LAS VEGAS — Manny Pacquiao sits in the ring in front of the media, sunglasses covering his freshly stitched face. The shades help Pacquiao avoid detection of his battered eyes, but he can’t evade the question he knows is facing him; the question he perhaps can’t answer for himself.
Is this the end?
Yordenis Ugas might have helped bring some clarity to his answer, as he earned a clear victory over Pacquiao Saturday night. Two years ago, it was a different story against Keith Thurman, when Pacquiao won his fourth world title at 147 pounds.
But against Ugas, Pacquiao was slow, both with his feet and his hands. He looked old. The punches lacked power. The movement that made Pacquiao a legend was gone. How could he not after 77 pro fights? How could he not when he is staring down his 43rd birthday?
In the end, time always wins, and Pacquiao takes a moment to ponder the weight of what’s happened. He apologizes to the fans for his performance and for losing. Pacquiao says his legs were tight, that preparing on short notice was a challenge.
“In my heart, I want to continue [to] fight,” Pacquiao says at the postfight news conference. “But I have to consider, also, my body.”
“When our lives are finished inside this world, we can take nothing,” he adds. “In this sport, this is my passion, this is why I’m still here fighting at the age of 42. I’m enjoying it, but sometimes you have to think about the life span of your body.”
That final decision on his fighting future, Pacquiao says, will come another day. In fact, many big decisions await Pacquiao, who is contemplating a presidential run in the Philippines, where he is already a sitting senator. For now, though, his thoughts are focused on boxing, a sport to which he has dedicated the majority of his life.
Despite Saturday’s outcome, if this is indeed it for Pacquiao’s fistic career, his legacy is secure, as it has long been. Pacquiao has reigned at the top of the sport with a career that has spanned four decades. He has been a champion in eight weight classes.
Manny Pacquiao tells Bernardo Osuna he’s considering retirement after losing to Yordenis Ugas via unanimous decision.
A seminal victory over Marco Antonio Barrera stamped his arrival as a bona fide superstar in 2003. He defeated Barrera again four years later to go along with two wins over the great Erik Morales. Two more triumphs versus Juan Manuel Marquez and another two against Timothy Bradley Jr. — all of them current or future hall of famers.
Those are just the fighters he owns multiple wins over. There’s the destruction of Miguel Cotto in 2009, undoubtedly Pacquiao’s peak. The one-punch KO of Ricky Hatton. And the bone-shattering win over Antonio Margarito. One victory, above all, reigns supreme for Pacquiao all these years later.
“De La Hoya,” Pacquiao told ESPN on Thursday, referring to the 2008 beatdown of Oscar De La Hoya that truly shot him to superstardom. “Because [I went up in weight] from 135 to 147, [which is] really hard to accomplish.”
You can say that about pretty much everything Pacquiao has done inside of a boxing ring. Despite all of his accolades, the championships and signature wins, Pacquiao will always be measured against one man and one man only: Floyd Mayweather.
“I feel so bad [about] that fight with Mayweather, because I think the fans are not satisfied,” Pacquiao said of his performance against Mayweather. “We wanted to [satisfy the] expectations of the fans.”
“It’s this,” Pacquiao said, lifting his hands high to illustrate those expectations. “But the fight is like this,” he added, lowering his hands toward his lap. “I feel bad because my concern is not only for myself; my concern is only the fans. Because boxing is my passion, I love doing this for the fans.”
That 2015 loss to Mayweather is the primary difference when comparing their legacies. There’s also the uncompetitive nature of the fight. One could argue Pacquiao wasn’t at the height of his powers, and despite being two years older at the time, Mayweather was the fresher fighter. Consider also the torn rotator cuff Pacquiao dealt with entering the bout.
Still, their 2015 bout shattered revenue records, and it raised Pacquiao’s profile even higher. And while Mayweather won that fight, there was, for some time, an argument to be made that Pacquiao’s longevity would allow him to build a better overall résumé than Mayweather by the time his career was over.
For all of the people who wrote Pacquiao off following that fight, here’s the run he went on following that landmark showdown: a TKO win over Lucas Matthysse — Pacquiao’s only finish since the Cotto fight — and victories over Jessie Vargas, Thurman and Bradley. Pacquiao scored knockdowns in all three fights, proving he still maintained power during the later stage of his career.
Following the third fight with Bradley, Pacquiao said in the ring that he was retiring. That was in April 2016. And yet on this Saturday night more than five years later, there he was.
And two years after Mayweather retired at 50-0 with a novelty fight against Conor McGregor, Pacquiao beat Thurman, who at that point was an undefeated welterweight champion with real chops.
But this time around, after losing to Ugas, it seems like the end really should come next.
If this truly is it for him, the sport of boxing will miss Pacquiao, a fighter who has evolved in so many ways over the years. When he catapulted to the top of the pound-for-pound lists in the early 2000s, Pacquiao was blasting opponents out left and right. It wasn’t just the brutality he displayed in the ring; it was the way he juxtaposed that violence with an easygoing demeanor and perpetual smile outside of it.
The blinding hand speed. The way he glided around the ring to deliver his two-fisted attack with five-, six- and seven-punch combinations. The courage he showed against Morales in their first meeting. The way he rebounded from a jaw-dropping knockout loss to Marquez. Pacquiao has been synonymous with boxing for the greater part of the past 20 years.
There’s perhaps never been a fighter so adored the world over. Even Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson had plenty of detractors during their heydays. But not Pacquiao, a man with a golden smile one moment and a blistering punch the next.
So if this is the end, farewell, Manny Pacquiao. You made boxing fun. You made boxing great. You made boxing inspiring.