By Matthew Hurley: Despite the fact that his upcoming welterweight fight against Chris Algieri will probably be the lowest rated pay per view event in his career, Manny Pacquiao is in a must win situation. Not just must win, but must win impressively. For his career to maintain any true momentum he needs to be scintillating.
He needs a knockout.
It feels almost curious to say a former knockout artist would need to stop an opponent to remain viable. But Manny hasn’t deposited anyone to his heap of victims in a semi-conscious state since his twelfth round KO of Miguel Cotto in 2009.
His career trajectory, moving up in weight, taking on larger more powerful fighters, is in some ways reminiscent of the great Thomas Hearns. When Hearns moved up from welterweight, where he was an absolute beast, his knockout ratio dipped dramatically. It didn’t detract from his brilliance as a fighter. In fact we were able to watch a right hand bomber develop a wicked left hook to the body and head. But that apparent lack of power left many fans and writers criticizing him in spite of the fact that he was battling bigger, stronger men. The Hitman moniker didn’t really apply anymore. He was once again The Motor City Cobra, his original sobriquet. Not quite as devastating, but still so much fun to watch.
And that’s just where Manny Pacquiao finds himself at the tail end of his illustrious career – constantly questioned and analyzed, be it warranted or not. Just as Hearns became something of a guessing game after his unexpected knockout loss to Iran Barkley in 1988, Manny can’t seem to shake away the residual Smart Alec remarks concerning his knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in their fourth clash in 2012. So dramatic were both of those KO losses that the fighter who suffered somehow, for whatever petty reason, has become defined by one horrible night on the job.
A fighter’s career should not be critiqued and picked apart by one particular bout – win or lose. A fighter’s stature should be measured by the sum of his career accomplishments. And just like Thomas Hearns, Manny Pacquiao is in reverential territory.
But, things are coming to a close and the Pac Man wants to go out in glory. Unlike his out of ring nemesis Floyd Mayweather, Pacquiao wants to fight the best out there. Although hampered by promotional divisions in a sport that always seems to shoot itself in the foot he has faced an impressive array of fighters since that brilliant performance against Miguel Cotto – the current middleweight champion!
That he lost only once (his justly disputed decision loss to Timothy Bradley in 2012 should be tossed aside) is remarkable. His constant refrain, “I leave it up to my promoter Bob Arum” has become a mind numbing mantra. But the feeling here is if Top Rank signed him to fight the fearsome Gennady Golovkin or even heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, just like Thomas Hearns before him, he would probably shrug his shoulders and say, “OK.” Arum, when I was able to ask him before the rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1989, if Hearns was a difficult fighter to deal with remarked, “Just give him the check and he’d fight King Kong. He doesn’t care.” There is an old school quality to Manny Pacquiao that fighters like Hearns and Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield appreciate and admire.
Chris Algieri is a nice guy and a pretty damn good fighter, but he’s not in Manny’s class. Even at this late stage in the game. He’s tall, rangy and has a ton of heart, but his skill set doesn’t come close to what Pacquiao brings to the ring. He deserves the payday, as all rugged fighters do, but he’s a speed bump on the way to Manny’s final exit. That’s why Pacquiao has to look impressive; overwhelmingly impressive.
The way he and trainer Freddie Roach are talking it sounds as if they understand that. All their pre-fight rhetoric has been about knocking Algieri out conclusively and early.
But talk is cheap, and really means nothing. After all, Roach has been saying the same thing for the past five years and his fighter hasn’t concussed anyone. It’s the fury of the fighter that backs up those words that matters, and therein lies the questions that now circle Manny Pacquiao. Is that fire still there?
For Manny’s sake, he better not be talking out of the side of his mouth like the Filipino politician he’s become in his native land or those pay per view numbers will continue to plummet and he will be cast aside as so many great, old champions usually are. What’s relative today can be irrelevant tomorrow, and that’s why this fight, despite public apathy, is so important.
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 Amazon.com.
November 17, 2014