Pacquiao: Sneaking in for one final glorious moment

 

(Editor’s note: The fight was viewed via pay per view.)

 

MANILA—Manny Pacquiao tinkered with being a forgotten global sports icon. He aged. He pummeled Timothy Bradley in their third encounter last April. He “retired.”

He became a senator of his home republic. He said a remark against gay people. Nike bade him goodbye. He un-retired. The popularity’s “waning.”

Manny Pacquiao trumps his latest world title conquest even if he's now called "legendary," with a pan on his age. (photo from Top Rank Boxing)

Manny Pacquiao trumps his latest world title conquest even if he’s now called “legendary,” with a pan on his age. (photo from Top Rank Boxing)

A year after Pacquiao’s loss to Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and the lawsuits both boxers faced afterwards, the Pacquiao the world knew to be quick but packed in punching power had to sway irrelevance. The moment he said last April that he’s “retired,” the world and his home country was to naturally see a path for great boxers.

Go to the sunset. Humbly thank fans for the memories. Cement your legacy.

So when Pacquiao announced he will fight the WBO Welterweight Champion Jessie Vargas November 5th, the market was perplexed. The Nike sponsorship withdrawal started off the firestorm. HBO rejected broadcasting the fight, saying the Nov. 5 bout “fell too close” to Sergey Kovalev versus Andrew Ward at heavyweight (two weeks apart, November 19). HBO also relinquished broadcasting Pacquiao’s remaining fights after coming out of retirement.

Some think Vargas isn’t a pay-per-view draw. The cheapest ticket at the Thomas and Mack Center of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas was US$50, compared to US$154 during Pacquiao-Bradley 3 last April at the MGM Grand.

But look at what happened Nov. 5 at a university in Las Vegas. The unthinkable —a 37-year-old who’s still lightning quick and packed with powerful punches, and who won a 12th world title— happened. Thomas and Mack Center was 16,132 strong. The “Manny! Manny!” cheers boomed.

Back home, the viewing parties at drinking bars in Metro Manila diminished. Some streets were busy with people, although some areas like roofed public basketball courts had community-wide telecasts of the fight.

Top Rank Promotions the PPV broadcaster gained. The only Philippine company sponsoring the fight, Mighty Sports Apparel, gained. Chinese sports shoe brand Anta, Pacquiao’s new endorser, gained.

They all sneaked in and gambled at the aging Pacquiao, now called “legendary” by legendary announcer Michael Buffer.

And Pacquiao just wanted to slip in a glorious moment for himself and for the Philippines. It was a world title feat the New York Times and Sports Illustrated did not write afterwards (Los Angeles Times and Washington Post did, so did the Associated Press).

Sneaking in was how the southpaw Pacquiao tried to ward off the gutsy Vargas, with a new arsenal in tow. Sneaking in will be his last-ditch hurrah to end a storied career.

 

Sneaks

Pacquiao usually uses the right to prepare for his powerful left. At counterpunches, the right hand tries to fend off the opponent’s counters.

Pacquiao connects on a right to Jessie Vargas' face. Stand-alone right jabs and straights, not just the right hits that prep up his left hand killer punch, were noticeably Pacquiao's new weapons (photo from Top Rank Boxing)

Pacquiao connects on a right to Jessie Vargas’ face. Stand-alone right jabs and straights, not just the right hits that prep up his left hand killer punch, were noticeably Pacquiao’s new weapons (photo from Top Rank Boxing)

Pacquiao found a new way to use the right hand. It’s the right straight sliding in and darting as a clear punch, like two darted right jabs in round 7, or one at the 1:08 mark of round 9.

There’s also the right straight that jolted Vargas’ face, like those near the end of the fight. And when the opportunity arises, the right preps up the left and the possible 3-4 punch flurries.

While the 5’10” Vargas claims Pacquiao had to think “two, three or four times” before connecting, the 5’6” Pacquiao had landed more punches accurately (101 of 212 power shots, versus Vargas’ 104 of 561 punches).

 

Comebacks

Pacquiao’s win is the second in a comeback trail after the May 2015 loss to Mayweather. His comebacks leave a trail of reaching ultimate goals successfully.

Pacquiao won his first world title, the World Boxing Council flyweight title, on Dec. 4, 1998 knocking out Thailand’s Chatchai Sasakul in the eighth. But some nine months after, Pacquiao lost the flyweight belt to Medgoen Sinsurat and moved up to super bantamweight —from 108 lbs. (flyweight) to 118 lbs.

He was sneaked in as a last-minute replacement to fight Lehlonoholo Ledwaba for the International Boxing Federation (IBF) super bantamweight belt. Pacquiao pummeled his way to a sixth round technical knockout for his second world title.

With popularity rising, Pacquiao lost to Erik Morales in the first of the trilogy on March 19, 2005. But what followed were two victories against the Mexican legend.

And after a 15-fight winning streak —mostly against taller, heavier fighters— that spanned six years, Pacquiao had a terrible 2012: losing the WBO welterweight belt (147 lbs.) to Bradley and got whacked by a knockout punch from Juan Manuel Marquez (Dec. 8, 2012) with a second left in round six.

Two years after, Pacquiao got his WBO welterweight title back from Bradley. That’s his third WBO welterweight belt.

Then came the Mayweather match that ended with much discomfort for the fans. It was Pacquiao’s sixth loss.

 

Prospects

Eight weight divisions and 12 world titles after, the latter having made four Philippine presidents happy, Pacquiao

Pacquaio, now with 12 world titles in his belt, wants to sneak in one final glorious moment. He wishes it will be against a guest whom he invited to see the fight against Jessie Vargas. (photo from Top Rank Boxing)

Pacquaio, now with 12 world titles in his belt, wants to sneak in one final glorious moment. He wishes it will be against a guest whom he invited to see the fight against Jessie Vargas. (photo from Top Rank Boxing)

was tongue tied at what final moment he wants to sneak in.

Who do you want to fight next, Top Rank’s TV commentator Steven A. Smith asked the Pacman. “Anybody!” he said smiling. “Whoever the people want me to fight.”

But after getting stitched up given a cut, Pacquiao told the media when asked about Mayweather: “Not only for myself, but if the fans in boxing want that rematch, then why not?”

“We can easily talk about that. It’s not a problem.”

Like Mayweather’s request to Top Rank President Todd duBoef to watch the fight. In response? Ringside seats for him, daughter Iyanna and some of Mayweather’s entourage.

In reply? A smiling embrace by Mayweather and duBoef upon the former’s entry at ringside. After the right, Pacquiao had a reply to Mayweather: A raised fist with a smile. Mayweather smiled back.

Something’s brewing.

“I didn’t see him (Mayweather) but he came to my gym (Wild Card in western Hollywood) a couple of times,” said trainer Freddie Roach during the post-fight presser. “He was very nice and polite. I hope he’s looking for Pacquiao but we’ll see.”

That’s what Pacquiao wants to sneak in at this final stage of a storied career. Avenge a stinging loss. Reverse what fans said was a disappointment of a fight.

Sneak in one glorious moment, one final time.

This time, however, the milieu is not from obscurity to instant fame or from sustained fanaticism from across the world. This is now Pacquiao fervor teetering at irrelevance.

As for the skills, Pacquiao still has the patented quickness and punches and counter punches from differing angles. And yes, the knockout punch is still there (the left straight, from a distance, in round 2; the surprise mini-left hook that tumbled Bradley in round 9 last April).

American fans, though, are divided over Pacquiao-Mayweather 2. The Philippines obviously wants her hero to hang on to the global spotlight, what more that Pacquiao defied age (like Mayweather). The rest of the world may want a part 2. Advertisers, foreign and Philippine, are perplexed at placing their bets on the Pacman.

But just like the right straights and jabs darting at Vargas’ face, Manny Pacquiao hopes to snitch what’s left of his glorious run in the ring. That sneaking in could land solidly to the Pacman’s favor, knocking down defectors who have given up on this aging, legendary boxer.

 

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About JEREMAIAH M. OPINIANO