By Cliff Rold
Fifteen years is a long time in life. It’s a hell of a long time in boxing.
December 4, 1998 was over fifteen years ago.
That was the night a raw power puncher came from behind to win the WBC and lineal Flyweight crown in Thailand. That’s how long Manny Pacquiao has been a part of boxing’s title conversation. This Saturday night, he will attempt to regain the WBO Welterweight belt he lost to Timothy Bradley in 2012. There are reasons to think he will and reasons to think he won’t.
Whatever the result, there is no avoiding the inevitable. The last hurrah is close at hand. At 35 years of age, he’s had a style that adds miles to the body. Pacquiao has always been hit less than it looks like; offensive gems that last always have better defense than credited for. He still gets hit more than fighters whose defense stands out first.
Of course, this being boxing, the last hurrah doesn’t necessarily mean the end of a career. Too many have continued long past their last hurrah to think that.
And we won’t know what really was the last hurrah until the whole story is written. History dictates at least that much. Eventually, all of the great ones stop being great. We watch as the end grown near with a wonder of when that last truly great night will be.
Roberto Duran is great proof of that. Duran won the Lightweight title in 1972 and the Welterweight crown in 1981, his crowning achievement a win over a then-undefeated Sugar Ray Leonard.
Rising from the ashes of “No Mas” in the rematch, a lopsided loss to Wilfred Benitez, and a shocking upset to Kirklaind Laing, Duran rebounded with a monster year in 1983. He bested Pipino Cuevas in a veteran crossroads fight, defeated Davey Moore for the WBA belt at 154 lbs., and gave Marvin Hagler all he could handle in a competitive loss for the Middleweight crown.
When Tommy Hearns iced Duran in two rounds in 1984, it would have been easy to assume Hagler had been his last hurrah. Middling wins and a loss to Robbie Sims followed over the next near five years. Then, there was one last moment. At age 38, Duran turned back the clock one last time to wrest the WBC Middleweight belt from Iran Barkley in the Fight of the Year. There would be more notable downs than ups from there, old man battles with Vinny Pazienza and Hector Camacho and a laudable split with Jorge Castro.
Retrospect speaks clearly: everything after Barkley was epilogue. That winter night in 1989 was his last hurrah.
Like Pacquiao, Duran began his career light on the scale and kept climbing. Near Bantamweight in his debut, he’d best future Featherweight champion Ernesto Marcel in one of his best, forgotten wins before moving on to Lightweight and all the glory to come. His remarkable longevity is part of what defines his greatness.
Pacquiao found longevity as well. If, say, we look back one day and see 2012 as his last hurrah, his disputed loss to Bradley and epic fourth encounter with Marquez as the last gasps of true greatness, the longevity is still there. It’s fair to say he wasn’t yet a great fighter when he won his first title from Chatchai Sasakul. He was well on his way by June 2001 when he shredded Lehlo Ledwaba for a title at Jr. Featherweight.
Very few put together a decade like Pacquiao had in the 2000s. He was still good enough to beat a tough-for-most-guys Brandon Rios like he was standing still in 2013. There is reason to think this is still a great, if less so, fighter entering the ring. Without a Floyd Mayweather showdown when they were appeared peak in 2010, there will always be ample debate about who the best fighter of their era was.
And Bernard Hopkins will always be there as a counter argument to both (Hopkins will have a last hurrah someday right? Before he reaches AARP eligibility at least?)
That Pacquiao has been one of the great ones is little in doubt.
We won’t know what the end is until we see it. And we won’t know it really was the end until it gets confirmed with further evidence later on. This weekend, Manny Pacquiao steps in with one of the best fighters in the world with a chance to set the record straight, a chance to resume his place as a title holder, a chance to push his last hurrah down the road at least another night.
Or to have that last hurrah before our eyes.
It’s been a hell of a ride for a long time. How much longer until the roller coaster pulls to station?
So it looks like all signs are go for Roman Gonzalez to challenge Akira Yaegashi for the lineal Flyweight crown this summer. If the summer also has a Juan Francisco Estrada-Giovani Segura clash, hardcore fight fans will have ample evidence to point to in arguing this epic era of little men as the best thing going in boxing today…Naoya Inoue is the goods and proved it with a win over Adrian Hernandez for a title at 108. He and Kazuto Ioka just looks like a Japanese superfight in the making…For fans of big men action, Cruiserweight has delivered what Heavyweight lacked for years. Steve Cunningham has brought those thrills north with him. Win or lose, Cunningham is a warrior worth every salute…While it might not be stellar on paper, this weekend’s Bradley-Pacquiao undercard might have some solid action. Let’s hope so anyways. The first fight wasn’t exactly a thriller…Anyone who read last week’s column knows this one can close only one way: YES! YES! YES!
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]