this would be his last fight inside the ring.
Manny’s career has stretched across 4 decades, taking off from the golden era of boxing when the likes of Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Tommy ‘Hitman’ Hearns and Roberto ‘Hands of Stone’ Duran dominated the sports headlines. Manny’s colorful bouts have clearly contributed in retaining much of the sport’s glamor and glitter, as the boxing world transitioned from that illustrious golden era.
With epic encounters against a bevy of present and future Hall of Famers in Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Shane Mosely, Juan Manuel Marquez, Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton, Eric Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and more, Manny could have certainly rested on his laurels. But the quest for glory was something that Manny could not resist. With all those renowned names stepping down to join the retired list, Manny was now the most senior citizen among the world’s top active pugilists. A WBA champion still at 42 years of age (before he was stripped of the crown for inactivity), it was indeed a most pleasant surprise for the world to see Manny with his durability and spunk.
But all this was put to the test yesterday by an under-the-radar Olympic veteran in the dangerous Cuban boxer, Yordenis Ugas. Bigger, younger, stronger, and armed with a Cuban pedigree that has produced innumerable Olympic champions, Ugas had been slated to fight in the undercard. Ugas was supposed to defend his own WBA welterweight crown against an Argentine challenger, Fabian Maidana. Until Manny’s original dance partner, Errol Spence Jr, pulled out due to an eye injury. And the rest is history.
Ugas subbed for Spence, and subsequently produced the greatest performance of his life. Not only did he outbox Manny, he also showed defensive and counter-offensive skills that held Manny’s much-vaunted hand-speed at bay. When the final bell sounded, as the smoke of battle cleared, it was Ugas standing proud and triumphant over a visibly-spent Manny Pacquiao.
Manny did manage to unleash his dazzling hand-speed in the first round. But it was all downhill after that. He had lost that nimble footwork. There was seemingly no balance as he tried lunging to counter. No more exquisite laterals. The relentless double-barrelled attack was no longer there. And the renowned stamina was clearly waning. His defense was now spotty; as Ugas’ looping rights were consistently hitting their mark. And the blinding speed that he used to regale us with before? This time, they became scarcer and more infrequent. With an offense that had lost much of the vaunted firepower, and a defense now full of holes, it was clear that he would have serious trouble with today’s big guns. Sure, the 2-year lay-off certainly didn’t help. But it was definitely Father Time that spelled the big difference here. No one has ever beaten Father Time. Not even Manny.
What’s next for Manny now?
Personally, I believe that it is time for the country’s ‘Pambansang Kamao’ to finally hang up his gloves. He has nothing more to prove in the boxing arena. He is now a legend known all over the world, with titles in a record 8 different weight divisions. He is a sports icon who has the power to unite the Filipino people, and whose influence can be seen globally. He proudly made our national flag and anthem recognizable the world over. And I would hate for him to go punch-drunk, the way the late-great Muhammad Ali left us.
At 42 years old, Manny is now way past his prime. Perhaps it was only providential that his bout with Errol Spence Jr did not push through. Only heaven knows what would have happened if he had gone on to fight the more dangerous Spence.
For 4 decades, Manny’s fists of fury have been a joy to watch. People have identified with his rags-to-riches story, and have basked in his exploits in and out of the ring. People all over the world have rejoiced in his wins, and have winced with him in his pains. We have all cheered for him as he took on bigger opponents and riskier challenges. And our hearts have sympathized with him when he humbled himself and acknowledged his God and His blessings. Manny Pacquiao’s journey – from being the brash young ‘Mexicutioner’, to the wisened veteran, to the God-fearing senator and prizefighter – has been one for the movies. And for all the blood, sweat and tears he shed, Manny Pacquiao will always remain the People’s Champ, given the purity of his intentions in duelling with the best of them in the squared circle.
But romancing the boxing crowd will depend much on a boxer’s sterling performance inside the ring. If Manny wishes to keep his boxing legions alive, he must bring back the same relentless stacatto fire that forced De La Hoya to concede defeat, or that powerful single ka-boom that sent Hatton to sleep, or those hurtful laser-like thuds that punished Margarito’s face for that dastardly act against Cotto. Failing that, the millions of fans all over the world will slowly – but surely – dwindle and leave. (Please read: Pacquiao: To Retire Or Not To Retire.)
There is now a growing clamor for our Pambansang Kamao to retire. With nothing more to prove, and so much more to lose, perhaps it is time for him to move on.
Cover photo courtesy of cbssports.com. Other photos courtesy of latimes.com, abs-cbn.com, bloodyelbow.com, mmafighting.com.