Is it time for Manny Pacquiao to hang up the gloves?
Photo: Getty Images
Persistence paid off for Juan Marquez. The Mexican slugger fought one of the greatest of all time, Manny Pacquiao, for 42 fruitless rounds over eight years. Then, with one second left of round six of their fight for the curious WBO 'Champion of the Decade' belt, Marquez produced a very short, very violent straight right which turned the Filipino superstar into a Manila folder. It was the first time Pacman had been KOed this century – the previous time being when Medgoen Singsurat put him to sleep in Thailand in 1999.
Sportspeople, even the greatest, get old. Shane Warne let everyone know that he was open to the idea of an Ashes recall, then was made to look stupid by Aaron Finch in the opening Big Bash match. Ricky Ponting found that the reflexes which allowed him to shuffle in front of his stumps and whip the ball through the leg side had slowed so that he was a candidate for lbw, bowled or an edge to slips. Even Sachin Tendulkar, the BSB*, is in decline.
At the same time as Pacman and Marquez were smacking each other silly in Vegas, the UFC hosted a big event several states north-west in Seattle. In the most lopsided fight on an excellent card, former champion BJ Penn – making his comeback 14 months after retiring –was destroyed by Rory MacDonald. Only Penn's guts allowed him to endure 15 minutes of extreme punishment. His ring name 'The Prodigy' now sounds ironic, as he lacked the speed and strength to match an opponent 10 years his junior. Penn is four days older than Pacquiao.
In May 2009 Pacquiao knocked out former world champ Ricky Hatton, sending the Brit into retirement. A fortnight ago Hatton came out of retirement in Manchester against Vyacheslav Senchenko and was KOed again. Hatton is just two months older than Pacman.
The difference with the Pacquiao situation, of course, is that Marquez is five years his senior. The important factor is the Filipino's age, however, not the Mexican's – boxers age at different rates, and Marquez is unnaturally resilient. He has also fought fewer rounds than his opponent. One year ago we at BigPond Sport wrote about the likelihood of the long-discussed Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather superfight ever taking place. We wrote then that Manny: "has a lot of miles on the clock. He had 64 amateur fights and is up to 59 bouts in the pro ranks. As he has moved up in weight classes he has had to rely more on cumulative punching rather than pure knockout power; as a result, seven of his past 10 fights have gone the distance, with an average duration over that span of 10.3 rounds."
Since that time there has been further jawing about the odds of getting Mayweather into the ring against the eight-division world champ but nothing has eventuated. Instead, 2012 only offered Pacquiao a highly unsatisfactory split-decision loss to Timothy Bradley for the WBO Welterweight title. Most observers (including BigPond Sport) thought Pacman was a clear winner on that occasion. The five WBO Championship Committee judges on the review panel subsequently said they all scored the fight for Manny but the decision could not be overturned.
There is little doubt that Pacquiao is in decline. But how fast is he getting old, and should he call it quits? A few aspects of the Marquez fight should be considered. Pacman was leading on all judges' cards when the fight ended. He had knocked Marquez down once and broken his nose. Even the best fighter can walk into a great punch, and this was a great punch indeed. Some ring observers believe Pacquiao stumbled on Marquez's lead foot leaving him open for the finisher. Also, Marquez is a phenomenal athlete, ranked sixth in the world Pound-for-Pound, and has won seven championships across five weight divisions. He is no mug. In his first fight against Pacquiao in 2004 he escaped with a draw. Their subsequent fights in 2007 and 2011, were very tight points wins to Manny. A Marquez win is hardly an upset, although the method by which he achieved it was shocking.
Preliminary headlines have claimed that Pacman's loss ruins the prospect of a mega-million dollars fight against Mayweather, but his pulling power has not been damaged too badly. There are rumours that he trained less fanatically for the Marquez fight than he usually does, and there is criticism that he spent too much time on Bible study (breaking the strict code of ageing boxers, that their training camps should be disrupted by booze, sex and gambling only). He is believed to be drifting from the Catholic church towards the Protestant denominations, a big deal in his homeland and thus a distraction, as difficult as that might be for Australians to comprehend.
"I just got hit by a punch I didn't see," Pacman said at the post-fight media conference. The following day he issued a statement, with typical panache: "To all my fans, I would like to thank you for your prayers and assure you that I am fine. I am looking forward to a nice rest and then I will be back to fight. On behalf of (my wife) Jinkee and our family we would like to wish everyone a joyous Christmas and a happy and healthy new year."
So the little big man will fight on, like Tendulkar, not see the signs and walk away, like Ponting. He will keep making big money, because he is an excitement machine, and keep making others rich, because that is part of the boxing game. After the loss, Pacquiao's promoter Bob Arum could hardly refrain from rubbing his hands together when he suggested a fifth Pacquiao-Marquez contest would be a splendid idea.
"Why not?" said the 81-year-old, who has never laced a glove in his life. "People love this action. Have you seen people this excited in years? Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake LaMotta fought six times. Maybe we will break the record."
* Best Since Bradman
The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
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