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And now, for Part II of “The End of the Road…”
If this truly wasn’t the end of the road for Manny Pacquiao, then his camp would have to ask some serious questions to the superstar and determine a follow-up opponent that would suit Manny well and bring back the mindset he needed to salvage his career. Do you know who the worst opponent for this fight was? Juan Manuel Marquez. You couldn’t pick a bigger trap fight. And Manny did. Or his camp did. Or his new advisor did. Or his trainer did. Or his promoter did. I think I know who didn’t though: Manny Pacquiao…regardless of what he has said in the media.
I can quickly list five sports moments that I can remember where I was, what happened, and what I was feeling afterwards. Christian Laettner’s turnaround jumper from the top of the key to win the NCAA Men’s Basketball title in 1992, MLB Closer Jose Mesa giving up the game winning single in the 1997 World Series to continue the streak of misery that is Cleveland sports, David Tyree’s helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII, Phil Mickelson’s un-athletic four-inch vertical after sealing the Masters and watching While not necessarily a “sports moment”, the latter is especially important to me because that was my dream car at 15 years old. The newest addition to that list is the memory of Manny Pacquiao walking into a steroid-infused (note that Juan Manuel Marquez tested negative for any banned substances after the fight despite allegations leading up to the bout) straight right-hand from Juan Manuel Marquez, compacting Manny’s face like a catcher’s mitt and slowly crashing to the canvas in the ugliest of fashions. Not only did more questions about Manny’s career come to my mind at that exact moment, but the sheer fear for his health was at the forefront of my thoughts. I was just hoping he was alive. As he rose to the stool and came to, I was even more surprised to see how he reacted. I know Manny is the nicest fighter to ever strap on the leather, but to see his acceptance of the loss and the way it happened was all the more concerning and validation that this road has in fact run out of pavement. Two men who had gone through the wars that Manny and Marquez did should not be so accepting of a loss like that. Losses that will be remembered by fans forever and always have a page in the boxing history books. There is no coming back from that. Unless your next fight is scheduled against a guy who thrives on getting hit and doesn’t care if he loses so long as he gives the fans a show (enter: Brandon Rios). So what happened in the fourth Pacquiao-Marquez fight? It’s simple. One guy was hungry and needed to go find a boar. One guy had an appetizer of bacon before dinner and couldn’t clear his plate. But going back to the Bradley fight for a second may give us a better answer into why the result of Manny’s next fight ended in historical fashion.
After the controversial Bradley loss, the gripe on Manny’s performance was that he didn’t attack when he should’ve and failed to finish the fight that he supposedly could’ve finished at any point from round 9 through 12. With that shortcoming in mind, his camp told him he needed to knock Marquez out. And based on the controversy of the first three Pacquiao-Marquez fights which were laced with questionable scoring and unbelievable action, it was paramount that Manny ended the saga once and for all. And to do that Manny would need to knock Marquez out…once and for all. Someone failed to tell Manny that Marquez was thinking the same exact thing. But this reinforces the fact that following the Bradley loss, Marquez was the worst opponent to pick. Marquez is a Mexican legend, known for being a stout opponent, excelling in counterpunching and giving Manny his biggest problems in the ring over a ten-year career. I understand the desire for Manny to close out the saga and remove all questions about the first three fights, but if ever the timing was wrong it was clearly then.
So Manny goes through two of the toughest losses of not only his career, but any fighter’s career. He has new beliefs, new political responsibilities, and new hanger-on’s and financial concerns lurking in the background. A quick money grab against Brandon Rios in Macau, China presents itself and signing that contract is easier than starting your own blog in a saturated market with hopes of someone actually reading your work…but I digress. The fight is an easy a win as you can have, the paycheck cashes instantly and the hype is back…”Manny is back…” But is he really?
While Manny continues to pack his bags for Comeback City and buy his ticket on the Hype Train Timothy Bradley continues to get questions about how legitimate his victory of Pacquiao actually was. Ninety-nine percent of the time a flagship victory over a boxing legend would bring the money, fame and phone calls that read “Who’s Next” on the caller I.D. But this is the one percent where no such thing happens. Instead Bradley is blackballed to a degree. He didn’t win that Pacquiao fight. He doesn’t deserve that belt. Fans begin to threaten his family, his livelihood, and his dedication to a sport that he gave his life to. His future is suddenly hanging in the balance. The occurrences following the biggest win of Bradley’s career were nothing short of insulting to him as a fighter and as a person. Finally, after much legwork from his promoter and a little bit of luck, a fight presented itself. An average fight to a novice boxing fan, but a trap fight in the eyes of experts. The name Ruslan Provodnikov entered the conversation. And Bradley welcomed the challenge. And what ensued was a street fight that put both guys on the map, giving Provodnikov a chance to showcase a fighting style you may find in a prison cell block and Bradley the outlet he needed to salvage a career that had only just begun. Bradley, the quicker man and better boxer abandoned his game plan, ignored his corner and locked himself in a cage with a starving mountain lion. Bradley had to be in an altered state of mind at that point because no human in his right mind would do what he did. Nearly losing the fight in the last 10 seconds of round 12, Bradley showcased an ability to punch, be punched, take punishment and finally “earn” his place in the sport, albeit one fight late. Bradley’s next fight against the one and only “Pacman Destroyer,” Juan Manual Marquez came to the surface and presented the opportunity for Bradley to even further prove that he won the Pacman fight a year earlier. Bradley won the Marquez fight handily. One would think that Bradley would be satisfied. It is just the opposite. In fact, to me it appears that Bradley is more pissed off than Manny is entering the rematch on April 12. The fact that the fighter defending his title appears to be more disrespected and seeks revenge is concerning if you are in Manny’s camp. And as a true Manny Pacquiao fan, this is what scares me the most.
The book on Manny Pacquiao has been written, edited, and published for public consumption. The cliff notes? Manny has set world boxing records, risen from nothing and helped his country prosper in between. He has hit a major career hurdle, possibly lost a step, some power, his trademark speed and the urge to win. There is a distinct possibility that Manny will decide on April 12 that it is time to hang it up once and for all. Other personal goals are at the forefront of his mind. The endgame for Manny Pacquiao is to provide a comfortable living for his family, help his country become politically sound and give back to the people who supported him along the incredible journey he has endured. And honestly that is quite alright. It is beyond respectable. It is a bundle of achievements that only a rare group of people can stake claim to. Not many people in the world can say they have achieved what Manny Pacquiao has, touched the souls of people like he can, and left an imprint on professional sports like he did. He used boxing as a vehicle to give back to people who have nothing. And that is as respectable a feat as one can strive for.
But for these reasons I worry even more that this truly is the end of the road for Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao. Rarely does any person want to be wrong. Admitting we’re wrong is my biggest fear, especially for a person who plans to publish his very first Blog post using this article as the foundation of their credibility. But hey, you have to get knocked down at least once to realize what it takes to get off the mat and keep fighting. And if there is one person who has taught me that, it is Manny Pacquiao.
THE FIGHT VOICE
April 11, 2014