It is the way of things that the fresh-faced heroes of our youth, who once charged the ramparts of boxing’s established names in our stead, now find themselves clinging to the last castles of their own generation. A month ago, notification Manny Pacquiao’s December birthday cake now required 40 candles spilled in to my consciousness and caused momentary pause in the day’s proceedings.
For so long, Pacquiao’s dancing feet, blurring fists and relentless aggression represented the new, the urgent, the usurper of the established. Overcoming and occasionally wrecking totems of pay-per-view, Pacquiao swatted aside the Mexicans Featherweights (more often than not) and a series of champions presumed to be too big or too strong for the diminutive Philippine.
This success vaulted him beyond the vanquished, planted him in the Hall of Fame and encouraged us to overlook the fact the one time Flyweight was now into his thirties and far beyond his beginnings. [3min read]
The cash out fight he took versus Mayweather, when knowingly impaired by injury, did suggest the end was nigh but he bounced on from that disappointment and ensuing surgery to captivate us all again. His continuing career at the highest level, he fights for the 70th time on Saturday night, defies the physiological convention almost every fighter is subject too; perhaps Archie and Bernard aside, and does begin to repost the question about how long fighters should be permitted to continue.
No fighter can or should be prevented from competing if able to meet the medical criteria and retained the required competence to box. An age limit is impossible to impose and offers no protection to those matched beyond their abilities for the benefit of the opponent whilst still in their notional prime.
However arbitrary it may seem, the moment Pacquiao’s life story ‘clicked’ over into his 40th year I felt compelled to re-evaluate my endorsement of his status in the division and my urge to see him box on. He is, after all, ten fights on from the point Muhammad Ali fought Larry Holmes and a year older too, and while not troubled in the way Ali was in 1980, one wonders at what point the invisible Rubicon is crossed.
On Saturday, he faces Adrien Broner, the younger man by 10 years and with his own career crossroads to navigate in the 36 minutes on offer. To lose to Pacquiao imposes no embarrassment, despite his venerable age, but it will afford a final ceiling to Broner’s career which had appeared limitless in potential six or seven years ago when his championship career began.
Despite belated misgivings about Pacquiao’s continued activity at an age he should be retired and safe from further harm, I expect him to outwork the perennially disappointing Broner. If he fulfils this prophecy, he may find himself in the way of much greater risk before too long; someone like Errol Spence presents a naturally bigger opponent with potency in both fists and will be one of the alternate options if the cash rich Mayweather rematch cannot be made.
I hope Pacquiao doesn’t discover he has already over stretched on the mortgage of his health on Saturday in the way he has with the hundreds of millions accrued and shared this past twenty years. It would be fitting if the great philanthropist can secure the second bout with Mayweather, 42 and retired himself. There would be a poetry in a Pacquiao victory and an ensuing retirement.
Though one suspects it will take more than a single victory or defeat or even $200 million dollars to dissuade him. And in the absence of a route to closure, only risk and damage, rather than the preferred contentment, can ever be found.