LAS VEGAS — Manny Pacquiao’s face was swollen and puffy. He was 36 years old the night that he was beaten by Floyd Mayweather in 2015, and he was going to need surgery on his right shoulder. The loss to Mayweather left him 3-3 in his last six fights.
There was speculation among boxing experts that his time had come, that there was nothing left for him to do in boxing.
Pacquiao, of course, didn’t retire. After that night in which he earned a nine-figure payday, he had the surgery to repair a torn right rotator cuff. And then he went on to defeat Timothy Bradley, Jessie Vargas, Lucas Matthysse, Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman.
That’s a great career for the vast majority of boxers. For Pacquiao, it was the stretch run of a remarkable career that somehow manages to keep getting better.
On Friday, in what may well be the most mind-blowing moment of his epic career, news broke that the 42-year-old Pacquiao will challenge Errol Spence on Aug. 21 in a welterweight title unification bout in Las Vegas.
It was a bombshell that came from nowhere and yet was so on point for Pacquiao.
Who expected him, after all, to challenge Thurman in 2019? Or Bradley in the fight after he lost to Mayweather? This is a guy who thrives on competition, whose sole goal has long been to make his fellow Filipinos proud of him.
They’re so proud of him that their support is often way over the top. And yet, there have been few like him in boxing history. There have been many legendary fighters who fought past 40 because they were destitute, in dire need of a payday and without any way to provide for themselves.
That’s not Pacquiao. He’s rich and lives a majestic life in the Philippines, in an elegant mansion and wears the finest clothes. He doesn’t need boxing; boxing needs him.
It’s usually bad news that breaks late on a Friday afternoon. But the news that Pacquiao would take this fight against the unbeaten Spence, more than 12 years his junior, sent boxing Twitter into a frenzy.
Some rightly worried for Pacquiao’s safety. If this were the 31-year-old Pacquiao against the 31-year-old Spence, there would be no problem or reason for concern.
But Pacquiao is taking on an awesome force, a big man in his prime who is mowing down even the best of fighters.
There’s more than age to think about in this fight. Spence turned pro after the 2012 Olympic Games in London. He weighed 149 pounds. Pacquiao has never weighed more than 147 ever and was that high only once.
Pacquiao, remember, weighed 106 pounds when he made his pro debut, though he filled his pockets with rocks when he stepped onto the scale in order to sidestep a ban on fighters competing who weighed less than 100 pounds.
He won his first world title on Dec. 4, 1998, when he knocked out Chatchai Sasakul in the eighth round of a bout in Thailand for the WBC flyweight championship. Seventeen days before, on Nov. 17, 1998, Devin Haney was born in San Francisco.
Today, Haney is a highly regarded world champion who will defend his WBC lightweight belt next week against Jorge Linares in Las Vegas. Three months later, it will be Pacquiao walking to the ring as a world champion to fight yet another unbeaten opponent.
Think about this: Haney has held a belt for two years. Pacquiao has been a world champion throughout Haney’s entire life.
Since he became a world champion, he’s faced eight boxers with perfect records, going 5-3 with two knockouts against opponents who were 215-0 at the time he fought them. On top of that, he fought three others who were unbeaten but had at least one draw. He was 2-0-1 with two KOs against those three men, who had a 71-0-4 mark.
So just since becoming a world champion, he’s fought 11 bouts against 10 men who had no losses (he fought unbeaten Tim Bradley twice). They had a combined mark of 286-0-4 at the time Pacquiao faced them.
Pacquiao’s also willing to take on anyone, anywhere, at any time, even at 42 when he’s clearly not the same physical specimen he once was. When Sean Gibbons, the president of Pacquiao’s MP Promotions, mentioned Spence as a potential opponent, Pacquiao immediately agreed.
“There wasn’t one second of hesitation,” Gibbons said. “The guy’s utterly fearless.”
He’s a throwback to a different era. The legendary Sugar Ray Robinson, the greatest boxer who ever lived, once fought Jake LaMotta, a future Hall of Famer, twice in the same month with a bout in the middle.
That’s the kind of fighter Pacquiao has been. Seven of his former opponents — Mayweather, Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Miguel Cotto — are already in the Hall of Fame. Several others, including Spence, have at least an average chance of making it.
Spence will undoubtedly be a big favorite when fight night comes. Doubting Manny Pacquiao, though, almost always comes at a price.
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