I BELIEVE that the fighter is often the last one to realise they have slipped, but once it becomes apparent to them, it will be a situation where they notice it more and more, and on a daily basis.
They may have seen signs earlier on but brushed them off as something not to be worried about. A fighter will make an initial excuse, or find a reason as to why they can do better than they’re doing things at the moment. They will believe they can adjust their game plan or diet or training regime, and all – just like magic – will be solved.
But eventually those bad days just keep coming and coming and coming, and ultimately cause an ageing and weathered boxer to accept that things aren’t flowing the way they’re used to them flowing. And what’s more, the reasons are probably beyond their control.
While that initial period of realisation that their best days are over is a tough one, once the decline is accepted then hindsight is truly 20/20. They will start to look back to those times when they first suspected something was wrong, when they first had an idea – or fear – that they were changing, and they accept, without question, the truth of the situation.
Some of the signs of deterioration are obvious. A fighter in decline gets hit a bit more in the gym and in fights than they used to, especially by punches that they may never normally have gotten hit with. Sometimes the punches physically hurt more than they ever did. They might get stung by punches that at one time couldn’t even phase them. Sparring partners they used to toy with are now battling with them on even terms, and even starting to get the better of them. Opponents deemed inferior turn out to be much better than expected.
The realisation that you are not who you once were, and that the end is much closer than the beginning, can be mentally devastating to a fighter, especially one who is accustomed to performing at a high level of skill and execution. It is very much like losing a piece of yourself, like a part of you has passed on, never to be seen again. You begin to ask yourself “How can I still be the same person I always was, but yet be so different?”
Sometimes training in the gym can give a fighter a false sense of confidence. Looking in the mirror and seeing familiar ab muscles and bulging biceps and a trim waistline can be a false sign that the boxer is fully ready and in prime condition. A fighter in decline doesn’t even necessarily mean that the fighter is not still very capable. Highly accomplished and talented fighters – like Manny Pacquiao – can still box at a relatively high level and be successful to a certain degree, but mentally knowing that you are not who you used to be is always going to leave room for abnormal doubt in their minds.
And I would have to assume that Manny feels and sees the decline in his skills, his reaction times and his motivation levels. His timing might be off. His ability to perform even seemingly easy moves and techniques in the ring might have ceased to flow as easily and smoothly as they once did.
Maybe not even by huge degrees. Maybe just by a little bit, but in the game of high-end boxing, which truly is a game of inches and centimetres, just a little bit can mean a whole lot in that ring.