PEOPLE who are not Manny Pacquiao, and do not know what it feels like to be Manny Pacquiao, will attempt to advise him on what to do next. ‘Hold your head up high’, they’ll say, ‘you have nothing left to prove.’ Only Manny Pacquiao himself can come to that conclusion.
There are numerous giveaways that will tell a boxer they’re not the fighter they used to be. The most common being a dulling of the reflexes that manifests itself in two ways: simply, taking more punches and failing to land as many. Another tell-tale is the legs and feet not moving as effortlessly as they once did. These signs were obvious in 42-year-old Pacquiao during his loss to Yordenis Ugas last weekend. But perhaps the most striking warning in Las Vegas was the look of perpetual horror on the face of his wife, Jinkee Pacquiao, at ringside.
She seemed to know almost immediately what her husband surely came to realise: That the “Pac-Man” is no more. But that won’t make it any easier to walk away from the sport that’s defined him since he was 16 years old. Announcing their retirement – and sticking to it – is the hardest part of the journey for almost every boxer. One hopes that Pacquiao can now make the right call. But don’t for one second doubt how truly excruciating it is to admit that you can no longer do what you love to do; that one thing that used to come so naturally, gone.
It will never come back. Not for him to compete at the level to which he is accustomed. That can cause havoc with the psyche of boxers. His mind might play tricks on him, con him into believing that the late change of opponent, coupled with his layoff, were the real reasons he under-performed. Those who think it’s alright to encourage the likes of Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe and Oscar De La Hoya to return will likely be circling, too.
Pacquiao, a humanitarian, is considering running for president of the Philippines. A career in politics is already there for him. But it is his career inside the ring that he holds closest to his heart.
His achievements are huge. To my mind he is one of the greatest fighters of them all and, though he lost to Floyd Mayweather, the most accomplished of his generation. He picked up belts in eight weight classes and ruled definitively in five of those. At his peak, and for me that was his first three fights at 147lbs when he defeated Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto, he was an extraordinary fireball of a man who would have been competitive with any welterweight in history. He’s right up there with the best super-featherweights of all-time, too. That he started out as a light-flyweight and had success all the way up to super-welter, is yet another string to his bow. The astonishing longevity, and the manner in which he bounced back from defeats, provide further evidence of his legend.
Outside of the ring he was a joy. The manner in which he greeted every single person who packed into Fitzroy Lodge to meet him and Amir Khan in 2015 was unforgettable. He posed for countless selfies that day and not once did his famous smile fade. That smile, that obvious lust for life, was always so infectious. Out in Las Vegas, whether he was grinning broadly on the scales, talking to reporters before and after fights in broken English, or making his way to the ring like a kid runs to the bottom of the tree on Christmas morning, Pacquiao exuded humility that is so rare in modern day superstars. He was always grateful to his supporters and to the sport itself for changing his life.
Pacquiao may not be the fighter of old but that same person remains. The one his country worships. The man his wife and family adore. “Words cannot express how proud I am of the man you are,” Jinkee posted on Instagram. “I’m proud to be your wife. You mean the world to me and all our children. We love you so much. We, your family, have seen how much you have toiled, sacrificed and given of yourself, blood sweat and tears since the beginning when you dreamed of becoming world champion.”
With those words, Pacquiao has reached the ultimate mountain top. He has achieved what really matters in life. Hold your head up high, you have nothing left to prove.