The Honorable Emmanuel Pacquiao’s balancing act
Manny Pacquiao’s short-lived retirement wasn’t exactly big news. After all, he’ll fight more times in 2016 than such boxers as Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter, Daniel Jacobs, Adrien Broner, Erislandy Lara and a host of others. And that little retirement speech he delivered after soundly defeating Timothy Bradley in April? Nobody believed it despite all of the talk that he’d focus full time on family and senatorial duties. We all knew he’d be back. It was just a matter of when.
The real story is what this version of Manny Pacquiao (58-6-2, 38 knockouts) will bring to the table when he faces Jessie Vargas (27-1, 10 KOs) on Nov. 5 at the Thomas & Mack for Vargas’ WBO welterweight title. It’s the first time that the former congressman will enter the ring as a senator in his native Philippines, which was supposed to preclude The Honorable Emmanuel Pacquiao from boxing because of his new duties. But he couldn’t stay away from the sport made his political career possible.
When he told us that he was done boxing after the Bradley fight, you could see how difficult it was for him to believe his own words. He had just imposed an excellent boxing clinic on a highly regarded fighter and now was supposed to walk away? Nope.
“When I first retired, of course you are thinking that you aren’t involved in boxing because you aren’t active anymore,” Pacquiao told RingTV. “I watched a few fights and I started feeling lonely and sad because I’m no longer active in the sport that I love. I thought about it over and over and decided that I still could fight. I still have the speed, power and hunger. Why not continue?”
When he turned on the TV to watch a fight for the first time in years, he found himself talking to the television and giving advice. Pacquiao says he watched the Gennady Golovkin vs. Kell Brook fight with a different set of eyes.
“I was saying that Brook should counter more and maybe if he moved a little this way,” he said, pantomiming boxing movements with his head and hands. “I missed it a lot.”
Pacquiao said that his family didn’t give him much pushback when he announced he would fight again. The question was going to be whether he could strike a healthy balance in his life.
It’s no secret that Vargas is a significant underdog heading into this fight. Based on skill alone, Pacquiao should overwhelm him with his awkward style, speed and power. But this is a 37-year-old who can now be called a “part-time boxer,” whether he likes it or not. He’d spend the bulk of each day on his senatorial duties – such as pushing to get the death penalty reinstated – and then head to the boxing gym after 8 p.m. to prepare for his comeback fight. Even he admits it was a little difficult.
“It’s not that easy,” Pacquiao said. “It’s very hard to manage but if you can manage your time, you can do it. Part of boxing is that you’ll be tired, but you just have to enjoy it, and I’m happy to do it.”
Longtime trainer Freddie Roach told RingTV.com that despite the weight of his fighter’s obligations, Pacquiao looked refreshed and happy to have the gloves laced up.
“He’d get out of senate at 8 p.m. and we would train,” Roach said. “When he walks through the gym doors its 100 percent boxing. He’s all there and has one of the best work ethics I’ve ever seen in boxing. He still has that.”
Roach revealed that there were a few days that Pacquiao would get to the gym late and be visibly weary. On those occasions he thought it would be best to give his fighter the day off. After all, this camp wasn’t about brining anything new to the table. It was focused on strategizing around Vargas. There was no need to burn the Filipino out mentally and physically.
“There’s not a lot that I can teach him now,” Roach said. “We just work on the best way to fight an opponent. But he’s a little more ferocious in his sparring now than I’ve seen in his past few fights.”
But only Pacquiao knows how focused he will be when he steps into the ring on Saturday night. Distractions have affected his performance before – Pacquiao-Marquez III, for example – and he has a lot more on his plate than he ever has before. In a sport where one punch can change everything, falling asleep at the wheel for a split second can land Pacquiao on the wrong side of a massive upset.
However, Pacquiao knows what this fight means for not only him but also his countrymen, who will certainly be watching to see whether their hero still has it in him. He realizes the gravity of the moment.
“What I am trying to do is be a champion and a good example to boxing and to the people who love sports,” he said about the significance of Saturday’s fight. “I want to be a good man and be an example to everyone, especially the young generation who wants to be a champions.”