Manny Pacquiao Fight: What Happens When the Ride Ends?
It's the kind of pain that makes you want to spike a beer bottle into the street and shout "Fuuuck!" into the sky. What happened to Manny Pacquiao on Saturday night sent men and women into shock, into rage, into despair, into tears -- brought them to their knees.
Saturday was a night of sorrow for Pac Man supporters.
In most sports, your favorite team loses a game. In boxing, your hero gets knocked unconscious. That sixth round image is seared into every Pac Man fan's mind. It hurts to think about. The finality of it. The intensity of it. The sheer vulnerability a national icon is never supposed to show his people.
It hurts because Pacquiao fans love their fighter as much as a person can love someone they've never met. It hurts because Pacquiao was supposed to emphatically close the door on his top rival, Juan Manuel Marquez, and enhance his legacy as the greatest boxer of his generation. Most of all, it hurts because we all know that the ride is now over.
We knew the day would eventually come -- perhaps against the great Oscar De La Hoya or the talented Miguel Cotto or the bigger Antonio Margarito. Perhaps the heavier weight classes or the partying or the acting career or the marriage problems or the congressional run or the Jimmy Kimmel Live karaoking would knock him off his game. But Pacquiao kept rolling through the top contenders in seven divisions.
He beat them with such ease that it was tempting to believe that Manny was invincible. That unlike Ali and Leonard and Tyson, Manny would own the fight game until he decided to permanently trade his gloves for campaign loafers and Hennessy ads. In the meantime, though, it would be nothing but good times: The pre-fight anticipation and smack talking, the fist-pumping with every landed punch, the jumping and hugging after knock downs, the blooming happiness of imminent victory, the celebratory toasts and flag waving.
Before every bout, Pacquiao walked to the ring, grinning like a kid on the last day of school, as cheesy entrance music blared -- "Eye of the Tiger," the Karate Kid theme song, or a slow-dance track from his own album. When the bell rang, he fought with soul. On his come up, he was raw and courageous, marching through punches to land relentless flurries almost always capped by his vicious left hook. He traded shots with legends, slaying Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera. Then Freddie Roach taught him how to box, how to use his speed to hurt without getting hurt. The footwork sharpened, the combinations turned precise, and the power seemed to grow as he moved up the weight classes.
He made quick work of David Diaz and Ricky Hatton, overwhelming them with punches from every angle before knocking them each out with a single explosive shot. He pounded much larger men, dominating De La Hoya, Joshua Clottey, and Margarito. Headliners like Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosely, and Tim Bradley preferred to backpedal for rounds and rounds than face Pacquiao's fists.
Pacquiao brought us surges of ecstasy with each win, strung together by an unremitting pride. For nearly a decade the Philippines was not known as a land of corruption and third-world poverty. When people thought of the Philippines, people thought of the best boxer in the world, a thrilling fighter unafraid to take two shots to give three back, a man who rose from the slums to become an international superstar.
Great fighters often have a particular opponent whose style and ability hits their soft spot. Muhammad Ali had Ken Norton. Sugar Ray Robinson had Jake LaMotta. Sugar Ray Leonard had Tommy Hearns. Pacquiao has Marquez, whose patience, ring savvy, and accurate counterpunching ably match the Filipino's attacks.
Pacquiao beat Marquez three times. The first fight was ruled a draw because one of the judges failed to score one of Pacquiao's three knock downs. The next two fights were close decisions that boxing fans will always argue over.
The fourth fight was supposed to silence the debate and erase the sole vulnerability on Manny's record. Instead, we saw our hero fall. Marquez had been setting him up for that punch for 41 rounds.
The undercards before Saturday's Pacquiao-Marquez fight featured two other Filipino fighters. The HBO announcers noted that one of the boxers had drawn comparisons to Pacquiao, then noted that such comparisons are absurd. The telecast also showed promos for this Saturday's Nonito Donaire fight against Jorge Arce. Donaire is one of the the five best boxers in the world, he is in the midst of his athletic prime, and he is Filipino. So he too has drawn Pacquiao comparisons.
The comparisons are inevitable because we all knew Pacquiao would eventually fall. We knew that one day he would stop brining us joy. And anything short of The Next Manny Pacquiao would mean that the ride ends forever.
And that sucks.