On Saturday night, boxing takes one step closer to the end of a generation.
An era that was led by Floyd Mayweather Jr, and also brought us the legendary Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, the Klitschko brothers, Bernard Hopkins, Oscar De La Hoya and so, so many more will see one of its most beloved figures edge closer to closing another chapter in the history of boxing.
Manny Pacquiao is the last fighter to have held a world title in the 1990’s and still be fighting today. And unlike counterparts, James Toney and Roy Jones Jr, his final fights in the prize-ring remain at the same level that the Filipino superstar has spent much of his unprecedented career at.
Albeit the watered down WBA title – Keith Thurman still holds the WBA’s ‘Super’ title – held by another fighter in the latter stages of his career does not entirely represent the hall-of-fame career of Pacquiao, but seeing a great outclassed in nearly every aspect by the likes of Terence Crawford or Errol Spence Jr is not the way that most of us would like to see his journey end.
That is not to suggest that the hard hitting Argentinian Lucas Matthysse won’t spoil the party in Kuala Lumpur, as he himself looks to put a rubber stamp on his own fine resume.
The two weight world champion had twice been the victim of unfair scorecards against Devon Alexander and Zab Judah, but it was very rare that the knockout artist allowed the judges to decide the outcome.
But the bubble began to shrink when he was outhustled over 12 rounds by Danny Garcia, before two years later the bubble completely burst when stopped in round 10 by Viktor Postol.
His puncher’s reputation has not dwindled in recent knockouts of Emmanuel Taylor (TKO 5) and Tewa Kiram (KO 8) – the latter for the WBA title.
As for Pacquiao, at 39 he has been forced to pick himself up from a humbling unanimous decision defeat to Jeff Horn last year – the same man who was then dominated, dropped and stopped by the magnificent Crawford just a few weeks ago.
For all the changes Manny has made in camp, he cannot change old habits this late in his career, and his bad habits have always made him so exciting yet so vulnerable. And should he be as wide open as he was in Australia against Horn, then the chances of a devastating end to his career are fairly high.
The Pacquiao of years ago would have looked a million dollars against an aggressive boxer/puncher like Lucas, forcing a stoppage late on. Even the Pacquiao that beat both Timothy Bradley and Jessie Vargas in 2016 would have been well fancied to dominate across the 12 round distance, but the Horn fight has cast doubt over whether Pacquiao has now succumbed to the undefeated juggernaut that is ‘father time’.
The problem for Matthysse may be matching the speed that Pacquiao still possesses. Manny has come accustomed to winning on points – and while that has frustrated supporters against the likes of Chris Algieri, it will be applauded as the right tactics against Matthysse.
The pick is that Pacquiao will avoid being dragged into exchanges for the most part of this contest, and allow for his control of distance to keep Matthysse a step or two outside of range at all times.
The action may dry up for long spells as Matthysse looks too slow of foot to close the gap, but in all this should be a good fight as Pacquiao presents the champion with a few opportunities to dampen the mood inside the Axiata Arena.
But barring Pacquiao losing his timing, he should avoid a fate that has struck so many from his great era, and claim yet another world title belt – on points – in what most in boxing hope will be his farewell fight.