Manny Pacquiao will step into a boxing ring for the 69th time as a professional on Saturday night when he faces hard-hitting Lucas Matthysse at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As he approaches the age of 40, the fighter who was once considered the greatest boxer on the planet has watched the reflection of his finest years as a pugilist grow smaller and smaller in his rearview mirror until they are almost unrecognizable.
Nevertheless, he’ll step between the ropes again for reasons that appear to be clearly financially driven against Matthysse. It wasn't long ago that any fight involving Pacquio would invariably be a PPV attraction. His bout against Matthysse will be streamed on ESPN+, which seems like a pretty steep falloff for a man who was involved in the biggest pay-per-view of all time just three years ago when he lost a unanimous decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Sadly, nobody really cares about a Pacquiao fight in 2018.
It’s a harsh reality for boxing’s only eight-division world champion who was a megastar across the globe. But in 2018, a Pacquiao fight is met with a shrug of indifference because it means very little to the overall landscape of boxing.
Rather than being appointment television because of the ripple effect it can have on boxing, it’s something that many people will wake up reading about on their Twitter feed Sunday morning and say, “He’s still fighting?”
It’s never our business to tell a boxer when to hang it up, but when public interest wanes, perhaps a fighter should read the tea leaves. But if Pacquiao is truly fighting for money, which seems bizarre considering the Filipino fighter raked in no less than $120 million for his losing effort against Mayweather, it’s an unfortunate stumble to the finish line of a legendary career.
To make matters worse, many of Pacquiao’s boxing peers have already rode off into the sunset. Mayweather trotted off with a $300 million payday in a fight against UFC star Conor McGregor. Timothy Bradley now sits in the commentary booth for ESPN, while Miguel Cotto decided to call it a career last December after a loss to Sadam Ali. Juan Manuel Marquez appears to be retired considering that he hasn’t fought in four years. Oscar De La Hoya is a full-time promoter and Ricky Hatton battled alcohol abuse but is now a trainer and promoter.
For some reason, Pacquiao – who was a bigger global star than just about everyone mentioned aside from Mayweather – is still lacing up the gloves, even though boxing isn’t even a priority for him. At this stage of his life, boxing waits in line far behind his family duties, his religion, and being of service to his fellow countrymen as a Senator of the Philippines. Boxing is just a thing that Pacquiao does on the side to make money.
So why should we care if he doesn’t?
If you google Manny Pacquiao, you’ll realize that his Wikipedia page no longer focuses on his boxing career. As a matter of fact, his boxing career has its own Wikipedia page due to the lengthy information provided on his life that includes his careers as a basketball player, politician, actor and singer.
As the great Sugar Ray Leonard once said, “You don't play boxing. You really don't. You play golf, you play tennis, but you don't play boxing.”
Right now, it seems like Manny Pacquiao is playing boxing. That’s not to say that he doesn’t understand the danger in possibly being punched unconscious by his opponent, but it does say that the appetite for destruction that Pacquiao once had has been satiated by other endeavors.
If you need further evidence, the departure of Freddie Roach from his training camp and the full-time appointment of his best friend Buboy Fernandez prove that Pacquiao’s focus is simply on getting by and getting paid. Being the best is no longer a priority, not to mention that training is something that he has to do in his spare time because of his vigorous duties as a politician and a father.
Fortunately, Matthysse isn’t viewed as a viable threat like, say, Terence Crawford or Vasyl Lomachenko, but should make for an entertaining fight. And as long as he remains upright, he’ll likely fight again. As gifted as Pacquiao once was, he has been a competent but no longer dangerous boxer. And without that sense of danger, the excitement is gone.
He hasn’t scored a knockout since his 12th round TKO of Miguel Cotto back on Nov. 14, 2009. Since then, he has been a far cry from the wrecking machine that rampaged through divisions since arriving on the scene back in 2003. Back then, he shocked the world with a dominant 11th round TKO against the legendary Marco Antonio Barrera.
His rise was an astounding one that captured the imaginations of both casual and hardcore boxing fans. And when he made the great Oscar De La Hoya quit after eight rounds of torment in 2008, Pacquiao became the yin to Mayweather’s yang.
It's well documented that Pacquiao lost his edge somewhere around his third fight with Marquez. Between his marital issues and dedication to his religion, Pacquiao’s killer instinct was subdued. He became more focused on outside endeavors and his humanitarian efforts became the focal point of his boxing career. In order to help those in need, Pacquiao needed money. The boxing ring is where he earned said money.
Whether it was his overall ability, his drive, or a combination of both, things all came to a head when Pacquiao was shockingly knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012. Most boxing fans chalked it up to a lucky shot and the fact that Marquez always gave Pacquiao a hard time in the boxing ring. Additionally, boxing fans weren’t willing to give up on a showdown with Mayweather. Because of this, they turned a blind eye to the knockout to Marquez and the highly controversial loss to Timothy Bradley via split decision. From 2013 to 2014, Pacquiao defeated Brandon Rios, Bradley and Chris Algieri in fights that were far from the barnburners that Pacquiao was known for. We didn’t want to admit it, but the Pacquiao we came to love was gone.
Casual boxing fans weren’t concerned with Pacquiao’s solid yet unspectacular outings and let their imaginations run wild when the mega fight with Mayweather was announced. Anybody that paid close attention recognized that he had no chance against Mayweather when the two forces collided on May 2, 2015. Mayweather was a sharp as ever and Pacquiao posed little threat to his undefeated record in a dull affair that soured boxing fans.
Mayweather knew when it was time to cash out and move on from boxing. Pacquiao didn’t.
Instead, Pacquiao continued to ride the wave of his success from over a half-decade ago in a third fight with Bradley and the dominant, yet ho-hum affair against Jessie Vargas. Then there was the fight with Jeff Horn, an opponent that Pacquiao would have annihilated a decade ago, who managed to last 12 rounds to pull out the controversial split decision victory.
Horn should have never been in a position to hang with Pacquiao. But this wasn’t the Pacquiao who obliterated the opposition with a devastating combination of power and speed. The point was accentuated by the ease that Crawford dismantled Horn when the two met on June 9. It was utter domination by Crawford en route to an emphatic and merciful 9th round stoppage.
Pacquiao lost, looked human and casual fans had to come to the realization that Manny Pacquiao the senator was far different than Manny Pacquiao the boxer. And Manny Pacquiao the senator just isn’t as fun to watch in a boxing ring.
The reality is that the rest of the world has been hanging on to the old Pacquiao for far too long. The carriage of success that Pacquiao has managed to ride for the past decade is finally being recognized as the pumpkin it really is. At best, Pacquiao is a crafty veteran who can still beat solid opposition. At worst, Pacquiao is well past his prime and in no position to face the elite welterweights. He’s barely a name that can be used to propel the likes of Crawford into the spotlight because the illusion of the danger he poses has gone up in smoke.
Hopefully, there is just enough magic there to keep him from getting seriously hurt against Matthysse. He’s not quite in a place where a commission would consider not allowing him to fight, but it all comes crashing down when you least expect it.
There may be solace in knowing that these past couple of years won’t be remembered when it comes to his legacy. Like most fighters, Pacquiao will fight beyond his expiration date but the memories created during his prime years will be what is etched in stone when it’s all said and done. But, for now, we’re witnessing the indifference to a legend who can’t – or won’t – call it a career.