Manny Pacquiao: Extending Greatness

With just one right hand, it felt as though an era had officially ended. In an instant, Manny Pacquiao’s iconic onslaught had been halted, suddenly silenced at last. Moments prior, Pacquiao stood opposite his famed rival Juan Manuel Marquez, their fourth encounter after an unforgettable trilogy. Pacquiao entered the bout following a contested decision defeat against Timothy Bradley but in truth, his invincibility remained palpable. A natural decline had seemingly begun but Pacquiao was still viewed differently, far from just a mere mortal trading punches like the others.

That immortality had now been erased though and Pacquiao’s demise was starkly contrasted by Marquez’s feat. In his three fights with ‘Pac-Man,’ Marquez had controversially failed to have his hand raised. This time though, there was no debate to be had and no scorecards to consider. Instead, Marquez had completed the saga, closing the show in the grandest of fashion. For Pacquiao and his legion of supporters, this was a moment for reflection. Over the last decade, Pacquiao had thrived among the elite, eventually ascending through the weight classes and reaching super-stardom along the way.

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Pacquiao’s stunning series against Marquez wasn’t alone, with the eight-weight world champion conquering multiple hall of fame fighters on his road to greatness. Victories over Marco Antonio Barrera as well a trilogy triumph against Erik Morales established Pacquiao’s brilliance but as he climbed the sport’s divisions, he swiftly became an iconic figure. Pacquiao was collecting titles while battering champions, contenders and stars in the process, overwhelming foes with staggering speed and skill. It seemed that no opponent was too big, each one being almost frozen by the sport’s latest centerpiece.

That portion of Pacquiao’s career was almost unparalleled, spectacularly soaring to fame in quite thrilling fashion. However, all good things must come to an end and fittingly, it was Marquez that turned that page. Following seven years without defeat, Pacquiao had suddenly lost two straight. Though the Bradley result remained very much debated, Pacquiao’s glittering record now told a different tale. Moreover, this Marquez loss belonged in a unique category. This appeared to be far more than just a defeat and instead, a career altering outcome.

In hindsight, that thought almost appears comical, with Pacquiao rebuilding in fashion that only a man of his caliber could. After taking his time before returning, Pacquiao scored three wins within a year, outpointing Brandon Rios, Chris Algieri and also avenging his prior loss against Bradley. Those three wins didn’t remove the memory of the Marquez defeat but they did soften that haunting image somewhat. As a result, the sport’s super-fight appeared possible again. In fact, it somehow even felt likely.

For years, Manny Pacquiao had one natural comparison in the general audience’s mind. One name that he was forever linked with even though they’d never shared the ring. Floyd Mayweather Jr, a man that in so many ways, contrasted Pacquiao while on dominance alone, mirrored him too. Mayweather had been successful in very different fashion to Pacquiao but that stylistic clash always made a potential fight so intriguing. Could Pacquiao’s speed dazzle the defensive genius of Mayweather? Well, after years of anticipation, we’d finally find out.

The long-awaited fight was booked for May 2nd 2015 but in truth, it’d fail to maintain the public’s imagination once the bell rang. The perception was that these two champions weren’t quite the forces they’d once been, already lessening the eventual victor’s glory. The stakes had almost diminished and a relatively uninspiring bout took center stage in Las Vegas. In the end, Mayweather was the clear winner, taking a unanimous decision victory and halting Pacquiao’s win streak as a result.

Though speculation surrounded his future, that lengthy chapter proved to be far from Pacquiao’s last. Instead, Pacquiao returned eleven months later, winning the rubber match against Timothy Bradley and then opposite Jessie Vargas, becoming champion again. It just seemed impossible to keep the great titan down, almost always bringing gold back around his waist no matter how unlikely it initially seemed. Pacquiao’s reign was short-lived though, suffering a shocking upset defeat against Jeff Horn. He’d stunned us so many times before but after all these years, it seemed that this fairy-tale had finally reached its end.

In the least surprising surprise of all though, that recurring belief would soon be vanquished once more. Pacquiao returned a year later, blowing through an admittedly aged Lucas Matthysse and scoring his first stoppage win in almost a decade. The performance itself was certainly impressive but questions still rightly surrounded Pacquiao’s future at the elite level. ‘Pac-Man’ only continued to give answers though, next widely outpointing Adrien Broner and once again, positioning himself for yet another major Las Vegas fight night.

Pacquiao’s dance partner for that occasion will be Keith Thurman, taking on ‘One Time’ for the WBA Welterweight crown this Saturday night. An undefeated champion, Thurman has only fought once in the last two years, with inactivity bringing a cloud over his once seemingly inevitable ascension. Pacquiao presents a shortcut for Thurman though, a quick route back to the destination that he once seemed headed. Unfortunately for him, this is Manny Pacquiao. At 40 years of age, Pacquiao simply refuses to relent, sometimes falling short but never fading away.

This is a fighter with a very unique legacy. There’s a certain throwback appeal to Pacquiao’s career, a fighter’s fighter but with box office appeal too. The boxing world has simply been better for Pacquiao’s presence, a champion that’s incomparable style will undeniably live forever. Some onlookers may still recall those more recent defeats but Pacquiao’s name comes with caution. This isn’t just another great fighter that’s holding on too long. Instead, this is someone that even compared to his fellow champions, is just a little bit different.

Doubt Manny Pacquiao at your peril because in truth, his history speaks for itself. This is a man that’s mustered up many moments of greatness before and in his mind, Thurman is just the latest name requiring that feat. At some point, common sense suggests that eventually, Pacquiao’s decline will increase, reaching the finishing line in the cruelest of fashion. That’s the only truth boxing seems to know. That seemingly inescapable day may arrive on Saturday night for Pacquiao but knowing everything we know, would you dare to bet on it?

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