Saying Goodbye to a Legend
Looking at his body of work, Pacquiao has given himself entirely to a sport, to his people. No knockout or loss can take that away…
As Manny Pacquiao slowly descended face first to the canvas Saturday night, something became clear even before he landed in such frightening fashion. It was over. It was over the same way it was over for Alexis Arguello after a 23-punch barrage from the hands of Aaron Pryor in 1982. In regards to the Pryor onslaught, late trainer Emanuel Steward said it best: “It will always be in the back of his mind.” Like Arguello, Pacquiao was eventually revived physically, but the wounds from this fight won’t heal—ever.
Great fighters get knocked out toward the end of their careers. Some of them return; others try to move on. However, there is a huge difference between being knocked out and hurt. That being said, Pacquiao was hurt. Hurt in the sense that people feared for his safety. The hurt was magnified as those close to him clamored to be by his side. It is easy to blame the loss on carelessness and claim that Pacquiao was winning the fight, realistic to admit his skills have deteriorated and he will never be the same fighter again.
Whether he admits it or not, Pacquiao knows the consequences of walking into such a monumental punch. All fighters innately know their capabilities and limitations, yet few are willing to admit them. He will never attack an opponent with such ferocity, never corner a man and refuse to let him escape, never land those devastating combinations in the same fashion, but, most importantly, he will never arouse those legions of fans who have followed him religiously for so many years. Looking at his body of work, Pacquiao has given himself entirely to a sport, to his people. No knockout or loss can take that away.
For periods during the bout, Pacquiao showed glimpses of his old self. In fact, in the second and fifth rounds, Pacquiao landed that beautiful straight left hand with the same vigor as he had five or six years ago. By knocking Marquez down in the fifth, Pacquiao began to change the tenor of the fight. In the same round, the old fire returned as Pacquiao trapped Marquez against the ropes and landed hooks to the body and head.
Thus, if there was any question as to how Pacquiao would cope with the classic counterpunching of Marquez, he answered it early on through his movement and how he effectively used angles. Pacquiao adapted by no longer walking directly into Marquez’s comfort zone, so the straight right did not have the same derisive effect as it had in the past. With the exception of the third-round knockdown punch, Pacquiao had frustrated Marquez as if to confirm, “This time I will be better than you.” For a couple rounds, he was.
Then came the punch.
If the last punch was tragic, the first right hand was equally as significant. When Marquez landed those right hands in the third and sixth rounds, the punches had nothing to do with Pacquiao’s carelessness or Marquez being “lucky.” The offensively-minded Pacquiao has always fought that way, and he never got hit with the two vicious right hands like he did against Marquez. By getting hit by a looping right hand that came from a distance and then walking into that knockout right hand, Pacquiao became vulnerable, and placed himself in dangerous positions on two different occasions. Great fighters don’t fall into those traps.
Truth is, a fighter does not go down like Manny did and expect to be competitive again. If he leaves now, Pacquiao’s legacy won’t be tainted. He still goes down as an all-time great who engendered more love and passion than any fighter in recent memory. Millions fell in love with the sport because of Manny. Millions fell in love with Manny because he cared for his people. His fights brought people from different social spheres together. Forget about the boxing aspect, Pacquiao will leave the sport with options and his faculties intact. Few, if any, great fighters can say that when they retire.
If you have watched or covered Pacquiao throughout his career, you respect him not only as a boxer, but as a man. Everyone knows what Pacquiao has meant to the sport, and if people close to him had any concern for his well-being, they would call for him to retire. To lose someone of Pacquiao’s class and stature would be tragic. If he fights Marquez again, that is the risk that he takes.
Still the memory of those final seconds and the aftermath will stay fresh for everyone who witnessed it.
As Pacquiao’s cornermen and doctors raced to the ring apron, his wife, Jinkee, screamed to escape from a throng of spectators. The collective boxing public gasped for air. The punch marked the end of an era. It brought closure to the rivalry, but the fight signified a level of sadness that is rarely acknowledged in sport. To see a hero so desperate and helpless is hard to take. To see it again would be impossible to bear.
Author: The Rise and Fall of Alexis Argüello
Author: Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran
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