Twelve months after his most recent fight, Sergio Martinez announced his retirement last month to the surprise of exactly no one. The only surprise, if there was one, was that it took him so long to make a formal announcement. There was the issue of his knee, which he initially thought he would recover enough from to make a formidable challenge in early 2015, but by November it was clear he would need surgery, and that was a bridge too far for a fighter who had already been there, done that. Perhaps no fighter burned brighter in such a short period of time; the Maravilla man had earned whatever timeline he decided to ring the final bell.
These days find Manny Pacquiao in a strangely similar position to Martinez’s last summer: at the edge of the ropes and pondering whether it’s worth it to thrust back through the ropes into his 21st year of professional boxing or reach for the closest towel. Shoulder injury or not, his loss to Floyd Mayweather was devastating. For years, sports fans—not just boxing fans—hotly debated the merits of one fighter over the other, like the Mac vs. Windows debate of the 1990s, or the LeBron vs MJ drum ESPN talk shows are constantly banging. Whether it was productive or not, comparing Pacman’s volume-punching and power to Mayweather’s artful boxing mastery carried water for the whole sport during a drought. And we’re all still thirsty.
The only possible apology ready at hand for a Pacquiao fan isn’t his shoulder. I’m sorry, but it’s a phony excuse. If his shoulder was such an issue, he had no business being in the fight in the first place, and his team would have made that determination in a heartbeat if it was there to make. All you can say for him is he’s too old—the fight should have happened in 2010—and if that’s where you land, why would you want him to keep fighting? The figures are getting clearer now, and Pacquiao stands to pocket in the neighborhood of $150 million for fighting Mayweather. Why should he risk his health and sacrifice his time to fight someone else and maybe make 10 percent of that? It just doesn’t add up. (Not that it always needs to, this is boxing after all.)
After the latest round of rumors and reports of ex-pugilists mulling returns to the ring in recent weeks, I noticed today that former featherweight champ Acelino Freitas is scheduled to fight next month at 154 for only the second time since 2007. Whether it’s money, attention, or punch-drunk insanity, prizefighters continue their legacy as belonging to the strangest economy in professional sports. Especially given all we know about brain trauma and injury, it’s just foolhardy for a guy with as much wear on his tires as Manny Pacquiao to be planning out his next couple of fights after being exposed by Mayweather as a has-been.
There’s only one possibility outside of retirement that remains appealing—despite its best efforts to mimic a simple plot devised by Sylvester Stallone—and that’s for the fighting pride of the Philippines to have one more go-round against Juan Manuel Marquez. For his part, Marquez seems to be waiting for the same thing. He has some injuries and is said to be mulling retirement, but he has to be doing a little of his own research on the recovery timeline for a shoulder surgery. Marquez and Pacquiao have spent 42 often amazing rounds together and still comprise boxing’s premier active rivalry. This fight makes a lot of sense for both fighters to go out on, eleven years older and twenty pounds heavier. There’s still a good fight to be made with the 42-year-old Mexican, and an important moment in boxing history if it’s done right.
If he can’t fight Marquez though, is it really worth it? I, for one, do not wish to see Manny plow through a list of B-list welterweights or get knocked around by A-list ones. Sergio Martinez said it best during his in-ring Kenny Rogers impersonation after conceding the middleweight title, “You’ve got to know how to win, and know how to lose.” Pacquiao had his shot, what more is there for him to fight for?