No time like the presentMrs Manley, Novelist, 1663-1724
On the 17th December Manny Pacquiao became 42. This week marked 26 years since his professional debut. In the period in between he has boxed 71 times. All of these numbers are remarkable. In the modern era, they are other worldly. A pandemic halted his latest run in the Welterweight division and Conor McGregor’s humbling last Saturday has likely cost the Filipino Senator his largest available pay day. Perverse though the idea of their meeting was.
There is now a strong suggestion Pacquiao will face Ryan Garcia, a fighter not born when the first of those 71 contests, a four rounder on 22nd January 1995, took place. It is hoped the match will be the genuine article, a Lightweight upstart venturing to Welterweight to unseat a legend, and not the exhibition tag subsequently tied to the proposition.
Sure, we’d prefer a lightweight round robin and Spence v Crawford, they’re the earnest, timeless match ups boxing craves. But complain about Pacquiao v Garcia? Come on.
The legend of the piece, in considering such a challenge after a long lay off and many, many miles travelled, stands at the gateway to a boxing Valhalla few reach. There may be fighters in history to whom he must always defer but of those who boxed beyond their 40th birthday few continue to add, rather than subtract, from their reputation. Pacquiao is already in operating in exalted company.
His all time greatness is assured. His run from 2008-2011, a period in which he beat Marquez, Cotto, Hatton, Margarito and DeLaHoya, stands comparison with almost any ledger put to record. Victory over Garcia, and any further triumphs beyond in the talent rich, if reluctant, Welterweight division, would elevate his name beyond that of his contemporary Bernard Hopkins, and maybe Foreman and the Ole Mongoose, Archie Moore, too, as fighters who reached new peaks in their 40s. If nostalgics can bear the notion.
There is a long way to go before the match is sealed. Reaction has been divided, many deriding the opportunism Garcia is displaying in boxing Pacquiao, based on their assumptions of Garcia’s assumptions. At 42, and with 18 months spent away from the ring, it is impossible to speculate what portion of Pacquiao’s best remains or even the percentage points lost since he beat Keith Thurman in 2019. Often the mind is strong, the body aesthetically preserved but the instinct, the reflex, the intent has lapsed. A year and a half of inactivity blunts what edge remains exponentially once a fighter is beyond their physical prime. And however well he performed in beating Thurman, Pacquiao, at 42, is long past his prime.
Despite those reservations, tied as they are to long-term concern for fighters boxing on with diminishing returns and diminishing faculties, the prospect of a Pacquiao v Garcia fight is a tantalising one. Garcia’s ungroomed style has flaws but his thunderous lasso like left hand is a potent weapon and he has the luxury of youth, speed and height and reach too.
Pacquiao, subject to the erosion inactivity has inflicted, has everything of course. Just not as extravagantly as he had those assets a decade ago. No defeat now would erase the crescendos of the past. Too much is committed to memory for any defeat in his 40’s to diminish his remarkable achievements. Although Roy Jones’ may argue it is possible.
Importantly, it will bring together two audiences, the traditional and the cyber. If Garcia is victorious he will catapult himself beyond the confines of boxing and become the stand-out cash cow of the lower divisions. His social media following provides an alternate demographic, one with different appetites and a different understanding of what boxing is, and what it isn’t. A victory over Manny Pacquiao would be important to both of these worlds. Ending one era and firing the starting gun on another. It would leave the reluctant Welterweights stuck in their stables, braying about winning races they don’t enter.
Spence and Crawford both want to stand on the shoulders of Pacquiao’s giant legend, for kudos and the sizeable pay day, but they don’t bristle with the same chutzpah as Garcia shown in pursuit of the challenge. And to a fellow Welterweight, it doesn’t pose the same mountain to climb.
Daring creates excitement. Urgency draws attention. Actions, well, they’ve always spoken louder than words.