GREAT fighters often turn in one final vintage performance that reminds everyone just how special they are.
Muhammad Ali did it against Leon Spinks in 1978, Roberto Duran rolled back the years to stun Iran Barkley in 1989, Bernard Hopkins bewitched Beibut Shumenov as recently as 2014, and Manny Pacquiao – arguably the greatest fighter of the current era – may have had his final glorious moment against Lucas Matthysse, when he halted the Argentinian in seven rounds.
After 23 long years of giving and taking punches as a professional prizefighter, the 39-year-old’s performance against Matthysse was superb. Yet, at risk of upsetting the legions of “Pac Man” supporters, some perspective is also required.
While Pacquiao has experienced a steady decline over the last decade, the form of the ageing Matthysse is in freefall. The version of Matthysse who the Filipino thrashed in Kuala Lumpar is far removed from the seek-and-destroy slugger who battered Humberto Soto and Lamont Peterson in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Nor is he the same fighter who outlasted John Molina in 2014 and edged Ruslan Provodnikov a year later.
This was not even the Matthysse who was thumped into defeat by Viktor Postol three years ago. Matthysse, after all, is only human. While Pacquiao’s showing at the age of 39 defies all logic, Matthysse is experiencing what most 35-year-olds experience. His reactions are a shade slower, his punches more deliberate and his resistance has been bent and bruised by a punishing career.
But that should not detract, at least not too much, from the astonishing effort of Pacquiao. Without long-time coach Freddie Roach, and coming back one year after a humbling loss to Jeff Horn, many suspected that even the 2018 model of Matthysse would be too much for a fighter who began his career way back in 1995, when he weighed a paltry 106lbs.
Exhibiting his signature speed, Pacquiao zip and zapped inside and out to befuddle the increasingly clunky Matthysse from the outset. It was a solid showing and, while not exactly the Pacquiao of old, it served as a reminder that even the old Pacquiao is one of the best boxers around today.
Problem is, of course, he cannot defy time forever. No one can. And while Matthysse was both disappointing and tailor made for the highly educated brilliance of Pacquiao, there are younger assassins around capable of making Manny look his age. Both Vasyl Lomachenko and Terence Crawford have been mentioned as potential opponents for the seven-weight titlist, and a showdown with either would be marketed as a superfight of the ages.
In the build-up we would be reminded of Pacquiao at his best, told over and over again that his opponent has never fought anyone like him. But as Ali discovered against Larry Holmes, as Duran realised against Sugar Ray Leonard and as Sergey Kovalev proved to Hopkins, Pacquiao will have to accept that boxing is a young man’s game.
For now, though, let’s appreciate Manny Pacquiao. A man who has made a career out of thrilling his fans and defying the odds. Out of rising in weight and taking on the best rivals available to him. Out of sumptuous skill and dazzling speed.
So appreciate every moment, every smile and every frenzied attack. Because this modern great will not be around for much longer. And we may never see his kind again.