Pacquiao's Prime May Be Over, But He's Still the Best By Far

Manny Pacquiao isn't getting younger. But right now, no one is truly threatening his status as the best in the world. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

After the fight last night where Manny Pacquiao cruised past Shane Mosley even without a great performance, a question was raised in the comments.

Is Manny Pacquiao past his prime?

Now before I get into it, let me explain what I'm saying when I say "past his prime": Have we seen Manny Pacquiao peak? Is everything from here on a trip down the other side of the hill, even if it's a slow trip?

My answer is yes, we have seen the very best of Manny Pacquiao. BLH's Brickhaus thought Manny looked a hair slower in November against Antonio Margarito. I thought he might have, too, but wanted to see him against Shane Mosley before I decided he was slowed down. After all, guys have slight off nights.

But last night, Manny Pacquiao was not Manny Pacquiao the destroyer anymore. His legs tightened on him, he said, and I don't see that as an excuse -- it's a reason. "Excuse" gets overused. Pacquiao says it's been an issue for a while and that it has bothered him.

Physically, things are going to start adding up, and probably already have. Though Pacquiao became a megastar just two and a half years ago by making Oscar de la Hoya look like the part-time fighter he was, Manny is not a young man in the boxing game. 32 certainly isn't old, but it's pushing it for what are accepted as an athlete's prime years.

And those 32 years haven't come easy, either. 16 of them have been spent in the ranks of professional boxing, first toiling in the Philippines as a slugger who had a ton of heart for a few years before he became a top flyweight. He then exploded onto the American scene -- somewhat quietly, compared to his current status -- in 2001 as a super bantamweight. He went to featherweight, then super featherweight, then lightweight, then welterweight, then back to junior welterweight, then back to welterweight, then a one-off over welterweight, and then back to welterweight.

None of this has come easy. Even if you want to criticize his recent opponents, you have to be realistic here. Over the years, Manny has battled with the likes of Juan Manuel Marquez (twice, maybe three coming up), Erik Morales (three times), Marco Antonio Barrera (twice), Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley, Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Oscar Larios, Joshua Clottey, Lehlohonolo Ledwaba, Chatchai Sasakul, and others.

We're talking about a guy who fought both Sasakul and Margarito -- at proper weights for both of them, if maybe not for Manny in either case.

Not all of those fights were "hard" for Manny Pacquiao. Some you could call easy. But there were also the training camps. The hard miles on the road, the hard miles in the gym, the pressure, the traveling, the insane amount of work ethic that has led Manny Pacquiao from being a one-handed brawler to being an amazing, well-rounded, cream of the crop professional boxer.

So at 32, with half of his life dedicated to professional boxing, it's no shock, nor is it any shame, that Manny just might be slowing down in a very real way.

And here's the real wonder of it all: Even slowed down, I don't see anyone who can beat him except extreme physical mismatches (Sergio Martinez) that would be akin to asking Bernard Hopkins to fight Wladimir Klitschko; or the other guy who never fights anyone and isn't getting any younger himself.

Last night, Manny Pacquiao was not the old, younger Manny Pacquiao. He is a new Manny Pacquiao going forward. He has flaws. He has vulnerabilities. He's not perfect and shouldn't be expected to be perfect. He might, eventually, even get himself into a fight he can't win, because physically it's not quite there anymore.

Even with his clock starting to tick, Manny Pacquiao is the best in boxing. It's just that no longer is it a battle between Manny and the rest of the field, it's a battle simply between a boxer and Father Time, one that they all face. Pacquiao has taken punishment over the years and has kept a real schedule, against ultra real fighters. Even if he blew them out, that came because he worked so hard to be able to do just that.

Enjoy him while he's here, because he won't forever be the greatest pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. Fresher, younger men are going to come along and take that for themselves. But unless the unlikely comes to pass, I don't see anyone taking it directly from the man himself. And he may well leave the sport, smiling, and still on top.

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