The End of the Road..

Rehashing the rise of Manny Pacquiao, the career roadblocks in between, and previewing the potential career-ending fight that awaits him.

There are very few instances within individual sports where one man or woman can affect their sport by writing their own chapter in the history books, creating a cultural phenomenon among the general population of fans who range from “die hard” to “casual observer” and also identifying with a nation stricken with constant poverty, hardship, and corruption.

The meteoric rise of Manny Pacquiao through the boxing world started like they all do. A poor kid from the streets, a broken home, or another country, uses a God-given talent to make his mark on the sport, hones his talent in the United States of America as an unknown prospect and then demonstrates ability, drive, and tenacity that cannot go unrecognized. The run of victories, bloody battles in the ring, money and fame became a thing of the norm for Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao. Were there challenges along the way? Sure. But with each challenge, Manny Pacquiao rose to the occasion and emerged victorious using the tools he developed while running the streets of General Santos City with worn-down shoes, an old dirty shirt, and maybe a nickel to his name.

Many years ago I came across an analogy that explained the innate difference between the types of athletes who desire to win and the ones who accept losing. The abbreviated version says “in the sports world there are bacon eaters and there are boar hunters…the bacon eaters go to the grocery store, select their bacon in a package, buy the bacon, cook it on their clean stove and then enjoy it with a fork and a knife…the boar hunter goes out in the wild with no tools and no plan…Just the desire to find the boar he wants to kill, gut and eat. The boar hunter doesn’t have a choice as to what type of boar he finds and kills. He takes what is given to him. His blood thirst is only larger after he fills his belly. And he wants more…” There is no other sport in the world where this analogy holds true than in boxing. And in no other instance can this analogy ring more true than with the saga that is Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley. The only question is: Who is the bacon eater and who is the boar hunter? If you asked me that question 10 years ago, the answer would have been easy. It is Manny. But something has changed. There comes a point where the boar hunter gets too fat, too lazy, and too comfortable, slowly becoming a bacon eater.

As Manny Pacquiao continued his path of destruction through 8 weight classes, earning 8 titles along the way, some things began to change. Did Manny suddenly become a “bacon-eater” instead of a “boar hunter?” Was he satisfied with what he accomplished? Was there another mountain to climb? Or only small, hidden crevices that he could fall into? Quite simply: What was next for Manny? The constant roadblocks to making the fight of the century between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather became larger, bumpier and slowly became walls. In addition there were still questions surrounding the saga with his nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez and their three hard fought battles in the ring that all ended with questions. Who truly won all of those fights? The opinions vary to this day. Manny still considered himself hungry but others sensed just the opposite as he continued to take on more responsibilities outside of the ring. In addition he wasn’t getting any younger. Could it be that not only were his tools starting to deteriorate, but maybe his mind was beginning to check out as well?

The clock works against any professional athlete. With age, the tools used to reach the top begin to erode. For Manny Pacquiao, those tools would slowly become obsolete like any depreciating piece of equipment would over time. Maybe his speed slowed down just a hair. The fists became less calloused because when you have money, a world-renowned trainer and state-of-the-art equipment, you can use a new pair of gloves with fresh padding each day. And just maybe…the tenacity slowly evaporated. The will to win and leave no doubt in the eyes of the judges became less important than cars, houses, and political agendas. Maybe. Or maybe not. Just maybe the book on Manny Pacquiao finally filled up with strategies, tips, tricks, and insight into how he can be beat. Every athlete in every sport will inevitably have a “book” created on them. And when the book goes public others will digest the information for their own personal gain. These questions go unanswered, and are left for Manny to answer on April 12, 2014 in his rematch against champion Timothy Bradley, who since his controversial win over Manny Pacquiao in 2012, has done nothing less than prove he is the man that Manny was 10 years ago. In some people’s eyes, Bradley has become the boar hunter.

You would be hard-pressed to list five athletes who can stake claim to putting a country on the map and in the international spotlight more than Manny Pacquiao did for the country of the Philippines. I have the utmost respect for Manny Pacquiao, for what he has done for the sport of Boxing, his country, and the increasing number of poverty-stricken men, women and children who look to him for inspiration. His political initiatives demonstrate his commitment to his countrymen and demonstrate a “next level” way of thinking in that he is not simply using the sport of Boxing to maximize his own personal wealth, but to instead give his people a voice in a country that has historically ignored the screams from the poor and unrepresented. His financial generosity could be his biggest weakness. The fear that he will inevitably follow the path of the “broke athlete” is all but a real possibility and for the first time ever, this fact became more apparent with an allegation that Manny owed millions of dollars to both the U.S. and Filipino government. As his country continues to demand more out of him, both financially and politically, one has to wonder…when is too much, too much? When did the time, money, and effort to support others outside of the ring begin to affect his performance in the ring? In my opinion, about 4 years ago. But Manny doesn’t care. His goals are bigger than boxing. And that I can respect.

The career arc of a Boxer does not vary much from the movie Rocky. Poor, undersized kid with limited skills and no guidance, rises up from the ashes to defeat the perceived superstar and is sucked in by the spotlight, money, fame, houses, and cars and ultimately becomes comfortable…becomes a bacon eater I guess. One signature loss in the fight game sticks with fans like a childhood memory and most importantly with the fighter, rearing its ugly head in the worst of times–when everything is on the line. Slowly the victories turn into defeats. The fights become few and far between. The money for new fights becomes less and the money in the bank suddenly becomes earmarked for unexpected expenses. Everyone has their hand in the cookie jar. And the fighter is left with the crumbs. All sad facts, but all real.

In my opinion, the turning point in Manny Pacquiao’ s career was the first loss against Timothy Bradley in 2012. Everyone knows what happened. The controversy. The outcome. The aftermath. Even the winner of that fight, Timothy Bradley dealt with months of criticism, death threats to his family, and constant questioning from the boxing media that he didn’t deserve to be recognized as the winner of that fight. And all he did was do what he was taught to do. Throw punches. Take his time. Dissect his opponent. Take what was given to him. What Bradley worked to achieve for years and years, through hardship and hurdles that a normal person couldn’t fathom were finally rewarded in a flagship victory against a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Let me back up. That fight was a turning point for both fighters now that I think about it. A true fork in the road that led one fighter down a path of questions and the other to career stardom. Or a fork in the road that had one sign reading “Bacon Eater” and the other “Boar Hunter.”

During the build-up to the Pacquiao-Bradley fight, I became enthralled in the hype, that for the most part didn’t exist among casual boxing fans. Timothy Bradley was an undefeated, rising star that was being overlooked completely.   Manny Pacquiao was a Vegas-lock who had just converted to a different religion, stopped drinking and gambling, and suddenly had new advisors in his corner who were not with him from the beginning. While overlooked at the time, these small changes may have taken a little bit of the “killer” out of Manny’s mental framework. While leading a clean, healthy life absent toxins, addictions, and blurred faith may work for Bill, the father of four, soccer coach to his eldest son and volunteer to the local parish, it does not work for a fighter. Fighters thrive on the spotlight and are forced to defend their own well-being in an enclosed ring against an opponent who seeks the same end result. That is a tall order for anyone.   And especially for a fighter who has used personal experiences to build motivation to beat the odds. My skepticism of this fight even led me to ask my wife permission to gamble our entire savings on Timothy Bradley to win the fight by decision. My wife, who is Filipino, probably laughed at me. I probably did too because that would’ve been a terrible idea. But I didn’t like this fight and I was worried. Needless to say, if I made that bet I would have developed multiple ulcers and possibly had a heart attack from round 1 through 12. The fight came and went leaving fans, analysts and industry experts shaking their heads. Manny was cheated. Bradley was lucky. Maybe. Or maybe Manny just didn’t want it. He was crisp. He was fast. He used his feet to create angles. But he was punching an opponent who is equally as fast, a better technical boxer and has the chin to stand up to anyone in the weight class, as he proved against Ruslan Provodnikov one year later in 2013. So did Manny win the fight or not? I have watched it five times. Yes, Manny won. The scores will vary among who you talk too, but the end result is the same. Manny won. Bradley lost. But I wouldn’t call Bradley “lucky” or undeserving whatsoever. He took what was given to him and made some runs that put Manny on the ropes. But the most important question is: Why did Manny let up? Did the killer instinct leave him at some point in camp? In the ring that night? Or did he just not want to hunt boar anymore? I mean, it is easier to just go to the store and buy some bacon right? These are questions that cannot be answered and beg the question: Is this just the end of the road for Manny Pacquiao?

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 COMING SOON!

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