By Andreas Hale
Manny Pacquiao has reached that point of his career.
You know, when he becomes an opponent rather than a challenger. Or, a name that a young fighter can put on their resume. His new role is every fighter’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, most boxers, no matter how good they are, experience this when on the wrong side of their career.
After 23 years as a professional boxer, world titles in eight different weight classes and a legendary run that has earned him boatloads of money, Pacquiao is staring at the harsh reality of soon being known as a has-been. When reports about the possibility of a Manny Pacquiao vs. Vasyl Lomachenko fight, many groaned. It was the first time that those groans were because of Manny Pacquiao.
For most of his career, the challenge of finding a suitable opponent for Pacquiao was one that occasionally induced eye rolls and groans. During his quest to land a fight with Floyd Mayweather, Pacquiao faced opponents like a weathered Shane Mosley and overmatched foes Chris Algieri and Joshua Clottey. It wasn't until Pacquiao faced Mayweather did he find himself as the underdog. Prior to that, the last time Pacquiao was an underdog was when he faced Oscar De La Hoya, who he battered into retirement.
Even as the underdog, Pacquiao was never viewed as the opponent. He was a challenger to Floyd Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya. He was expected to beat Juan Manuel Marquez, Timothy Bradley and Jeff Horn. But now, at 39 years of age and still wearing the stench of an ugly and disputed loss to Jeff Horn, Pacquiao finds himself as the fighter trying to reclaim past glory. And former champions have two options. He can either beat up on fighters a class beneath him in overblown exhibition matches or challenge himself against the elite with the caveat that he very well may lose.
When he opted to fight Jeff Horn in Australia, Pacquiao went the former route and sought to collect a bag of money overseas while beating up on their hometown hero. Unfortunately, the fight was far more competitive than anybody anticipated it to be. By the end, Pacquiao found himself on the wrong side of a decision and his future as a boxer in question.
Roy Jones found himself in a similar space. After a decade of dominance, Jones’ star fell hard when he was knocked out by Antonio Tarver. He continued to search for his past greatness but ended up suffering multiple losses to opponents that he would have defeated with ease when he was in his prime. But Jones made a conscious decision after being stopped by Denis Lebedev to simply face lesser opposition. After a rough patch where he went 5-7, Jones has gone 11-1.
However, the quality of his opponents has left fans begging for his retirement. Yet and still, he fights.
Pacquiao is nearing a similar situation. Jeff Horn wasn’t in his league but managed to see the final bell. The worst thing that the Filipino can do is act like his skills haven’t deteriorated and step into the ring against an elite fighter like Vasyl Lomachenko or Terence Crawford. Even from a marketing perspective, a win by either fight over Pacquiao doesn’t do much for them because Pacquiao is already considered “washed up” by many of his boxing peers. Top Rank Promotions CEO Bob Arum could see a decent return if he put either Lomachenko or Crawford in there with Pacquiao, but doesn’t he owe the Pac Man more than another loss?
It’s painfully obvious that Pacquiao continues to fight for money and another loss would seriously damage his earning potential. At the very least, he can hang his hat on the fact that he was “robbed” against Horn. That way, he can get back on his world tour of beating decent fighters in other countries in front of large crowds and sizable purses. A loss to Crawford or Lomachenko could be devastating.
The problem is that fighters like Manny Pacquiao have a hard time letting go. Once the skills have eroded, usually everything else comes tumbling down in rapid succession. Fighters such as Zab Judah, Erik Morales, Roy Jones and, of course, Mike Tyson looked increasingly vulnerable once it was evident that their skills were going downhill. Without that element of respect, they become targets that younger fighters would love to add to their portfolio. Few can escape it.
Hopefully, the mere idea of a Lomachenko, a Crawford fight, or even appearing on the undercard of Crawford’s upcoming fight with Jeff Horn, is blown to bits sooner than later. Lomachenko’s manager Egis Klimas has already shot down the idea due to the weight differential and the fact that a Pacquiao fight doesn’t necessarily do anything for him. Crawford appears to be on that same line of thinking. All we have to do is get Manny Pacquiao onboard so we won’t have to see him subjected to unnecessary punishment.
Every fighter reaches this point but few know when to bow out gracefully. Maybe Pacquiao will avoid future embarrassment by knowing when to fold them.