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19 NOVEMBER 2018


Pacquiao Fighting For Survival

By Matthew Hurley: As the promotional machine behind Manny Pacquiao’s comeback fight against Brandon Rios on November 23 at the Venetian Resort in Macao, China kicks into high gear, the prevailing question remains, just how much does the aging Filipino icon have left?


It’s a question the genial Pacquiao must be getting tired of answering. But Pacquiao’s way of dealing with criticism has always been to shrug his shoulders, smile and laugh impishly. Not much has changed since the majority of the boxing public was properly introduced to Manny when he came out of nowhere and destroyed Lehelo Ledwaba on the Oscar De La Hoya – Javier Castillejo undercard way back in 2001.


As for that chilling image of him knocked flat by one massive counter right hand from nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao again shrugs his shoulders, smiles and says presciently, “That’s boxing.”


His reaction to that oft asked question always rings true because it happened to him before, early in his ascension to championship status in stoppage losses to Rustico Torrecampo in 1996 and Medgowen Singsurat in 1999. The fighter points to the disappointments in his career and properly remarks on the resolve he has shown. There are losses on Manny’s record, five of them to be exact, and for some that points to a fragility that has always been there.


Manny views losses to Erik Morales, Marquez and the controversial decision he dropped to Timothy Bradley as part of the profession. Certainly he would rather have no losses on his ledger but he does not hold that zero in the loss column as a measuring stick for his greatness as a fighter – as his rival Floyd Mayweather obviously does.


Of course one can say he doesn’t place as much stock in being undefeated because he lost. But Manny lost very early on in his career, before he ran into that right hand from Marquez. The idea of being undefeated and therefore basing his worth on that statistic was never really there to begin with. Like Bernard Hopkins, who lost his first professional bout and close decisions along the way in his illustrious career, Pacquiao understands that losing in the ring does not call your whole career into question. It’s something to learn from and, perhaps, reignite the fire that once burned in a broken fighter’s belly.


As former middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler once opined, “It’s hard to get up at five in the morning to do road work when you’re sleeping in silk pajamas.”


Indeed, many now believe that the fire that burned so brightly in Pacquiao began to dim after his last knockout victory over Miguel Cotto in 2009. His admirable yet distracting work as a congressman in the Philippines, and the fervent reestablishment of his religious faith, which in turn apparently chased away his penchant for booze, women and gambling, mellowed what had once been a fistic typhoon into a mere rain storm, sans the lightning and thunder.


Decision victories over Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito, Sugar Shane Mosely and Marquez in their third go round signaled an obvious slide in tenacity. When he backed off the battered Antonio Margarito and allowed him to survive to the final bell many fans and media scribes scratched their heads in bewilderment. Why would the most explosive fighter in the sport show mercy to the most vilified? For those with a sadistic streak, the opportunity to see Margarito, caught with loaded gloves before his his 2009 showdown against Shane Mosley, get his comeuppance amidst the slashing fists of Manny Pacquiao was just too delicious to miss. And then Manny backed off, his killer instinct inexplicably put upon the shelf.


Manny himself looks back on those fights and often remarks, “They just ran away from me.”  But even he knows that in his extended career all of those bouts were, in the end, measurable disappointments.


     With the truculent Brandon Rios promising to retire him, Manny understands that the fighter known almost as much for his expletive laden rants as his hardnosed approach to his profession will be right in front of him.  It’s what he wants, but it also means he has an opponent willing to swing for the fences with an abandon that will not rest until the fight is over.  Flaws aside, Rios is as tough as nails.


     During HBO’s recent Face Off segment, Rios projects the look and demeanor of a fighter who believes that his time has arrived.  A brutal loss at the hands of an aging fighter under heavy scrutiny could very well preclude him from ever becoming a money fighter.  For all his bravado, he gets this and Rios will leave everything he has in the ring from opening bell to finish.  He can’t fight any other way and that’s why he’s here.  The fans love it, and Pacquiao needs it.  He needs an opponent with brass balls who isn’t a technically sound automaton.  Rios is the perfect opponent, style wise.


     “I decided to choose an aggressive fighter like Rios to prove to the people I can still fight and my boxing career is not over.”


     Pacquiao then adds, with just a twinge of frustration, “I want to get back the trust and confidence of the fans.”


     Although Rios is a do-or-die kind of fighter, should he acquit himself well against his far more experienced foe he can carry on, albeit in a diminished capacity.  The fact is, despite Manny’s recent ring history, Brandon will be a significant underdog when he enters the ring.


     He understands this, but it also infuriates him and it’s that contained rage that makes him dangerous.


     “This is my time,” he says.  “I can’t go back.  I don’t want to go back.”


     Pacquiao’s response to that is both accurate and a tad arrogant.  “You want to be me.”


     Brandon will have none of that.  “No,” he returns, with a flash of anger and wave of his hand.  “I want to be Brandon.”


     Pacquiao seems to appreciate that machismo, that bravado, even if Rios may think the smile Manny can’t ever seem to suppress is condescending.  It isn’t.  It’s just the way Pacquiao is.  He’s never been one to bad mouth his opposition.  Even when the man in front of him is getting more and more infuriated, and more and more animated, with the perceived disrespect he feels is constantly being launched at him.


     For Manny, this fight signifies a new beginning or the end.  Should he win but look bad in doing so, his trainer Freddie Roach may pull the plug.  Manny acknowledges that he will finish his career with his beloved trainer and should Roach say it’s over, the fighter will defer to him.


     The answers about Manny’s ability to absorb punishment at this stage of his career should be answered early in the fight.  When Rios lands cleanly, and he will, Pacquiao will either shudder or shrug, and that should decide his future right then and there.


     HBO’s Max Kellerman put Manny on the spot during that interview when he asked, “Do you ever question yourself?  If you still have it anymore?”


     Manny shook his head.  “No.  I never question my capabilities.  My speed and power are still there.  I have 100% desire.  My time is not done yet.”


     Those questions should be wholly or partially answered on November 23. 


     After it’s over we will either continue to watch as Manny Pacquiao’s extraordinary career rumbles on, or prepare his fistic obituary and begin debating where he belongs among the greats of the sport.  That’s the intrigue of this fight and Pacquiao knows his back is against the wall.  That could be his ace in the hole.  He’s fighting for survival.  And no awkward laugh or gentle smile can hide that fact. 


     For Manny, this is it.



     Matthew Hurley is a full time member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  His first book on boxing, Ringside Reflections, can be purchased at and Barnes&  He can be reached at



November 7, 2013

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