It is very rare for a legendary fighter to be given the opportunity to plan his farewell appearance in the ring. In most cases, the fighter is forced into retirement by a numbing loss, injuries or even death.
Three-time world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali didn’t want the one-sided drubbing he absorbed from then heavyweight champ Larry Holmes in 1980 to be his swan song and so he arranged for one more ring appearance in 1981 against Trevor Berbick. While Ali lost again, he found comfort in the fact that he did not take a beating in his last fight.
Rocky Marciano is on record for being the only heavyweight champion to retire undefeated (49-0), but it must be pointed out that he was still in a fighting mood when a back injury (aggravated when his kid jumped on him) forced him to retire in the 1950s. Marciano was consequently robbed of a farewell fit for an undefeated king.
Sugar Ray Leonard could have had the perfect ending if only he stuck to his retirement vow after upsetting Marvin Hagler for the middleweight tiara in April 1987. Leonard retired after the mega upset, but returned to spoil his legacy.
Fast forward to the present day: Pacquiao, boxing’s only eight-division champ, takes on American Timothy Bradley Jr. this Sunday (Manila time) in what is supposedly his final ring appearance. Pacquiao had made it clear that his third tango with Bradley will be his last and that he hopes to make the full transition to politics thereafter. Then again, even before the bell rings, Pacquiao appears to be wavering on his stance. That the reception for his final fight has been described by writers as “lukewarm” may not sit well with Pacquiao, too. It’s like Elvis Presley leaving the stage for the final time sans the thunderous ovation he had become accustomed to.
Regardless, not a few opine that the time has come for Pacquiao to call it a day. He has been pushing leather for the last two decades and has accomplished just about everything in the punch-for-pay business. Despite the ho-hum reception, the third fight with Bradley still figures to be competitive. Bradley (33-1, 13 knockouts) has not lost since dropping a decision to Pacquiao in their second meeting in 2014 and actually won the World Boxing Organization welterweight title with a nine-round pummelling of Brandon Rios.
Pacquiao (57-6, 38 knockouts) remains the odds-on pick to prevail. The only concern is Pacquiao’s mental focus as he has so many things in his plate (i.e., senatorial campaign, the anti-gay slur heard around the world). Style-wise, however, Pacquiao’s volume punching should trouble Bradley.
Bradley was specifically picked because of his lack of punching power. Also, the guy can’t seem to figure out if he wants to be a boxer or a slugger. When Bradley gets too close, his chin acts up and almost betrays him. Ruslan Provodnikov and Jessie Vargas showed that in a toe-to-toe slugfest, Bradley’s chin does not hold up well.
Bradley figures to take a page off the strategy used by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in beating Pacquiao last year. This includes employing lots of movement and holding unabashedly the moment Pacquiao gets too close. Oh, look for Bradley to test the durability of Pacquiao’s shoulder.
If you will look at history, great fighters often chose a beatable foe for their farewell appearance. After all the spine-tingling victories, a great fighter is entitled to have a breather in his last fight. In a way, Pacquiao is breaking the mould as he is taking on a very competitive fighter in Bradley. The only reason the fight is not meriting media mileage is that many feel this is not the ideal farewell fight for the Filipino ring icon. Unlike the greats whose skills had eroded when they stepped into the ring for the last time, Pacquiao still has the goods to take on a fellow ring superstar.
But all things must come to an end. Truth be told, the biggest challenger for Pacquiao is to resist the temptation of falling into the “one fight too many” syndrome that claimed many legends like Joe Louis, Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. Now, more than ever, Pacquiao must show that he is the one calling the shots.
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