OPINION: It’s time for Manny Pacquiao to retire, this time, for good
The blistering hand speed? Vanished.
The confounding angles, with punches delivered in bunches from seemingly every possible place? Ker-poof!
The non-stop movement creating an incredibly difficult target? All but gone.
And so are Manny Pacquiao’s days as an elite fighter.
Age catches up to us all and, Saturday, in a debated loss to Jeff Horn, before millions on ESPN, it was clear as day: Pacquiao is every bit as old as the 38 years he’s walked the Earth.
In front of boxing’s only ever eight-division champion was a middling boxer, a man who fell into clinches, squared up and threw wild, looping shots. The Australian is the kind of fighter with whom “Pacman” would have simply toyed in his heyday.
Instead, Horn used his superior size and some roughhouse tactics to bully Pacquiao on the ropes en route to a unanimous decision. Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 knockouts) once had his way with a much larger – and better – boxer in Antonio Margarito. That was almost seven years ago, the last time Pacquiao would resemble the all-time great he truly is.
However, on Saturday, fans were treated to watch the ghost of Manny Pacquiao, a man who could barely pull the trigger, save for a last gasp in Round 9, in which he blasted Horn (17-0-1, 11 KOs) with pulverizing shots but couldn’t knock him down.
The surprise in all this? While Pacquiao has been on the decline for quite some time, he still was widely considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, entering July.
He mowed through Timothy Bradley and Jessie Vargas in 2016, scoring knockdowns in each lopsided fight. Against a lesser fighter in Horn, Pacquiao simply was inactive. He preferred to lie on the ropes and looked a step slow, the reflexes that made him a star seemingly mired in quicksand.
The old adage warns that a fighter can grow old overnight. That appears to be the case here. How else to explain such clearly eroded skills, only eight months later? But there are other factors at play here.
Pacquiao is juggling his duties as Filipino senator with the demanding hours necessary to live a champion’s lifestyle. That means training several times a day and eating well, too. He also must be distracted by his immense day job.
Now, there’s only one prudent option: retirement.
Manny should call it a day. His health is intact, his legacy secure. He grew up unspeakably poor and made more money than he could ever possibly dreamed of – well over $500 million (counting endorsements) after earning just $20 for his pro debut.
He fought on the biggest possible stages, in some of the greatest fights of all time.
He was named the “Fighter of the Decade” for his thrilling victories over Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez. He fought in boxing’s all-time biggest event against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
His megawatt smile and calm demeanor lent to worldwide campaigns for Nike, Sony, Monster Energy, Foot Locker, Hewlett-Packard, Nestle and even Wonderful Pistachios. Pacquiao remains an icon in his native land and likely will be until the day he dies.
What else could Pacquiao possibly have to prove?
Of course, this is boxing, in which almost every fighter hangs on far too long. It’s a sad and harrowing reality for any person to realize he or she has grown old, especially a boxer. Where else can one obtain that kind of adrenaline rush? And he was able to enjoy it one more time, over the weekend, as over 50,000 fans roared during his entrance to the ring – hopefully for the final time.
Pacquiao announced his retirement following his win over Bradley in their third meeting in April of last year, only to reverse course months later.
Now is the time to retire again but, this time, for good.
Sure, Pacquiao owns a rematch clause for a return bout with Horn and the former champ would likely win convincingly the next time around. But then what?
His Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach said he would talk long and hard with Pacquiao about retirement again.
Hopefully, this time, Pacquiao realizes a cold, harsh truth: His best days are long gone. It’s time to hang up the gloves once and for all.
Mike Coppinger is the Senior Writer for RingTV.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeCoppinger.
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