Manny Pacquiao will walk into the ring on Saturday at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, like he does in every fight: hoping that God is in his corner. However, for the first time in 15 years, the Filipino legend will be without the more tangible presence of Freddie Roach.
In a press release earlier this year in conjunction with Saturday’s upcoming WBA welterweight bout against Lucas Matthysse, Pacquiao confirmed that he would be training with old friend Restituto ‘Buboy’ Fernandez and Raides ‘Nonoy’ Neri, much to the surprise of the boxing world.
No one was more taken aback to learn of Roach’s omission than the legendary trainer himself:
“I would be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t hurt that he didn’t contact me personally about his decision,” Roach said in a statement.
“Manny and I had a great run for 15 years – longer than most marriages and certainly a rarity for boxing,” Roach said.
“I wouldn’t trade any of it. Inside the boxing ring and the political ring, I wish Manny nothing but the best.”
As one part of the “Father/Son” relationship both men had shared, it was nothing short of a kick in the teeth to Roach.
Sentiment aside, one might argue that business is business.
No one aside from Pacquiao and Roach is privy to what goes on behind the scenes, so judging a prizefighter on wanting to have things on their terms without knowing the complexities of a situation is misguided.
On the other hand, it could suggest that Pacquiao’s ruthlessness indicates a fire and focus which we have not seen from the fighter in quite some time.
At 39-years-old, age is clearly catching up to the last man to be awarded Fighter of the Decade honors.
Having lost a controversial decision to the unfancied Jeff Horn in Australia just over one year ago, many urged Pacquiao to quit.
This time for good.
Casuals lamented the Pacquiao of days gone by, while many fight enthusiasts had long paid homage to the headstone which sat over his peerless career.
Either way, interest dried up.
At his peak, Pacquiao was everything a pay-per-view icon should be: explosive, unpredictable, and capable of the truly astounding.
The Filipino’s destruction of Oscar De La Hoya, the highlight-reel knockout of Ricky Hatton, and overwhelming performance over Miguel Cotto all came within the period of less than one year (2008-09) and solidified his place at the top of boxing.
While ‘Pacman’ seemingly gobbled up everything in his way, his hunger for stoppages seemed to wane dramatically.
From that night against Cotto in November 2009, Manny Pacquiao failed to register one single KO/TKO in every one of his past 13 fights.
This is not exactly the record a pay-per-view top draw would want, even with victories over Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Moseley, and Timothy Bradley in that timeframe.
It is worth noting that, before Pacquiao’s loss to Floyd Mayweather in May 2015, the Filipino had only lost twice in ten years.
One: a highly questionable split-decision to Bradley (later avenged).
The other: a brutal knockout to his greatest rival, Marquez.
It is the latter which seemed to have the greatest effect on Pacquiao as a fighter, however, and he was never the same fighter.
While age is the most obvious factor in the declining powers of a boxer, suffering a knockout like the one inflicted on Pacquiao by the Mexican legend can have drastic consequences in the approach of a fighter subsequently.
Did the fearlessness and willingness of Pacquiao to put himself into compromising positions – in the fear of the same thing happening again – affect his ability to be the same fighter?
Or has “Father Time” simply caught up to the man who fought his first professional bout all the way back in 1995?
When Pacquiao steps into the ring for the 69th time in his stellar career, he will be aiming to turn things upside down.
For the first time in recent memory, Pacquiao will be fighting a bout he simply cannot lose.
If he fails to win, more questions will be asked of the Filipino than he would like to answer.
With Roach out of his corner, there would be no one to blame but himself.
Even if Pacquiao’s motivation to fight is strictly a financial one, his stock will invariably slump far greater than it did after the loss to Horn.
Conversely, a win would give the 39-year-old belief that he still has something to offer.
If he can string a couple more together, maybe the dead-in-the-water rematch against Floyd Mayweather would seem possible, even if it would be highly unlikely to interest the majority of fight fans.
A win means hope to Pacquiao; an extra life, in video game terminology.
On Saturday night against Matthysse, we learn if ‘Pacman’ still has the hunger, or if “The Machine” will spell game over on one of the greatest careers in boxing history.