MANNY PACQUIAO let a lot of people down on May 2, 2015. In retrospect, perhaps fans were disappointed not in Manny but in themselves. Disappointed they’d succumbed to the wild belief that this redoubtable Filipino, with his turbocharged engine, berserking style and bludgeoning left hand, could hand Floyd Mayweather his first loss.
Nearly two years on and his conqueror has retired. Meantime, Pacquiao is – if not going strong – still going. In late 2015, when he announced a trilogy bout with Timothy Bradley, many felt it would be a swansong, a last hurrah against a world-class rival to smudge the memory of May 2. Instead, Pacquiao followed up his admittedly impressive win over Bradley with a cruise-control defeat of Jessie Vargas (himself a Bradley victim) this past November. Having recently celebrated his 39th birthday, the multi-time world champion now looks set to meet unheralded Aussie school teacher Jeff Horn in the United Arab Emirates.
The Pacquiao-Horn fight has the air of a wrestling match, with Pacquiao serving as the vehicle to “get Horn over”. To those unfamiliar with wrestling parlance, the term applies when an established star is drafted as fodder for an unknown but talented up-and-comer, thereby enhancing the young gun’s prospects of finding a fanbase and carving out a career. The only problem is, Horn doesn’t have the tools needed to beat even a faded version of Pacquiao. He is a novice boxer (16-0, 11 KOs) with a so-so resume who has not yet fought outside of Australia/New Zealand. Pacquiao – already a living legend – has nothing to gain by beating him.
Some people are OK with the Pacquiao-Horn mismatch, reasoning that Manny’s place in history is already secured. He is no longer concerned, they say, with proving himself the best fighter in the world; rather he is coasting towards retirement – and he’s earned the right to do so. Promoter Bob Arum has spoken of Pacquiao completing an Ali-esque world tour, with possible fights in Russia and Britain mooted for later in the year. The question that pops into the collective consciousness is: did the Filipino reject a last hurrah by rescinding his retirement promise post Bradley III, or is this outlandish globe-trotting expedition a last hurrah on the instalment plan? We shall see.
Given the depth of the welterweight talent pool at the moment – with Kell Brook, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Errol Spence and Amir Khan all in the mix – it’s difficult to view the Horn fight as anything other than a “gimme” for Pacquiao. Maybe the long-in-the-tooth senator has lost his lust for competition. And maybe we are right to give him an easy ride given his age and the numerous blockbusters he’s served up over the years.
Or maybe we’re wrong. And maybe we need to call for that Terence Crawford fight, or demand he settle a score with old spar-mate Amir Khan, or challenge the winner of the forthcoming Thurman-Garcia unification. It’s difficult for a fan to know which position to adopt. Celebrate Pacquiao’s longevity? Or castigate him for the downward gear-shift? Is it incumbent upon us to demand enduring greatness from our boxing idols?
In April Pacquiao likely fights the school teacher and beats him to a pulp. Afterwards, even the wet-eyed Pacquiao loyalists may demand a proper send off.