The greatness of an era in any sport can only be accurately measured by the greatness of its brightest stars.
When the 2000’s finally hit, with some of the biggest names of the nineties heading towards retirement, we were in need of new, emerging faces that would go on to become the legends of tomorrow.
Luckily, one of those faces got the opportunity to make his American debut early on in the decade, winning a world title no less. That young man was twenty-two-year-old Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Pacquiao, and the boxing world never looked back.
Here we are fifteen years later as the ‘Pacman’ gears up for his 66th professional contest at age 37 against a much bigger man ten years his junior. If this were any other fighter people would be fearing for his safety.
But this is Manny Pacquiao we’re talking about – obviously he’s going in as the overwhelming favourite. Which begs the question as to how exactly he remains such an asset to world boxing after so many years?
(Pacquiao has been working with trainer Freddie Roach for 15 years – via Top Rank YouTube):
I have always been fascinated by Pacquiao. Despite a few losses, there seems to be this aura of mystique surrounding his ability – something I am yet to find in any other fighter since his arrival.
Garcia, Canelo, Bradley, Gonzales, Golovkin – all possess qualities that make them some of the most exciting fighters of the modern day, yet none of these names have shown that their skill or fighting style will evolve to make them individually unique and instantly distinguishable from the closest competition.
They’re good fighters. Great, in fact. They’ll probably go down as some of the best to ever grace a ring. But they didn’t light the boxing world on fire in any new way. Not like Pacquiao did.
Unlike other similarly sized fighters today who like to throw ‘punches-in-bunches’, what made Pacquiao stand out to me was his ability to sustain his work rate while utilizing exceptional footwork to dodge oncoming blows and to create spaces, without seeming to risk taking shots.
Nine times out of ten when he lunges in for a combination, the other fighter ducks and covers instead of throwing back. Why? Remember that mystique we talked about? Not to mention his insatiable power.
The rare few that dared to trade with Manny were legends of the sport (Marquez, Morales, Barrera) confident in their tried-and-tested ability to take shots. Others weren’t so lucky.
There have been countless video essays on the subject, but all you really need to do is watch Pacquiao v Margarito. An exceptional display of confidence, class and ability if ever there was one.
No other fighter in the sport today can produce work like this. It’s a beautiful massacre.
While it isn’t any fault of his own, Pacquiao also seems to be one of the few successfully active fighters left whose ‘golden years’ are far behind him and who still is able to perform at the top level.
With Bernard Hopkins possibly hanging up the gloves after one final stand-off, this may leave Pacquiao as the final shining representative of a bygone era in the sport.
Which sounds like such a shame, I know, but the show must go on. As fight fans who have lived through these times we need that sense of nostalgia, it’s part of our DNA.
His popularity amongst fight fans and general fans isn’t just the result of a crowd-pleasing offence-based style, but his conduct outside of the ring.
Setting aside some questionable religiously-charged outbursts on social media, It’s clear from fight build-up to post fight interviews that Pacquiao always remains humble and very rarely speaks ill of other potential opponents.
In a world where personal rivalries generate more revenue, it’s nice to see Pacquiao leave the nastier side of his ego at home. Boxing is a gentleman’s sport and this outlook is helping to keep it that way.
This humble nature is almost certainly the result of humble beginnings.
Many fighters who have come from disadvantaged backgrounds and gone on to achieve amazing feats in this sport all have their own story to tell, but there’s something about Pacquiao’s story that makes it hard not to recognise he stands out over the rest.
If you have a spare couple of hours, I highly recommend you watch the documentary ‘Manny’.
Whether you’re struggling through poverty on the streets of the Philippines or busting your ass in a dead-end office job in New York, everyone can find something to relate to in his story of triumph.
No matter how much he claims he can juggle both, Pacquiao will soon have to make the decision between serving the sport and serving his people.
As a fighter he has garnered more titles and more acclaim than arguably any other in boxing history. As a politician in his home country, his job has only just begun.
Who knows where he will go after the Vargas fight. Back to the Philippines to focus on his political career, or back to the Wild Card Gym to prolong his illustrious legacy.
Win, lose or draw, what we do know is that his place among the all-time greats in boxing history is well cemented, and the sport would suffer a great loss should he finally chose to stand aside.
A truly transcendent, once in a lifetime cultural icon. Thanks for everything, Manny.
(Top image source and credit: ESPN)
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