Manny Pacquiao hangs up gloves at the right time and with historic legacy safely secured

Filipino boxing superstar announced his retirement from boxing on Wednesday, following a transcendent, era-defining career

It came, while not necessarily much of a surprise but enough still to take away the breath, in a carefully crafted 14-minute video on social media.

The accompanying title was short and simple, running counter to one of the most unforgettable and fulfilling stories in boxing history, its conclusion confirmed on a hitherto normal Wednesday in late September.

“Goodbye boxing” announced Manny Pacquiao, stood apparently in his impressive Manila residence far removed from his impoverished beginning on the island of Mindanao, his voice seeming to creak with emotion as the weight of his decision no doubt began to hit home.

At three months shy of his 43rd birthday, the Filipino had called time on a truly extraordinary professional career. Spanning 26 years and extending to 72 fights, it comprises titles in an unparalleled eight different weight classes, placing Pacquiao on a pedestal as the only man to hold championship belts in four separate decades. In all, his resume swells with 12 world titles scattered among his 62 wins.

For a while from the mid-2000s, Pacquiao seemed to carry a sport on the ropes, this diminutive-but-dynamite pugilist somehow filling the heavyweight-sized void with titanic tussle after titanic tussle. Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and the rest.

The 2008 victory against De La Hoya was transformative, proclaiming Pacquiao as a genuine superstar; the quartet of clashes with Marquez tallied to a decidedly thrilling rivalry for the ages. The Ring magazine “knockout of the year” against Ricky Hatton, meanwhile, remains as stunning and staggering as it did when detonated at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in 2009.

Of course, there was the "Fight of the Century" with foe Floyd Mayweather, coming years too late in 2015 but still dominating the sporting discourse. Blocking out everything else, it bloomed into a must-see event, elevated beyond a boxing bout between two greats.

When all was said and done, after Mayweather coasted to a points win across a wholly disappointing spectacle, the pay-per-view buys were estimated to total at 4.6 million. No other bout in combat sports has ever come close. In its entirety, Pacquiao's career is understood to have generated more than 20 million buys.

Unlike Mayweather, Pacquiao is considered to have never shirked a challenge: he has gone up against a multitude of former or current world champions, his record within that elite bracket standing at 25-7-2, with 11 knockouts.

It is not an exaggeration to claim boxing will never again witness a champion at 108 pounds capture titles all the way to 154, from flyweight through to light middleweight. What proved to be Pacquiao's final victory – the split-decision win in 2019 against the previously unbeaten Keith Thurman – lifted a former street vendor to perch as the oldest welterweight champion of all time. Pacquiao was deep into his 41st year. That, though, will reside as his final standout performance.

Last month’s decision loss to Yordenis Ugas suggested Pacquiao was in danger of falling into that desperate and damaging trap that takes hold of too many in his game, of going on for too long. The speed appeared slowed; the movement stymied.

On Wednesday, Pacquiao said he was “at peace” with “the hardest decision I’ve ever made”, which is welcome. Time will tell if he sticks steadfast to that commitment, when retirement pinches and the absence of life at the very apex of competitive sport gnaws, especially in this emerging era of celebrity boxing.

At least a run for the Philippines presidency, the next plot in politics for a sitting long-time senator, should occupy the mind, even if creditable doubts exist regarding Pacquiao’s suitability to the highest office in his homeland. That represents the next chapter in this remarkable, veritable rags-to-riches tale. Patently, it should ultimately constitute his greatest legacy.

Yet, for now, for the millions who followed wide-eyed Pacquiao's rise and his reign, his retirement is yet another reminder that no one can rail against their own mortality for ever.

But, then, that feels part of his enduring relatability. Pacquiao may have risen way above the privation that pockmarked his early life and undeniably shaped his present, but he was throughout a people's champion, a transcendent star whose transgressions - tangles with the IRS, extra-marital affairs - attached also a basic human element to this otherworldly talent. His philanthropy, particularly in the Philippines, is well documented.

On Wednesday, in that 14-minute entrant on social media, Pacquiao relayed that, "Even me, I'm amazed at what I have done", and few would not share that sentiment.

"Chase your dreams, work hard, and watch what happens," he said. Pacquiao knows better than most, for his career provided riveting viewing indeed.

Updated: September 29th 2021, 2:14 PM
EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS