MANILA, Philippines - As the new year opens with a bang, there are questions that confront Manny Pacquiao in his pursuit of excellence in boxing, politics, religion and show business. Will he ever fight again and if so, when and against whom? Will he devote more time to his responsibilities as a public servant? Will he establish his own religious group as a Bible preacher? Will he continue to appear on TV as a game show host or celebrity presentor? Will he find peace and contentment in a life without boxing? Will he remain a popular global icon after retiring from the ring?
At the moment, Pacquiao is barred from engaging in anything related to boxing. He has been served a 120-day suspension as a precautionary measure to recover from his sixth round knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas last Dec. 8. Pacquiao won’t be even allowed to step into a gym until April. He is running for reelection as congressman of Sarangani province and while there’s no doubt a second term awaits, he’ll be busy campaigning for others in the May polls. His wife Jinkee is virtually unopposed in her candidacy for vice governor of Sarangani but his brother Rogel is up against former General Santos City Mayor and reelectionist congressman Pedro Acharon in the first district of South Cotabato.
So Pacquiao’s activities will be focused on politics until May. If he returns to the ring, Pacquiao will probably take at least two months to prepare and that could mean an August or September comeback. An earlier date would mean cutting into the campaign period, something he may not like to compromise. If Pacquiao decides to fight in August or September, Top Rank chairman Bob Arum will likely pick a “tune-up” opponent, someone who could test the Filipino hero without necessarily pushing him to the limit. Timothy Bradley, who wrested the WBO welterweight crown from Pacquiao in a controversial split decision last year, would be a perfect foil.
Bradley is unbeaten, like Floyd Mayweather Jr., and if Pacquiao beats him as he should, he’ll regain the WBO welterweight belt. If he impresses, Pacquiao could set himself up for a fifth showdown with Marquez, this time with the WBO crown on the line. The extension of their feud to a quintology could come in December so Pacquiao fulfills his quota of two fights in a year. And if Pacquiao subdues Marquez, he’ll be ready for the ultimate encounter with Mayweather in May or June 2014.
But before Pacquiao decides whether to continue fighting or not, he should look deep into his heart and determine if the fire still burns in his belly. A fighter must know when to hang up his gloves. Too many fighters retire a bout too late and end up afflicted with pugilistic dementia whose symptoms don’t appear until years after leaving the ring. If the desire to fight is gone, there is no reason to keep fighting at the risk of serious injury. Only Pacquiao can tell when it’s time to go.
Boxing News writer Daniel Herbert noticed that in the Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito fights, Pacquiao threw an average of 1,100 punches but in the later bouts against Sugar Shane Mosley, Marquez (third fight) and Bradley, the workrate dropped to about half. After losing to Bradley, Pacquiao didn’t seem to care. Herbert said his attitude was “reminiscent more of a politician, reluctant to offend, or a religious type, keen to embrace suffering in the belief it would expiate his sins … a champion professional boxer would have been outraged by such a travesty.”
Manchester boxing trainer Joe Gallagher said, “Nothing can go on forever and Manny has a lot of miles on the clock, he hasn’t had a soft fight for years, it all takes a toll, he’s had distractions outside the ring, in his personal life and it may affect him … it’s just about making money now and when you’ve made so many millions, it’s harder to train hard.”
Gallagher said in boxing, small guys peak earlier than big guys. That’s why Roberto Duran modified his style as he grew older. Can Pacquiao reinvent himself, asked Gallagher. In the fourth Marquez fight, Pacquiao tried to relive his glory years as a swashbuckling brawler who ran over the opposition like a bulldozer. He didn’t fight like a fighter should, days away from turning 34, and his lack of lateral movement proved fatal against a technician who bulked up to win the only way he could – with newly revitalized power.
If boxing is a jealous sport as it is, Pacquiao can’t afford to dabble into politics and religion without compromising his ability to perform at a peak level. He was able to mix up his priorities in the past but now that he’s older, the demands on his body and time to stay at the top of his game are unforgiving.
Pacquiao has a lot of questions to answer this year. Arum has signed him up to two fights in 2013 and two more fights in 2014 before their contract expires. But Pacquiao may opt out if he wants to. No matter what he decides to do, Pacquiao’s legacy as the greatest Filipino fighter ever is cast in stone. A legend in his own time, Pacquiao will be revered as a national treasure forever.