By Tris Dixon
THERE were many times when we could have seen the last of the phenomenal Filipino Manny Pacquiao.
It’s incredible he’s even still going, and not only because he won his first world title almost two decades ago. Sure, Senator Pacquiao has a country to inspire and political goals to achieve but he has nothing left to prove in the ring.
There have been umpteen opportunities for him to walk.
He could have bailed after inflicting actual bodily harm on Antonio Margarito, whom he effectively finished. He could have left even before Floyd Mayweather agreed to face him. He could have gone after losing that disastrously-controversial decision to Timothy Bradley, and many doubted he would fight again after the vicious knockout defeat to old rival Juan Manuel Marquez. Perhaps he could have left after it appeared the magic had gone when he came back but failed to shine against Brandon Rios in Macau, or even righting the wrong against the aforementioned Bradley. He could have vanished after breaking the bank against Mayweather, or after getting ripped off on the road against Jeff Horn.
He would have gone with his head held high after any of his last fights before Thurman, in stopping Lucas Matthysse in Kuala Lumpa and outpointing Adrien Broner in Las Vegas. Now, of course, would be a great time to leave on his terms, following an exciting win, having defeated another member of the generation that followed his own peak and with many believing only Errol Spence and Terence Crawford would top him at 147.
Yet the exciting thing about Pacquiao is he lives how he fights. He has no brakes. It doesn’t seem like he knows how to stop.
The Pacific tornado might not be quite as violent but it’s still destructive enough.
Plenty of detractors point to the fact that VADA was not hired to test the fighters and yes, it is always a good sign when boxers and promoters pay for the very best and most stringent testing to be done. Their testing is more comprehensive and often more frequent and they did test both Thurman and Pacquiao for the Nevada State Athletic Commission ahead of this fight but VADA weren’t the official testers.
And while that point should always remain relevant regardless of the contest, fighters and promoters play within the broad confines of a lawless sport and its down to them, the state commissions and national governing bodies, to enforce standardised laws throughout the game, certainly at the highest level. It’s the flaky structure of the sport that is guilty of allowing more loopholes than the aftermath of ‘The Snap’ in Infinity War.
But that’s the business, that’s where boxing is and fighters shouldn’t be punished out of hand for playing within the rules of their profession. The fans know what they’d like, but they’d also like regular superfights, the best to always fight the best and for everyone to leave the prize ring healthy. It’s not often we get what we want.
So while Dillian Whyte was rightly attracting rave reviews for being a throwback and taking on heavyweight all-comers in London, the real generational throwback was getting ready to go to work in Vegas.
Pacquiao has fought 71 times as a pro now. He’s boxed nearly 500 rounds. He’s 40 years old and while he’s adapted his style and his punch output has fallen off in recent years his speed of hand and foot is still dramatically more rapid than almost all of those he finds himself in a ring with.
He says he probably won’t box again until next year. He turns 41 in December.
You don’t need a roll call here of the legends he’s faced, the world champions he’s beaten, the weight classes he’s ruled in. You don’t really need to break down the fight, the right hook that felled Thurman in round one, the bodywork that he invested throughout, the dramatic way he closed out round five, leaving Thurman a bloody mess, and the 10th round left downstairs that forced the previously-undefeated Thurman to gulp deeply and bite down to avoid being dropped again.
It was a thrilling fight but Pacquiao goes beyond just that. Sure, the excitement is wonderful but watching an icon extending an already extraordinary legacy is something else.
You feel like you’re witnessing history and that you’re a small part of it, however inconsequential. That you are of the same era as one of these fighters allows you to feel a certain type of privilege. You were there.
Thurman played his part on the night but he couldn’t nail down the Filipino, who can still ghost in and out of range like it’s 2006, and who boxes with the same hunger, desire and ambition of a Pacman who was only just emerging in 1996.
It all served to sweep another scoring irregularity under the carpet given that Glenn Feldman’s tally favoured Thurman to the chagrin of the majority of those scoring the fight.
But that, for once, was not the dominant talking point.
It was Pacquiao drinking from the fountain of youth to dispatch one of the best welterweights in the world and once again re-enter the pound-for-pound argument at the age of 40.