NEW YORK – There will be other press conferences in the days and weeks leading up to what he insists will be his final boxing match, against two-time previous opponent Timothy Bradley Jr. on April 9 at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand. But at the two stops of this week’s bi-coastal media tour to hype the pay-per-view event, WBO welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao, gallant old soldier from the Philippines that he is, gave what was tantamount to a farewell address to the sport that has made him fabulously wealthy and a global icon.
So did Pacquiao’s promoter, Bob Arum, on behalf of the most distinguished warrior in the Top Rank ranks, their words calling to mind some of those uttered 65 and 53 years ago in separate farewell speeches by the celebrated American military commander, Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
“Sad to say that this is my last fight,” the 37-year-old Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 KOs) told the assembled media at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, two days after he made an identical pronouncement in Los Angeles, of his upcoming rubber match with Bradley (33-1-1, 13 KOs), against whom he previously split a pair of decisions. “After this, I’m going to retire and hang up my gloves to focus on my other big responsibility in life (as an elected member of the Filipino House of Representatives), to help my people.”
Arum, who at 84 is old enough to remember when Gen. MacArthur was in charge of U.S. forces in the Pacific in World War II and during the Korean War, also seemed to channel that great man in his remarks. All that was missing was a corncob pipe clenched between his teeth and five stars on his epaulets.
“Prior to Manny Pacquiao, Americans knew very little about the Philippines,” Arum said. “Yeah, we knew about Bataan and Corregidor and General MacArthur. But that was sort of the limit of what we knew about the Philippines. Now, thanks to Manny Pacquiao, we know so much more.
“He has been a tremendous symbol of all that’s good in athletics, all that’s good with the Philippine people. Because of Manny Pacquiao, so many of us in this great country have a special place in our hearts for the Philippines. It’s great to see that a boxer has caused this. We all can take pride in his accomplishments and how he has conducted himself.”
Arum’s listing of things Americans associate with the Philippines might have been abbreviated a bit as he forgot to mention Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection and a little scrap that took place on Oct. 2, 1975, in Quezon City the world came to know as “The Thrilla in Manila,” the rubber match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. But Arum’s company didn’t promote that one, which apparently makes it easier for him to forget it.
No doubt, there are certain parallels to what Pacquiao aims to accomplish in his final fight (maybe) and Gen. MacArthur, who in his farewell address to the U.S. Congress on April 19, 1951, stated that “there is no substitute for victory” and “old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”
In his final public comments, to the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., on May 12, 1962, the general spoke of the dedication to “Duty, honor, country” he and those future officers gladly embraced every day, and the “chalice of courage” which real fighting men drained deep when called upon.
If Pacquiao is to fade away from boxing to devote his full energies to his political life in his homeland, he surely doesn’t want it to be on the heels of career-ending back-to-back defeats. He never really got going in losing a clear-cut unanimous decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in their welterweight unification showdown on May 2 of last year, also at the MGM Grand. Not only was the highest-grossing boxing match of all time a bit of a dud in terms of excitement delivered, but Pacquiao, a southpaw, was widely criticized for fighting from the fourth round on with a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, which he later said was an aggravation of an injury he first suffered in 2009. More than a few of his many devoted fans felt cheated that their hero had gone into such an important fight with an injury severe enough to impact his performance.
Although many believe he deserved to win both of his previous meetings with the very capable Bradley, Pacquiao came out on the short end of a hotly disputed split decision in the first of those two bouts, on June 9, 2012, before evening the score with a controversy-free unanimous decision on April 12, 2014. The rubber-match aspect of the April 9 affair lends a certain element of intrigue, as does the strategical masterminding of the respective chief seconds, longtime Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach, a seven-time “Trainer of the Year” honoree by the Boxing Writers Association of America, and recent Bradley addition Teddy Atlas, the benefits of whose retooling were obvious in “Desert Storm’s” first outing with him his corner, a ninth-round TKO of Brandon Rios on Nov. 7.
“Teddy made me feel like I didn’t know anything about boxing (before),” said Bradley, 32, who jettisoned his previous trainer, Joel Diaz, because he felt there were areas in which he could still improve.
“Now I have an identity as a fighter,” Bradley said of his evolution under Atlas. “I know what I’m about.”
But with all due respect to Team Bradley, April 9 is first and foremost about the last ride of one of boxing’s most popular and charismatic performers in recent memory, and the most unlikely to become nearly as beloved a figure in the United States as, say, Gen. MacArthur is in the Philippines. Pacquiao grew up dirt-poor in General Santos City, so much so that the family dog once was sacrificed to the soup pot so that its malnourished members wouldn’t have to go again without dinner. He won the first of his eight world titles in different weight classes as a flyweight in 1998, but it wasn’t until June 23, 2001, when Pacquiao made his U.S. debut by brutally dethroning South Africa’s Lehlo Ledwaba in six rounds to win the IBF super bantamweight title, that he tentatively entered the consciousness of American fight fans who knew little or nothing of the dynamic little Filipino.
But a prodigious talent such as was possessed by Pacquiao, when coupled with a certain flair that superseded national boundaries, soon elevated “PacMan” into America’s, and the world’s, favorite adopted son of the prize ring. Almost before we knew it, Pacquiao was selling out arenas and even football stadiums on the strength of devastating knockouts of such notables as Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto. His rapid rise to international superstardom was not so much that of a mere boxer, but of a pugilistic equivalent of an underground band from Liverpool, England, arriving by jet in New York in 1964 for the Ed Sullivan Show. With his moptop hairstyle, Pacquiao even resembled a sort of Filipino Beatle.
And now it’s over, or nearly so, another reminder that nothing lasts forever.
“It’s been a great ride with Manny,” said Roach. “I’m a little bit sad that this is going to be his last fight. But we’ve had a great 15 years together. I don’t think many marriages last that long.”
There remains a chance, albeit a longshot, that Pacquiao will reconsider his commitment to go away and stay away. Few elite fighters hold firm to their retirement announcements, some of the rare exceptions being Rocky Marciano, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Michael Spinks and Lennox Lewis. Were Mayweather, who presumably called it quits after beating Andre Berto, to come back, Pacquiao, his rotator cuff surgically repaired, indicated that, just maybe, he might go to the well one more time to salve that festering wound to his ego.
If that were to happen, Pacquiao again would get an opportunity to draw from the most memorable comments of Gen. MacArthur.
“Forget what I said before,” he might say while standing at another podium. “I shall return.”
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