“I have a commitment to my family. I’m going to retire after this...If you ask me if I’m coming back? Maybe I enjoy retirement and help the people; serve the people.”
And with that Manny Pacquiao, one of the greatest fighters ever to lace on a pair of gloves, a statesman in his native Philippines, let the world know retirement had arrived.
Seven months after a post-fight interview with HBO’s Max Kellerman, Pacquiao followed his rubber match victory over Timothy Bradley by capturing the WBO welterweight belt for the third time with a win over Jessie Vargas.
That was back in 2016.
Retirement 2021 feels different.
Wednesday’s retirement announcement, just days after Pacquiao officially threw his glove in the ring for the Presidency of his homeland and weeks after a respectable but clear loss to Yordenis Ugas, could surely be the end.
We know now, and suspected then, Pacquiao’s ‘farewell’ fight against Bradley was anything but. Pacquiao’s first fight after a loss to Floyd Mayweather in the richest prizefight of all time was the beginning of one more unlikely act. Pacquiao went 5-2 over the seven fights after Mayweather, one of a still debated decision on the road against Jeff Horn and then against Ugas. A win over Keith Thurman was the sort of late career stand that stamps a legend with a little something extra.
Pacquiao will be 43 in December and will, when that next birthday arrives, be roughly 24 years from his first world title victory at flyweight. Boxing fans could wait a lifetime and never see another career quite like it.
Pacquiao holds a unique place in history. He is the only male fighter to win the lineal flyweight and featherweight crowns; the first fighter in history to win lineal crowns in four weight classes and some would argue five though that’s always been open to debate; the only fighter in history with title claims in eight weight classes combining sanctioning body and historical claims; and, the second to win sanctioning body titles in six weight classes.
All of this is why this time it feels different. Time wins. It always wins and this is a perfect exit in many respects. Walking away after Thurman might have been more poetic but Ugas was the sort of loss where he comported himself well, didn’t get beaten up grossly, and could hold his head up when the final bell sounded.
It was an honest ending without being a sad one. Pacquiao had nothing left to prove and what he had left to give was clearly not going to be enough anymore at the top level of boxing’s always tough welterweight class.
That, too, in its own way is poetic.
It’s still okay to raise an eyebrow and wonder if this is really it.
After the third Bradley fight, it was clear in Pacquiao’s hesitation and energy he didn’t really want to be done. Even as recently as a few weeks ago, there was some speculation about one more fight. While this is as good a time as any for fans and pundits to celebrate what Pacquiao has done, has given, has achieved in the ring, there is a date on the calendar that stands out.
May 9, 2022.
That’s the day when voters in the Philippines will go to the polls to elect their new President. In an electoral system decided by plurality, Pacquiao is behind in the polls though much change before an election day. Already long established as a Senator, Pacquiao could surge and make for one more remarkable story.
He could also lose.
If he does, what hill will there be for Pacquiao to compete to climb? It will be six years before Pacquiao can run for President again. Could he start wondering by next summer if he has one, just one of course, more big fight in him?
Stranger things have happened and history says Pacquiao not returning to the ring might be stranger than staying out of the ring under those circumstances.
It would be great if Pacquiao really is done this time. No one wants to see a bad ending and Pacquiao has more than earned the right to spend the rest of his adult life as one of the game’s living legends.
It just might not feel certain we’ve seen the end until next May.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.