Manny Pacquiao says he's going to retire after his third fight against Timothy Bradley on Saturday, April 9, focusing on his career in politics at home in the Philippines, where the Congressman is now running for a seat in the Senate, and a life beyond boxing, spending more time with his wife and children.
If it is his final fight, then it's time to reflect. (And if it's not, we'll pretend we didn't reflect this time, and reflect next time, or whenever.) Pacquiao, 37, has won world titles in a record eight weight classes, and the surefire Hall of Famer and generational fighting icon has been named Fighter of the Year three times by the Boxing Writers Association of America, The RING, and ESPN, all in 2006, 2008, and 2009. He won the ESPY for Best Fighter in 2009 and 2011. The BWAA named him Fighter of the Decade for 2000-09. To cut this short, let's just say Manny Pacquiao's career has been recognized for greatness more times than makes for a tidy list of all his achievements and accomplishments.
When we look back on the career of Manny Pacquiao, though, what are the fights that truly stand out as his greatest? What are the big nights where Manny Pacquiao's star shone brightest?
vs Marco Antonio Barrera (November 15, 2003)
When Pacquiao faced Barrera for the first time in 2003, he was facing one of the sport's best pound-for-pound fighters for the first time. His first real splash on the American boxing scene came in 2001 when he smashed Lehlo Ledwaba in six rounds on the De La Hoya-Castillejo undercard in Las Vegas, but the fight with Barrera was his first big-time main event of his own.
It was not the best start at the Alamodome, as Pacquiao was ruled down in the first round, though it was more of a slip. He "recovered" well, tough, and wound up dominating the fight with his awkward southpaw style, the unconventional angles he used to attack. It was the signal that a special talent may have arrived, which Barrera seemed to acknowledge in the third round. Pacquiao dropped Barrera hard, and continued to demolish the Mexican star with hard left hands throughout the round.
And though Pacquiao did use a decent jab in the fight, it's worth remembering that Manny was mostly a one-handed fighter at this time. That would change over the years, but even as a one-handed puncher with great speed, he was truly a force to be reckoned with at 126 pounds.
Barrera was cut in the seventh round on the eyebrow due to a clash of heads. Emanuel Steward on commentary read Barrera's body language: "Every indication is that he doesn't wanna fight anymore. I feel that the cut, even though it's bad, it probably could be stopped, but I don't think he wants to fight anymore."
The fight did go on, with Pacquiao continuing to strafe Barrera, keeping him well off balance. Barrera headbutted Pacquiao intentionally in the seventh round, growing incredibly frustrated.
A little over a minute into the 11th round, Jim Lampley asked, "As great as Barrera is, should his corner keep sending him out to take this kind of punishment?" Moments later, Larry Merchant added, "This is a fight that will shake up the boxing world. Barrera is one of the highest regarded fighters in the world, one of the most entertaining fighters in the world, one of the most complete fighters in the world..."
During that statement, Barrera went down again, and not long after, with the champion still being relentlessly attacked by the challenger, Barrera's corner waved the towel. The two would meet again in 2007, with Pacquiao winning a fairly ho-hum decision in a fight that didn't really need to happen.
vs Erik Morales (January 21, 2006)
On March 19, 2005, Morales defeated Manny Pacquiao by decision. It was a great fight, with Pacquiao meeting a fighter as fearless and ferocious as himself. While Morales didn't quite have Pacquiao's speed or power, he was uncommonly stubborn, even for a great fighter, and refused to lose that fight. Pacquiao was the favorite, with Morales coming in off of a rubber match loss to his hated rival, Marco Antonio Barrera.
The fight made sense largely because Morales was still worth some money, and it was an easy action fight to sell. Pacquiao had become one of the most exciting fighters in the world, and Morales had been in that position for several years. Making the rematch a bit stranger was the fact that between the bouts with Pacquiao, Morales had been upset by Zahir Raheem.
Morales attacked hard in the first round, looking to again impose his will on Pacquiao, hoping, too, that he might be able to make Pacquiao doubt himself against the man who had previously beaten him. In the second round, both fighters landed hard shots, and Pacquiao's left hand started to set the tone, as he staggered the Mexican warrior.
Morales fired back in the third, Pacquiao banging his fists together each time the heat turned up. Morales' right hand was landing nearly as well as Pacquiao's left. By the sixth round, Morales was starting to get beaten up. The effort was still there, but Pacquiao had broken Morales' nose. But no matter how much he hurt Morales, Pacquiao couldn't break his spirit.
Still, after the ninth round, trainer Freddie Roach was sure that the fight was there to be taken, telling Pacquiao, "He's all done. He's all done. It's over, son." Pacquiao took the words to heart, going after a spaghetti-legged Morales with a furious two-handed assault. Morales was dropped hard, the first "real knockdown" of his career, as Jim Lampley called it, but got to his feet, largely out of pride. Pacquiao stayed on the attack, dropped Morales again, and referee Kenny Bayless stepped in to stop the fight.
Pacquiao and Morales would meet for a third time in November 2006, once again a fight that didn't really need to happen.
vs Juan Manuel Marquez (March 15, 2008)
Pacquiao and Marquez met in an instant classic in 2004, when both were still featherweights. Marquez was famously dropped three times in the opening round before rallying big time and forcing a draw. Though there were immediate calls for a rematch to the great fight, it didn't happen until four years later.
Pacquiao and Marquez will forever be tied together. No matter their successes and failures against other fighters over the years, "Pacquiao-Marquez" was simply a perfect matchup. If styles make fights, they don't make two styles that mesh any better than those of Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. From featherweight to welterweight, they were pretty much dead even over four bouts in 2004, 2008, 2011, and 2012.
The second fight may really have been the closest of them all, too. Marquez was a good bit more accurate, Pacquiao a good deal more active. Both of them landed telling blows. Both of them seemed to dictate portions of the fight. For both of these fighters, this was a night where they had it all going, two great fighters, at their peak, clashing. In the third round, Pacquiao dropped Marquez with a great shot, and that ultimately wound up the difference on the scorecards, which Pacquiao won by split decision, 115-112, 114-113, and 112-115. Without that knockdown, the 114-113 card would have been even at 114 apiece, and the two would have fought to another draw. And for what it was really worth, they pretty much did. There was still very little to separate the two after their second fight, and if you go over to the BoxRec page for this fight, you can see that this wasn't just judges seeing the fight that way. Of 65 unofficial scores from media members compiled, 32 had it for Marquez, 32 for Pacquiao, and one even. It was simply as closely contested as fights get.
vs Oscar De La Hoya (December 6, 2008)
Following the disputed but strong win over Marquez in March, Pacquiao moved up to lightweight to demolish David Diaz, a one-fight stop at that weight which netted Manny another world title. Oscar De La Hoya, meanwhile, as a part-time fighter, still a superstar, nearing the end of his time in the ring.
De La Hoya, who had helped carry boxing through some lean times and more than earned his "Golden Boy" nickname all over again, was in need of an opponent after Floyd Mayweather "retired" and canceled a planned September 20 rematch of their mega-money 2007 bout. De La Hoya had fought in March, beating Steve Forbes on HBO in a pure tune-up meant to test Oscar's ability to get back down to 147 pounds for the Mayweather rematch. De La Hoya fought at a 150-pound catchweight and looked mostly fine.
When Mayweather bailed, Larry Merchant of HBO put an idea out into the world: Why not De La Hoya against Manny Pacquiao? Mostly, the idea was laughed off. Pacquiao was a former flyweight who had fought his way up to super featherweight, sure. And yeah, he had a pit stop at lightweight against Diaz, a guy who could claim to be "world champion" but was not an elite fighter by any means. For all intents and purposes, Manny Pacquiao had never done more than dabbled over 130 pounds, and it was an understandable stance at the time to think he had probably already maxed out at how high he could really go up in weight.
But the fight wound up being signed. De La Hoya, 35 years old and four years removed from the last time he'd had two fights in a calendar year, was the huge favorite. At 5'10½" with a 73-inch reach, Oscar was just too big for Pacquiao, who came in at 5'6½" with a 67-inch reach. No one was doubting that Pacquiao was -- with Mayweather's retirement -- probably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, or at the very least in that discussion. But pound-for-pound rankings are a way of saying, "OK, yes, this smaller guy couldn't actually beat this bigger guy, but if they were the same size, this guy's better."
De La Hoya was criticized for fighting Pacquiao. There were a lot of calls out there for him to fight an actual welterweight, someone like Antonio Margarito, Paul Williams, or Miguel Cotto. Margarito, De La Hoya said, had "unfinished business" with Paul Williams. And Williams, it was decided, didn't have enough name recognition. Cotto? Oscar couldn't fight Cotto, he said, because he'd promised his wife -- a Puerto Rican -- that he wouldn't fight any Puerto Rican opponents. There were a lot of excuses, and most of that has been lost to time now because of what Manny Pacquiao did to Oscar De La Hoya once the bell rang and the fight got going.
You can choose a number of ways to look at what happened in De La Hoya-Pacquiao. For one thing, Oscar did not comfortably make 147 pounds, a weight he hadn't made since 2001. In fact, he came in at 145 pounds, and looked awful on the scales, gaunt and dried out, as if he'd woefully overtrained under the eye of Nacho Beristain. When he stepped on the unofficial scale for the HBO pay-per-view broadcast on fight night, he came in at 147 pounds, only putting on two pounds. It was a troubling sign.
But the one indisputable fact of the fight is this: Manny Pacquiao beat the crap out of Oscar De La Hoya. A smaller, quicker, even stronger young man decimated an old, worn-out, disengaged fighter who once was very good, even great, but no longer had the drive or hunger to compete at this level. Oscar was long since a "made man" in the boxing world, years past being rich, a thriving promotional company having him all but set for life, his legacy secure. Manny Pacquiao, on the other hand, wanted to prove just how great he was.
While De La Hoya was a used up six shooter with a trigger stuck due to rust, Manny was a machine gun. It was clear by the third round that this was, indeed, a mismatch, but not the way most were expecting. As Thomas Hauser later put it, "On this particular night, Pacquiao was a boxer-puncher and De La Hoya was neither." After eight rounds, where at one point Larry Merchant said with some regret, "This is getting embarrassing," Beristain ended the fight, and De La Hoya shuffled over to his conqueror's corner to congratulate him on making it very clear that Oscar De La Hoya's time in the boxing ring had come to an end. In boxing terms, it's probably not the most significant win of Pacquiao's career. De La Hoya was a shot fighter who left whatever he did have remaining in training camp. But it made Manny Pacquiao a true star, not just in boxing, but in the greater sports world. You could argue this as the single most significant win of Pacquiao's career.
vs Ricky Hatton (May 2, 2009)
Five months after disposing of De La Hoya, Pacquiao dropped down to 140 pounds to go after another world title, facing lineal champion Ricky Hatton, whose only career loss had come in late 2007 against Floyd Mayweather, as a welterweight.
As a junior welterweight (give or take a couple pounds here and there), Hatton was 44-0, and had dethroned Kostya Tszyu in 2005, retiring a fighter who would go on to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2011. Hatton was also now trained by Floyd Mayweather Sr, which was a big story at the time, and he'd pretty much manhandled Paulie Malignaggi in November 2008 in their first fight together.
Pacquiao-Hatton was sold as a can't-miss action event. Sure, Hatton hadn't lit up the world against Floyd Mayweather, but the styles clash with Pacquiao would certainly be more conducive to power punching and fireworks, plus Hatton was at his weight, not moving up to take on the elite technician.
There was certainly power punching and fireworks, but all of it came from Manny Pacquiao. Pacquiao made quick work of Hatton, who looked miles out of his depth against the Filipino. Pacquiao's speed and lighting strike power had Hatton reeling from the get-go, was Ricky was dropped two times in the opening round. Though the British superstar did seem to get his feet under him a bit better in the second round, he was caught with an absolute monster of a left hand near the end of the round, and was knocked out cold at 2:59 of the second round. Once that punch landed, the fight was over. It went off like a gun shot in the MGM Grand, the stunned reaction of thousands of rowdy fans -- many of them Hatton's vocal supporters -- making it even more dramatic than it was standing alone.
Hatton retired after the fight -- eventually, anyway, and he did come back for an ill-fated return in 2012 against Vyacheslav Senchenko. Pacquiao took the momentum from the De La Hoya fight and just supercharged it with what he did against Hatton. Not only was he the guy who bashed up Oscar De La Hoya until a mercy stoppage, but he had knocked Ricky Hatton flat out in the center of the ring, in just two rounds.
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Following the win over Hatton, Manny would go on to beat Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito, and Shane Mosley, all very convincingly. A third fight with Marquez in 2011 proved a trickier ask, and then everything got shockingly derailed with a terrible decision in his "loss" to Tim Bradley in 2012, which was followed by Marquez knocking Pacquiao out as cold as Pacquiao had done to Hatton.
Since then, Pacquiao's career has been stable but diminished, save for last May's long-awaited super-mega-ultra showdown with Floyd Mayweather, another loss.
At 37, Pacquiao is older than De La Hoya was when he took Oscar apart piece by piece. That may be why he wasn't really looking to fight someone young, fresh, and hungry like Terence Crawford, or even Amir Khan. It may be why he's chosen a "safe" fight with Bradley, a fighter he's already faced two times, winning comfortably both times, even if he's only officially 1-1. There's little risk involved as Pacquiao looks to fight for the final time. It won't, no matter what happens, be added to the list of his greatest nights. This is all in the past. The only win for Pacquiao you might really consider putting on his top five since the Hatton win, would be the follow-up against Cotto.
It's been a fairly natural decline, all things considered. He's gotten older, the miles have added up, and at 147 he's not the puncher he was at lower weights. He's also gone through some personal shifts in his life, becoming very religious in recent years and changing his outlook on many things, boxing being one of them. We've heard repeatedly that Pacquiao no longer seeks knockouts, because he "doesn't want to hurt anybody." He just wants to win on points and go home.
And while Pacquiao still has to be considered one of the better welterweights in the world -- a loss to Floyd Mayweather is no shame, of course -- there's really no doubt that he's not the fighter he used to be. Is he still good enough to beat Bradley? Surely, he thinks that he is. This is as much of a "safe" fight as it can be. He's fighting a non-puncher, someone he knows very well in the ring, in a fight that has been relatively easy for him twice. He should win. And if this is his final fight, he'll go out on something of a high note.
The timing may be exactly right for him to do just that, before the skills and gifts further erode, and before he finds himself in a situation where he is fighting someone who's looking to get famous by thrashing the once-great Manny Pacquiao.