AS Manny Pacquiao heads into his third match-up against Timothy Bradley on April 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the lack of real buzz in the States is palpable. Perhaps it’s the lingering resentment surrounding what was as Larry Merchant as dubbed it: ‘the Letdown of the Century’, which was last May’s half-billion dollar waltz between he and Floyd Mayweather.
Not even the specter of this being Pacquiao’s last go-around as a professional prizefighter has generated all that much interest in this event.
While Manny himself has made it clear that he intends for this to be his fistic swan song, his own promoter Bob Arum isn’t so sure and has gone out of his way to let anyone know that in his opinion, ‘the Pac Man’ will fight on. History is on Arum’s side, boxers have made proclimations of their impending retirements only to change their minds a short time later.
But if this does happen to be the Filipino’s last stand, his career should be appreciated for what it was. It’s one that will find him in Canastota five years from whenever his retirement does take place. It truly has been a remarkable run that will place him among the game’s greatest.
His career began in the Philippines where he captured the WBC flyweight title by dethroning Chatchai Sasakul in eight rounds in Thailand in December of 1998. Pacquiao held that belt for two fights before he was stopped by Medgeon Singsurat in three rounds a year later.
In reality though, his career was just beginning. Jumping two weight classes to super bantamweight he began the process of moving up the ratings and in the summer of 2001 as the highly regarded Lehlo Ledwaba needed a dance partner after the original opponent, Enrique Sanchez pulled out, this little known southpaw who had just months earlier began working at the Wild Card Boxing Club under the auspices of Freddie Roach accepted this difficult assignment on short notice. Thought to be a mere opponent for the South African, Pacquiao instead came out and blitzed Ledwaba with a never ending stream of left hands that not only stunned the defending IBF 122-pound champion, but bruised and bloodied him.
On a night when Oscar De La Hoya headlined versus Javier Castillejo, it was Pacquiao that stole the show with his sixth round stoppage.
It was at this point that Pacquiao became an American entity and an HBO staple for the next decade-and-half. He battled the Mexican trio of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and most memorably, Juan Manuel Marquez. This quartet of fighters created the best set of bouts in the first decade of the new millenium. They weren’t so much boxing matches but drama’s played out on canvas.
Then there was the run he embarked on from 2008 to 2010 when as a smaller man moving up in weight he tore through the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, which such ease and dominance that there were wide rumors of PED usage (for the record, Pacquiao never tested positive for any banned substances and has since participated in the stringent VADA program).
While Mayweather was the best boxer on the planet, it was Pacquiao who was the most exciting figher. And in many respects provided a perfect counter-balance to one another. While Floyd took hiatuses from the sport, Manny was the constant throughout this past generation and he help cultivate a new generation of fans.
Unfortunately, like any other mortal there was the inevitable decline. There was the horrifying knockout at the hands of Marquez in their fourth encounter and then the most recent effort versus Mayweather which could be best described as tepid. There is that feeling that Pacquiao is just playing out the string before he makes the full blown commitment to politics in the Philippines. The rabid ferocity that once defined his fan-base is now waning and there is clearly a decline in terms of the way Pacquiao now moves the needle.
But it’s been a great ride, one that is soon coming to an end. And one that should not be forgotten.