By Andreas Hale
We’re a week removed from Manny Pacquiao’s controversial loss to Jeff Horn. Everyone has weighed in and most concluded that Pacquiao should have won. However, there has been an overwhelming sentiment that suggests Pacquiao is far from the fighter who tore through divisions several years ago. Perhaps more than the decision itself being conceived as a robbery at worst and a controversy at best, that part about Pacquiao’s deteriorating skills was clear.
It’s a narrative that haunts many fighters on the tail end of their career. One where the fighter looks for his past glory days only to find that he cannot muster up the ability to do so. So the fighter plods along in his career in hopes of capturing the fire they once had. But nobody can beat Father Time and the clock often runs out well before the fighter is aware that his time is up.
But how will this narrative affect how we remember Manny Pacquiao?
Watching a Manny Pacquiao who no longer annihilates his opponents with his speed and power definitely does short term damage to the Filipino’s legacy. However, if we look at the history of some of boxing’s greatest fighters, time allows us to forget those final fights. But that is just as long as a fighter knows when to hang the gloves up.
Muhammad Ali went 1-3 in his final four fights, Sugar Ray Robinson went 3-2 (1 NC), Henry Armstrong went 1-1-1, Joe Louis lost his final fight against Rocky Marciano, Roberto Duran went 2-3 to close his career, Sugar Ray Leonard went 1-2-1 (both Duran and Leonard closed their career with losses to Hector Camacho) and the list goes on and on. It’s rare that you’ll find a fighter who concludes his career with a high profile victory and looking like the fighter we will tell our children about although Floyd Mayweather, Rocky Marciano and Joe Calzaghe are exceptions to the rule. Nevertheless, boxing has no mercy on the aging and rarely allows a fighter to neatly tie his career up on a high note.
But for the short term, the criticism of Manny Pacquiao will continue. The drop off in ability is considerable and if what we saw against Jeff Horn is any indication, Pac Man must be careful with who he faces next. The story of Manny Pacquiao having not scored a knockout since his 2009 TKO against Miguel Cotto has permeated into regular boxing conversations for quite some time. Some are curious about whether his precipitous drop in knockouts (8 knockouts in 11 fights from 2005-2009, 0 knockouts in 13 fights since then) has to do with supplements. But the truth of the matter is that Pacquiao is not the same fighter he once was mentally and physically.
Some attribute this to Pacquiao finding God and dedicating his life to his family and countrymen. While that may be true, it could also serve as an easier way to accept the fact that he’s been slowing down for the last six years. Although the finish against Juan Manuel Marquez was definitive in their fourth encounter when Marquez shockingly stopped the Filipino in the sixth round, examination of their third fight in 2011 reveals a Pacquiao who had already started his descent. Granted, Pacquiao always had trouble with Marquez’ remarkable ability to time and counter him, but he was a hair slower and easier to hit in 2011. While just about everyone except the judges ringside had Pacquiao defeating Bradley in 2012, Pacquiao was again a little more susceptible to Bradley’s offense. Perhaps no further evidence was needed about Pacquiao’s deteriorating skills when he faced Floyd Mayweather in their long overdue fight that finally took place in 2015. Whether you believe Pacquiao was injured heading into that fight or not, it was easy to see that the speed, timing and power was clearly not what it once was as Mayweather made easy work of Pacquiao.
By the time he faced Jeff Horn, it had all come to a head. Although most of the boxing world figured that Pacquiao would have an easy night, Horn’s aggression combined with his fearless approach exposed Pacquiao in ways we hadn’t really seen by a boxer who wasn’t on an elite level. It’s safe to say that Jeff Horn isn’t a top 5 welterweight, but he was certainly good enough to hang in there against one of the greatest fighters of our generation.
But, alas, the judges delivered to Horn a disputed victory. The loss shouldn’t matter much to boxing fans because it isn’t like Pacquiao hasn’t lost a fight before. However, what everyone saw was a Pacquiao who should probably consider retiring. It’s difficult to tell a fighter when to retire because it truly isn’t up to the fans to tell anybody when to quit their job. But between Pacquiao’s physical downturn and his obligations to the Philippines government, finding time to rededicate himself to his craft is limited, at best.
Matchmaking for Pacquiao will be tricky. Unfortunately, the fighter who stood the most to gain in beating Pacquiao (Terence Crawford) will likely never get the opportunity to face the aging legend. Which means that Pacquiao’s career will likely conclude against lesser opponents.
Regardless, how his career ends shouldn’t play a role in how he should be remembered. He remains as boxing’s first and only eight-division world champion who was rightfully named “Fighter of the Decade” for the 2000s by the BWAA, WBC and WBO. His fights were the complete antithesis of Floyd Mayweather. One was controlled chaos while the other was surgical precision. Pacquiao brought excitement to a sport that was said to be on life support (a tired theme that seemingly never ends). His portfolio is one that is filled with Hall of Famers, highlight reel knockouts and a larger than life persona that led to a career in politics for his home country.
When the Pacquiao reel rolls prior to his entry into boxing’s hall of fame, we won’t see his fights with Jeff Horn, Jessie Vargas or Chris Algieri. Instead, we’ll see the picture perfect flattening of Ricky Hatton, the savage destruction of Oscar De La Hoya, the grueling wars with Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez, the breakout performance against Marco Antonio Barrera and him raising world titles in eight different weight classes.
As long as Pacquiao doesn’t start a trend of competing (and losing) in useless bouts that are clearly a money grab, his legacy is safe. But even if he does continue his retirement tour of sorts and faces lesser opponents, the final chapter of Pacquiao’s career won’t be held against him as time goes on. For the most part, we’ll forget about it. It’s what boxing does.