Pacquiao follows in Muhammad Ali’s footsteps

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

Boxing legends Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson performed all over the world before they hung up their gloves as a way of giving back to fans who revered them as heroes. Ali fought from 1960 to 1981 and compiled a 56-5 record. He saw action thrice in England, thrice in Canada, twice in Tokyo (including the exhibition with wrestler Antonio Inoki) and once each in Frankfurt, Dublin, Kinshasha, San Juan (Puerto Rico), Munich, Jakarta, Nassau, Kuala Lumpur and Manila.

Robinson campaigned from 1940 to 1965 and registered a record of 174-19-6. He took his act to rings in France for 10 fights, Belgium for four, England for three, Germany for two, Italy for two and once each in Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Honolulu, Tijuana and the Dominican Republic.

Since turning pro in 1965, Manny Pacquiao has fought 27 bouts in the US, twice each in Thailand and Macau and once in Japan. The US fights were held in Las Vegas (19), Texas (4), Los Angeles (2) and once each in Memphis and San Francisco. 

Like Ali and Robinson, Pacquiao is regarded as a legendary international boxing icon. The wonder of it all is he’s still active with plans to fight twice this year. He’s now 39 and the drive to bring honor to his country in the ring remains as strong as ever. The other day, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president Lord Sebastian Coe of the UK mentioned Pacquiao’s name in the same breath as Ali’s as he spoke of new track heroes to succeed Usain Bolt. That’s how Pacquiao is renowned the world over.

“Are we going to replace Bolt?” asked Coe. “Probably not because you don’t replace Muhammad Ali. But Marvin Hagler, Manny Pacquiao and Julio Cesar Chavez and the great boxers came through.”

On July 15, Pacquiao will make his Kuala Lumpur debut against WBO welterweight champion Lucas Matthysse of Argentina in an attempt to claim another world crown. It’s unlike Pacquiao to enter the ring without a belt around his waist and he’s out to make things right again by dethroning Matthysse. What’s more, Pacquiao will be following in Ali’s footsteps as on June 30, 1975, the man formerly known as Cassius Clay was in the Malaysian capital to decision England’s Joe Bugner at the Merdeka Stadium. The fight was a rematch. Two years before, Ali hammered out a 15-round decision over Bugner in Las Vegas.

Pacquiao, however, won’t be performing at the Merdeka Stadium whose capacity was 45,000 during the Ali fight. The Merdeka was later refurbished with a reduced capacity of 20,000. Instead, Pacquiao will face Matthysse at the 16,000-seat Axiata Arena. The Axiata has 13,000 upholstered and 3,000 retractable seats. Ali and Bugner fought under humid conditions at the open-air Merdeka while the Axiata is an indoor, air-conditioned facility. Malaysian writer Bernama likened the Axiata to the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the O2 Arena in London and the Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai. It was the main stadium for several sporting events at the Southeast Asian Games last year.

Bugner recalled how hot it was at the Merdeka in his book “Joe Bugner: My Story”: “Many critics said I took a definite posture throughout this fight and I’d say that was true due to the blistering tropical heat ... I was trying to conserve my energy in the extreme humidity ... Ali got the decision but ended up on a drip in the hospital, not me.” Bugner said after their fight, the Malaysian government gave Ali and him pewter boxing gloves. “Mine holds pride of place in my home,” said Bugner.

After Ali’s appearance in K. L., boxing went into hibernation in Malaysia until unbeaten cruiserweight Muhamad Farkhan brought it back to life in Johore Bahru in January last year. A 10-fight card was held in K. L. last July with Filipino Carlo Magali stopping India’s Sandeep Balhara for the interim OPBF superfeatherweight title in the headliner. Farkhan was back in action in Johore Bahru last September. Pacquiao’s fight against Matthysse will be Malaysia’s first world title match in 43 years.




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