Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 9, 2012

Manny Pacquiao Meets The Unbeatable Foe

The fact that the story is all too familiar makes it no less poignant. The fact that in the sport of boxing it happens with mind-numbing regularity makes it no less sad. In his seventeen year professional boxing career, Manny Pacquiao has rewritten the sports record books. In compiling a record of 54-4-2 prior to this weekend, he became the first fighter to win the world championship in eight different weight classes. But on Saturday night in Las Vegas, in a non-title welterweight bout against familiar foe Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao came face to face with the opponent no athlete can ever finally defeat.

When he turned pro at the age of 16 he was less than five feet tall and weighed only 98 pounds, seven pounds less than the minimum weight for the light flyweight division. He would later claim that he used to put weights in his pockets at weigh-ins in order to meet the weight requirements. Fighting sometimes with as little as two weeks rest between bouts, Pacquiao won his first eleven bouts, all in his native Philippines. After a single loss he went on to record fifteen more victories before moving up to the flyweight division, where he won first the Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation title in 1997 followed by the world flyweight championship in December 1998.

From there it was on to the super bantamweight division, another championship, and his first fights in the U.S. in 2001. For the last decade Pacquiao has seemed unstoppable regardless of weight class. Featherweight, super featherweight, lightweight, light welterweight, welterweight, and light middleweight; up and down the scale he has taken on all comers and almost always emerged triumphant. Along the way there were a series of memorable fights against world-class opponents.

In the super featherweight division there was a trio of bouts against Erik Morales, a world champion in three divisions. Morales won the first by decision, but Pacquiao became the first boxer to knock out Morales in the second fight, and KO’d him again in the rubber match. In 2008 Pacquiao moved up to the 147 pound welterweight division to take on the legendary Oscar De La Hoya. There were pundits who thought Pacquiao was too far above his natural weight to fight effectively, but he silenced the critics with a TKO at the end of round eight. Five months later he won the light welterweight title and ended Ricky Hatton’s career with a knockout. That was followed by victories over Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey. By now widely acknowledged as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, Pacquiao was named Fighter of the Decade by the Boxing Writers Association of America, the World Boxing Council, and the World Boxing Organization.

Once known as a womanizer and gambler, Pacquiao has matured and turned to more serious pursuits as he has gotten older. Revered at home where he was the first Filipino athlete to appear on a postage stamp, Pacquiao was elected to congress in 2010. He is running unopposed for another term, after which he would be eligible to run for the Philippines’ Senate. But even as he has compiled his incredible record in the ring, Pacquiao has inevitably gotten older. Later this month he will turn 34, and sixty professional boxing matches make that age considerably older than it might seem.

Fans of every sport can speak of stars who stayed too long, who tried one time too many to summon skills eroded by time. There is Willie Mays as a Met, and Michael Jordan as a Wizard. But in boxing the tendency to fight on when one should stop seems more the agonizing-to-watch rule rather than the painful exception, and it seems to have always been so. There is Jack Dempsey, fruitlessly trying to avenge his loss to Gene Tunney in a rematch. There is Joe Louis, forced to come out of retirement to pay a tax debt, being bludgeoned by Rocky Marciano. There is Muhammad Ali, perhaps trying to make up for the prime years taken from him while his conviction for refusing the draft was on appeal, fighting and losing against Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick even as he began to display early symptoms of Parkinson’s syndrome. There is Sugar Ray Leonard attempting one comeback too many against Hector Camacho; and those are just a few of the fighters with names most fans would recognize. On boxing’s undercard, there are countless fighters who for financial reasons or perhaps because the ring is all they know fight on well past their prime, risking both humiliation and permanent injury.

On Saturday in Las Vegas Manny Pacquiao climbed into the ring to face Marquez for the fourth time. Their three previous bouts were all close, with Pacquiao winning twice and one ending in a draw. Pacquiao had lost his last fight, against Timothy Bradley in June, in a split decision. While most of those in attendance disagreed with the officials, it was clear that the Fighter of the Decade was no longer the boxer who destroyed Cotto in the same ring less than three years ago. On Saturday Marquez was the early aggressor, sending Pacquiao to the canvas with a hard right in the third round. Pacquiao bounced up quickly and seemed suddenly energized. He knocked Marquez down in the fifth as the fight’s momentum seesawed back and forth. But then late in the sixth round, with his broken nose bleeding and with Pacquiao ahead 48-47 on all three scorecards, Marquez delivered a brutal overhead right to the head that sent Pacquiao spinning to the canvas, where he lay face down and out cold.

The victor later called it “the perfect punch.” Far more tellingly, the loser later admitted that he never saw it coming. It is said that as a boxer ages the legs go first, followed by the reflexes and then, lastly, the will to continue. Manny Pacquiao’s legs seemed fine, but clearly his reflexes were wanting on Saturday night. His handlers have been saying that he wants to keep fighting for another two or three years; but the fair question is why? Surely he has nothing to prove, nor does he need the money. His outside interests, from politics to bible study, will only exert ever-growing demands on his time. He is the most celebrated boxer of this young century, but on Saturday in Las Vegas he met the inexorable, implacable opponent who ultimately always wins, time. One can only hope that Manny Pacquiao will allow us to keep the images that we have of his remarkable career, and not force us to watch two or three more years of opponents’ punches that he never saw coming.

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Responses

  1. I do not know the personalities involved. But I suppose they could be any of us. The same rules apply.

  2. manny pacquiao is the best fighter but he seems to be unprepared when he fought marquez.-

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