There’s no overstating when it comes to Manny Pacquiao.
He’s a destroyer!
He’s an all-time great!
He’s this generation’s Muhammad Ali!
The lone eight-division champion in boxing history — and one of the sport’s most illustrious competitors and moneymakers, not to mention a sitting Philippine senator with his eyes on the country’s presidency — Pacquiao has been authoritatively, and accurately, described as all of the above.
Another apt way to characterize the Pac-Man and his legendary list of accomplishments? That both are nothing short of mind-blowing.
From storming through the 112-, 122-, 126-, 130-, 135-, 140-, 147- and 154-pound weight classes in spellbinding fashion, to his unexpected transformation from a one-handed wrecking ball into a more complex punching machine that epitomizes controlled aggression, to inconceivably resurrecting himself after suffering a one-punch knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez few believed he could ever recover from, Pacquiao’s feats have often proved as surprising and shocking as difficult to understand or imagine.
On Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Manny Pacquiao managed to defy logic once again, as only Manny Pacquiao can, this time getting the best of a bigger, stronger and much younger welterweight belt holder over 12 blistering rounds.
The conquest of the formerly undefeated Keith Thurman — who was six years old when Pacquiao made his professional debut in 1995 — renders the Pac-Man the first-ever boxer to capture a widely-recognized world title in his teens, his 20s, his 30s and now his 40s, as well as places him alongside George Foreman as the only man to hold championships 20-plus years apart. It also vaults him back onto the same mythical pound-for-pound list he used to top before the aforementioned Marquez stunner.
It’s critical to keep in mind that prizefighters at the lower weights where Pacquiao started out usually have a short shelf life, especially ones in his mould, who rely on equal parts speed and power, and absorb as much punishment as he initially did.
Moreover, remember that, since his physical prime ended somewhere between 2010 and 2012 (depending on who you ask), Pacquiao has been written off as “over the hill” or “finished” on at least three separate occasions. Yet, here he is in 2019, continuing to kick ass, take names and turn in transcendent performances.
As the dust clears on this weekend’s action-packed main event, what did we learn from the Pac-Man’s latest triumph? Three things stand out in particular:
“We thought Pacquiao was great,” opined the esteemed boxing analyst Larry Merchant back in 2009, soon after the Pinoy punisher vanquished Miguel Cotto in a signature outing. “He’s better than we thought.” Well, a decade later, he still is.
The awesome power, the blinding speed, the unrivalled footwork, the multi-varied attack from unfathomable angles, the southpaw volume punching, the incredible energy and sheer joy for toe-to-toe combat — it’s all still there. No, Pacquaio isn’t the whirling dervish he was when he first exploded onto the scene in the early 2000s. But, as clearly demonstrated in his showings against Thurman and Adrien Broner earlier this year, he remains more extraordinary at 40 than he has any right to be.
Though all the age is just a number declarations are flattering, they actually shortchange what Pacquiao’s achieving.
Pacquiao’s longevity shouldn’t be exclusively credited to defying Father Time in the manner, say, fellow ageless pugilist Bernard Hopkins did. Like a resurgent Roger Federer in tennis, it’s more about Pacquiao being a truly generational talent; the awe-inspiring sort that dominates and defines an era, and that can do things with no other would even contemplate doing. It won’t last forever, but for as long as it does, his extended age seems incidental.
Owing to his sublime skill set and peerless defensive prowess, arch-rival Floyd Mayweather will go down as the better ‘boxer’ of the two, but Pacquiao’s win over Thurman further cements the superior legacy he’ll leave behind.
Mayweather anticlimactically decisioned Pacquiao in 2015, sure, but fair criticism exists that he made a habit of carefully selecting his opponents with no intent to lose. Pacquiao largely did the opposite, constantly seeking out the toughest challenges and participating in several dramatic wars. Similarly, compared to Mayweather riding off into the sunset with a non-competitive whitewash of overmatched Andre Berto, followed by a regrettable sideshow versus UFC superstar Conor McGregor, with the elite Thurman now shellacked and current welterweight boogeyman Errol Spence potentially looming on the horizon, Pacquiao is instead going out against the best his division has to offer. Guys that Mayweather was content to pretend didn’t exist. Enough said.
At the end of the day, more than two decades into a Hall of Fame career, Manny Pacquiao isn’t merely extending that very career at the upper echelons of boxing, he’s improbably authoring historic new chapters in it.
Appreciate the Filipino icon while you still can. It’s doubtful we’ll ever see anyone quite like him again.