Pacquiao: One last time
LAS VEGAS—A final walk out into the embrace of an applauding throng. A final ascent to the ring bathed in the spotlight and into the adoration of an audience he has thrilled. There, Manny Pacquiao will listen as he is introduced one last time. He will wave to the crowd a final time, receive final instructions and answer the bell one final time.
And, if Pacquiao has his way, he will forge a spectacular victory—one final time—to cement a legend that will long endure.
If an entire fight week was a single snapshot filtered in hues of nostalgia, there is reason for that.
The world’s only eight-division boxing champion faces Timothy Bradley on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) at MGM Grand Garden Arena on the heels of his declaration that this will be his last fight, that this will be the last time he will subject his 37-year-old body to boxing’s brutal beating in search for that lasting moment of glory for a country he has spoiled with his success.
“I’m so happy hanging up my gloves after this fight,” Pacquiao said when the Bradley fight was first announced. “I’m sure I’ll feel sad after that, but that’s life. It’s time, I think.”
In what could be the last time he trained at Wild Card gym in Los Angeles, which he helped turn from a nondescript sweat factory to a training hot spot, Pacquiao did not budge.
“I have no regrets,” Pacquiao said in an interview dripping with sentimentality. “I faced every fighter I could possibly fight and I’m happy with my accomplishments in boxing. It’s the first time someone got eight titles in eight different divisions.”
Even those who had doubted his word are starting to believe him.
No more hunger
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, who said he was not going to promote this as Pacquiao’s last fight because he has seen boxers turn back on their word in the 50 years he has promoted fights, is slowly realizing that the Filipino ring icon could be serious.
“I can feel that he is really serious about retirement,” Arum said. “There’s no more hunger and he is focused on what he’s going to do for his country and family after leaving boxing.”
Pacquiao and Bradley cleared the final hurdle for the fight when both checked in below the welterweight limit in Friday’s weigh-in.
Pacquiao, who needed to bulk up after going as low as 141 pounds before his team convoyed to this glitzy Nevada gambling haven from Los Angeles, checked in at 145.5. Bradley came in a pound heavier but needed to shed off six pounds from a week before fight night.
Bradley’s last chance
While Pacquiao is looking to end a Hall of Fame career with a performance that’s a throwback to the days when he would punish opponents with his lethal mix of speed and power, Bradley is looking to polish his underrated résumé with a highlight victory over one of the sport’s most celebrated icons.
“If there ever was a chance for me to beat Manny Pacquiao, this is it,” Bradley said. “This is my last chance.”
His trainer, Teddy Atlas, has said it would not be easy. And a huge measure of success lies in how Bradley will be able to decipher Pacquiao—something that the Mexican warrior, Juan Manuel Marquez, has gotten down pat and used to a sensational victory in December 2012.
“When you’re competing against somebody as talented as Manny—and he wins fights because of pure talent; he’s a freak, that combination of speed and power that he has, it’s uncommon—I think what can happen is that you see the obvious, but you don’t see the stuff before the obvious,” Atlas said, adding that Team Bradley studied Pacquiao’s fights against Marquez—and a lone duel with Mayweather—to prepare for this bout.
Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach, meanwhile, admitted that Pacquiao’s looming retirement put a sense of urgency in this fight.
If this is it, Roach said, “it would be great if he went out with a bang.”
“Manny knows I want a knockout,” Roach added. “I hope he can get it.”
Victory to remember
Knockout or not, Pacquiao wants to deliver a victory to remember.
“I’m doing this for the fans, so I can make them happy,” said the congressman of Sarangani, who is running for a seat in the Senate.
Pacquiao carries more than just his 57-6-2, (38 KOs) record into the ring against Bradley (33-1-1, 13 KOs). He brings also a legacy that is difficult to match in the sport. The eight titles he won in eight different weight classes came with a rare mix of hand speed and booming power. His ability to hit from awkward angles and his willingness to rush forward and push the action charmed and captivated an audience thirsty for a new hero when the curtains fell on the heavyweight era of the sport.
Ask Roach, however, and he’ll tell you that Pacquiao’s legacy cuts past the ropes of the ring.
“He’s had a great career; it’s been 15 years of greatness,” said Roach, who has been like a father to Pacquiao ever since a scrawny kid with big dreams and an even bigger punch walked into his Wild Card gym 15 years ago.
‘World’s greatest guy’
“But he’s also the greatest guy in the world. He’s generous. He’s the nicest guy I’ve met in my entire life. He treats everybody fairly and loves everybody. He’s just a good person. He’s the best human I’ve ever met in my life.”
Not even an attempt to diminish his legend into a single unfortunate quote on same-sex marriage could change the views of people who had seen him rise from the streets to the top of the sporting world.
Whether it is a topnotch match salesman like Arum or a nameless waitress in a diner off the brightly lit strip, people are aware of Pacquiao’s generosity and the hardships he had to overcome.
Those hardships, those beatings, end tonight in 12 rounds or less, as Roach prefers.
Unless a matchup of intriguing magnitude—like a rematch with Mayweather—crops up in the future, the journey has reached its final stage for Manny Pacquiao.
“I’d like to thank the fans for all the support [all these years],” he said with finality.
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