I didn’t think I could admire Manny Pacquiao any more than I already did.
The Filipino icon is a former eight-division titleholder who has fought virtually all of his best-possible opponents, several of them multiple times. In his most-recent bout, at 40 years old, he upset Keith Thurman to win a welterweight title.
If anyone has earned the right to cruise into retirement by facing a minimal threat or a pushover like Conor McGregor, it’s Pacquiao. He could make a lot of money with minimal risk.
So what does he do? He decides to tangle with one of the most-feared fighters on the planet at 42 after having been out of the ring for two years. He will take on welterweight king Errol Spence Jr. on Aug. 21 in Las Vegas, the fighters announced Friday.
Manny Pacquiao (right) proved against Keith Thurman that he can still fight into his 40s. John Gurzinski / AFP via Getty Images
I don’t know what’s in Pacquiao’s head. I can’t say with authority that he sought out the most-difficult challenge in his division because of some sort of warrior mentality.
This is what I do know: He’s well aware of the danger he faces against a beast like Spence, who is naturally bigger than he is and considered one of the best fighters in the world pound for pound. Yet that’s the choice he made.
It was as if he was saying, “What’s the point of doing this if you’re not going to do it at the highest level?”
I hope the other top fighters are paying close attention. Too many of them spend as much time and energy avoiding genuine challenges as they do exchanging punches in the ring, which has had a detrimental impact on the sport.
And here we have a fighter well past his prime who could make good money elsewhere choosing to face the best in the business.
This is how it should be done, folks.
Of course, it’s possible that this won’t end well. I fear for Pacquiao. I was in attendance the night in 2008 that he gave faded superstar Oscar De La Hoya a horrific beating at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, embarrassing him in the process. De La Hoya never fought again.
The last thing I want to see is Pacquiao going out the same way against Spence or anyone else. The thought makes me shudder.
Pacquiao has been in some tough fights – including his unforgettable one-punch knockout loss to rival Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012 – but he’s never taken sustained punishment from anyone. And the longer he faces elite opponents, the more likely that scenario could become reality.
I hope and pray that we don’t say late on the night of Aug. 21, “Man, that fight should never have taken place?”
I thought Pacquiao had almost no chance of beating Thurman, one of the better 147-pounders of the past decade. The underdog was still capable, as he had demonstrated in a victory over Adrien Broner six months earlier, but he was no longer the dynamo he had been.
Still, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised that Pacquiao had his hand raised. Thurman had battled injuries and was relatively inactive. He was ripe for an upset.
Spence? He’s something altogether different. He demonstrated against Danny Garcia in December that he is fully recovered from injuries suffered in an October 2019 car accident, outpointing an excellent, experienced fighter by a wide margin.
The 31-year-old Texan has now defeated in succession Mikey Garcia, Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia, which confirmed what many of us believed about him: He’s a special fighter capable of accomplishing great things.
Can Pacquiao do it again? Can he find a way to defeat a future Hall of Famer who is in his prime? I doubt it. On paper, I think it’s a one-sided matchup.
That’s why I can’t applaud Pacquiao enough. The danger is what makes his decision so admirable.
If he wins, more people than ever will suggest that he might be the greatest fighter of his generation and possibly of all time. It would be akin to Sugar Ray Leonard’s upset of Marvin Hagler. If he loses, they’ll say he demonstrated his greatness simply by running full speed toward a profoundly difficult challenge, which is rare these days.
Either way, Pacquiao is more of a legend than ever.