Monday, November 29

Manny Pacquiao is the last of a dying breed

This is probably not how Manny Pacquiao envisioned his prolific career coming to an end.

Unlike most fighters, Pacquiao wanted to finish his career against the toughest opponent he could find. And for a man who is a few months from his 43rd birthday, that is abnormal. While most of his teammates have retired and moved on to exhibition fights against non-threats for huge paydays, Pacquiao is still here and looking to teach the next generation a thing or two about what it means to strive to be the best. .

MORE: When is Manny Pacquiao vs. Yordenis Ugas? Date, time, pay-per-view price, odds and location for the 2021 boxing match

Boxing’s first and only eight-division world champion is on the court with a small group of reporters in the arena, where he will possibly step into the ring for the final fight of his career 72 hours later. But it is not against the opponent you envisioned. It was supposed to be against Errol Spence Jr., one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world who is perceived as younger, bigger and stronger than Pacquiao.

“I want the biggest challenges,” says Pacquiao. Not everyone believed him. But he decided to challenge Spence in his perceived swan song of the sport.

Unfortunately, Spence suffered a retinal detachment in training just two weeks before the biggest fight of 2021 and Pacquiao will now fight high-risk, low-reward Yordenis Ugas. And as it is possible that he will announce his presidential candidacy in the Philippines and effectively end his boxing career, it is clear that Pacquiao wanted to come out strong.

“I was a little disappointed because I’ve worked hard and focused on being at my best,” Pacquiao sighs when asked about Spence’s injury. But in Manny style, he finds a ray of light in the cloud and attacks it with a smile. “When I heard it was Ugas because he took my belt off, I said ‘OK.’

Ugas has a world title that Pacquiao once had but never lost in a fight. Instead, he was stripped of the WBA welterweight (super) title due to inactivity. But with COVID devastating the world of sports, no one was active. Unfortunately, the World Boxing Association decided to take his title and give it to Ugas.

And Manny took it personally.

Now he wants it back because he likes titles. Not only is he the only boxing world champion in eight divisions, he is also the only fighter to have held world championships in four different decades. He won them the hard way, so he certainly doesn’t like to lose one without being defeated in a match.

Just over two decades ago, Pacquiao made his United States debut in the same arena two weeks early against Lehlohonolo Ledwaba for the IBF 122-pound title, the second major title of his career to that point.

“Twenty years ago I was here for my first fight with Ledwaba supporting Oscar De La Hoya’s fight with Javier Castillejo on June 23,” Pacquiao recites before taking a moment to look at the arena that essentially made him a US superstar. . “I am very grateful to MGM for supporting Manny Pacquiao.”

Back then, Manny Pacquiao was the hunter. Two decades later, he is the one being hunted.

The way the diminutive Filipino fighter swept through the weight classes was unheard of. Two years after defeating Ledwaba, Pacquiao shocked the world and announced his arrival by beating Marco Antonio Barrera to become world featherweight champion. As her profile went up, so did her belt collection. Juan Manuel Márquez coughed up the super featherweight title, David Diaz was knocked out for a lightweight title, Ricky Hatton was brutally stopped to make him a 140-pound champion, Miguel Cotto was beaten for a 147-pound title and the size of Antonio Margarito did not. affair as Pacquiao strangled him to become an eight-division junior middleweight champion.

The tear was staggering and turned Pacquiao from a little-known fighter from the Philippines into one of the biggest megastars the sport has ever seen. But of his great achievements, the one that stands out the most had nothing to do with a world championship. In terms of professional wrestling, it’s the fight that “finished” him as a star. And that would be the brutal beating he gave a legend and pay-per-view star in 2008.

“My most satisfying win was against Oscar De La Hoya because I came from 135 to 147 pounds,” Pacquiao tells reporters with a nod and a smile. “It was unusual. Not many boxers can do that. “

Nor could many fighters be able to maintain the kind of relevance that Pacquiao has had. Pacquiao would send De La Hoya into retirement at the age of 35, which some viewed as insane. But here Pacquiao has 42 years of searching for the toughest opponents out there. When he won the WBA (super) welterweight title against Keith Thurman in 2019, at the age of 40, Pacquiao proved he wasn’t here just to get a check. He was here to keep proving to himself and to the world that he was one of the best in the world.

He didn’t have to. And he definitely didn’t have to pick Errol Spence Jr. as his next opponent. He could have found an easier opponent to possibly be the final fight of his career. But that’s not how Manny Pacquiao is built. And that’s also why he chose to fight a high-risk, low-reward opponent in Ugas as a late substitute rather than cancel his plans to fight altogether.

Ugas is an Olympic bronze medalist with a complicated style that can be difficult to look good against. The Cuban actually heralded his arrival as a threat when he fought Shawn Porter in a controversial split decision loss, but made the division aware of his presence.

Nobody wanted to volunteer to fight Ugas unless it was necessary. But here is Pacquiao raising his hand to accept the challenge.

“I never imagined what I would have accomplished in boxing from the beginning of my career until now,” says Pacquiao. “I went from nothing to something to be an inspiration to people both in and out of the ring.

“This is going to be a good action fight and I will do my best on Saturday night because I love to make the fans happy.”

As Pacquiao’s profile grew, so did his ambition to help his people at home. He became a politician in 2010 and has served as a senator in the Philippines since 2016. If he defeats Ugas, Pacquiao will likely face the toughest challenge of his career outside of the ring as he likely decides to run for president. And if he does, the time commitment to a presidential campaign will require him to step away from boxing.

If that decision is made, he will leave a legacy that will be unrivaled in the sport of boxing. Floyd Mayweather may have the undefeated record, but Pacquiao’s resume and accomplishments are not only hard to deny, they are impossible to ignore.

“That’s hard to do,” Pacquiao says when asked if he could see another fighter achieving what he has. “Four decades and eight weight divisions? That is hard.”

He is the last of a dying race. A fighter who has never turned down a challenge despite the odds being against him. Just as young wrestlers seek to make a name for themselves fighting Manny Pacquiao, the Filipino is equally interested in making a name for himself with them.

If you have a world title, Pacquiao wants it. If you’re supposed to be the best, Pacquiao needs to prove that theory. He is not interested in soft fights or exhibition fights to fill up his bank account. He is interested in being recognized as the greatest. But to be the best, Pacquiao can’t just do that inside the ring, he has to be not only the best fighter, but the best human being to his people.

“My heart’s desire is nothing material,” says Pacquiao. “Whatever I’ve done, my fame or fortune (doesn’t matter). What is important to me is my relationship with God and how I can help others. That is what is in my heart. Later, after Manny Pacquiao is gone from this world, I want you to remember that Manny Pacquiao is one of the best fighters in the ring, but he is a good guy who is helping people.

“We must show real love to people outside the ring. Boxing is easy. It is entertainment. But outside of the ring, be an inspiration to the world. “

Win or lose on Saturday night, mission accomplished.

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