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Why Pacquiao, the boxer, deserves a storybook ending—and that time is now

Although many pundits were convinced that the once-powerful legend is back in full force, gone is the Pacquiao of old
Nissi Icasiano | Jul 26 2019

It has been a few days since Manny Pacquiao stunned the boxing world once again, defying physical limitations at age 40, putting up a brilliant performance to defeat previously-unbeaten American boxer Keith Thurman in front of a sold-out crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Over the course of 12 rounds, Pacquiao’s objective was clear as daylight—to prove he could still take care of business against an elite opponent. He sent Thurman to the canvas with a clean right hook early on and then controlled the first half of the fight with his signature in-ring work rate. When the Florida native found his rhythm in the late stages of the bout, the Pinoy boxing icon hit his foe with a left hand to the body in the tenth frame—a move that was more than enough to hold off Thurman's gusty rally.

Manny Pacquiao, front left, and Keith Thurman pose during a weigh-in Friday, July 19, 2019, in Las Vegas. They are scheduled to fight in a welterweight championship boxing match Saturday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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Pacquiao received 115-112 marks on the scorecards from judges Dave Moretti and Tim Cheatham, while ringside official Glenn Feldman had it 114-113 for Thurman. By way of split decision, Pacquiao is now the unified WBA welterweight champion. Moreover, he is now the oldest pugilist to ever win a world title in his division, and has done so four times since stepping up to his optimal weight of 147 pounds.

It was a remarkable achievement for Pacquiao, especially when you consider that many thought he would retire after he was brutally knocked out face-first by Juan Manuel Marquez in their epic fourth clash in December 2012. There were more calls for his retirement after he got robbed badly in a July 2017 decision loss to Jeff Horn which cost him the WBO welterweight belt.

Juan Manuel Marquez didn't oblige Manny Pacquiao for a fifth fight because the Mexican champion thought he won the fourth convincingly. Photo by Top Rank's Chris Farina

It did not stop Pacquiao, however, from lacing up his eight-ounce gloves. For the past 12 months, boxing’s only eight-division world champion silenced his doubters and looked absolutely marvelous in his scintillating victories over Lucas Matthysse, Adrien Broner, and now Thurman.

It appears he will continue to fight. Before boarding a private plane headed back to Manila, Pacquiao said that a ring return next year would fit best with his schedule as his work as a senator would be his priority for the rest of 2019. That could mean an early 2020 bout in the pipeline for the fistic sensation from General Santos City.

By that time, he would be 41. Whatever his decision may be, Pacquiao will hear the same narrative of whether or not he still has what it takes to pull the trigger. Although he won over Thurman, a former undefeated world champion who is at the peak of his prime, he is at the stage where his advanced age is going to be a valid and rational argument before any fight he takes.

Manny Pacquiao, reacts after knocking down Keith Thurman in the first round during a welterweight title fight Saturday, July 20, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

There is no denying Pacquiao, good as he still is, is no longer at the height of his powers. There is no shame in that. He is 40 years old. In his match against Thurman, he showed flashes of vintage form in scattered moments throughout the 12-round welterweight encounter. But he looked more like the battle-worn veteran he is as the bout went on.

Pacquiao came out smoking against Thurman, but he could not finish him off the rest of the way, despite hurting his foe a few more times in the title tilt. The Filipino spitfire slowed down in the middle rounds, and longtime trainer Freddie Roach admitted that it was “unusual” and that, yes, it could be time catching up on his valued pupil.

Although many pundits were convinced that the once-powerful legend is back in full force, gone is the Pacquiao of old, the one who flattened Ricky Hatton with a single left hook in the second round, or the slugger who made Oscar De La Hoya quit on his stool. There is no getting that “Pac-Man” back.

Manny Pacquiao during his recent mitts session with Freddie Roach. Wendell Alinea, MP Promotions

Overall, last weekend’s fight yielded a solid performance from Pacquiao. A 40-year-old boxer beating a 30-year-old world champion still in his physical prime should be treated as a monumental occasion. But let us acknowledge that his best days are in the rearview mirror. Thurman gave Pacquiao a challenge the fighting senator had not experienced in quite some time.

Pacquiao will likely have his hands full again when he returns to action with a possible showdown against the winner of the welterweight title unification bout between Errol Spence Jr. and Shawn Porter on September 28. The other potential opponent for Pacquiao is WBO welterweight titleholder Terrence Crawford.

Pacquiao’s refrain these days is that he wants to prove he can still be a world-class pugilist at an age when many boxers have already decided to call it a day, recalling George Foreman’s famous “life begins at 40” line.

While winning over Thurman starkly attested that Pacquiao is an exceptional athlete and that he is no ordinary 40-year-old, there are also red flags that indicate it is time to hang his gloves and move on. History shows that when boxing greats push the envelope too far in this business, the sport has a way of being very harsh. Boxing does not smile upon aging legends.

If Thurman wasn’t much of a trash talker, Pacquiao would have been more forgiving; instead, Thurman lit a fire in Pacquiao, who proceeded to crush him. Joe Camporeale, USA Today Sports/Reuters

Pacquiao has a rare opportunity in front of him at present—to have a storybook ending that most boxers have been deprived of. It is a choice that he can make if he chooses to. It is the fitting conclusion to an illustrious career that has spanned over two decades.

At this point, he has given of himself so much to the sport and its fans, and deserves a graceful exit. It is also the perfect clincher to seal his run, not just as a current world champion, but also as one of the most riveting fighters in a generation that he no longer belongs to in the first place.

He has nothing more to prove after 71 professional fights and 486 rounds in the ring. He will go down in history as one of the greatest boxers the world has ever seen. It is in this hope that the last we see of Pacquiao in the ring is his win over Thurman, not as the over-the-hill puncher lying immobile on the canvas after a cold-blooded knockout punch hit him.

They say time is and will always be undefeated, but that will not be the case if Pacquiao makes the judgment call on his own terms.