Good, bad, worse: It’s time for Manny Pacquiao to walk away
A critical look at the past week in boxing
The focus before, during and after the fight between Manny Pacquiao and Yordenis Ugas on Saturday night was on the Filipino superstar, which was appropriate. Ugas is an excellent fighter; Pacquiao is a legend.
That said, let’s not forget what the Cuban did. He took the fight on 11 days notice after Errol Spence Jr. pulled out with an eye injury, which was like winning the lottery. Everyone wants to fight Pacquiao for obvious reasons – the money, the exposure, the chance to record a career-defining victory. One thing, though: You have to take advantage of the opportunity.
Ugas did, winning a convincing unanimous decision to retain his WBA welterweight title and take an enormous step in his career.
The one-time amateur world champion and Olympic bronze medalist confounded Pacquiao with his consistent jab and sharp, accurate power shots, particularly as his 42-year-old opponent began to slow down in the second half of the fight. Pacquiao admitted afterward that he couldn’t adjust to Ugas’ style. When has that ever happened beyond his showdown with Floyd Mayweather?
Of course, we knew going into the fight that Ugas had the ability to defeat Pacquiao. This was no great upset, as some have described it.
Ugas, naturally gifted and well-schooled, was a good pro from the outset but endured some growing pains. Most notably he lost back-to-back decisions to Emanuel Robles and Amir Imam in 2014, after which he joined forces with veteran trainer Ismael Salas.
That was a turning point. He’s 12-1 since, the only loss being a split decision against then-WBC titleholder Shawn Porter in March 2019. Many believe Ugas deserved the nod in the fight, which would’ve given him a major belt earlier.
Ugas backed into the WBA title. Pacquiao won the belt when he outpointed Keith Thurman in July 2019 but was designated “champion in recess” because of his activity, at which time Ugas, a secondary titleholder, was elevated to full champion.
On Saturday, Ugas removed any doubt about who is the rightful beltholder, surging down the stretch to win on the cards 115-113, 116-112 and 116-112. Thus, he had beaten an all-time great who remains a capable fighter into his 40s, an accomplish that should be appreciated.
And this is only a beginning for Ugas, who now has leverage as he pursues more big-money, high-profile fights. He has arrived.
It’s always difficult to watch a once-great fighter struggle, which we witnessed on Saturday night.
Pacquiao fought reasonably well against an elite opponent but he wasn’t the dynamo we’ve come to know and love. His hands were still quick but his legs wouldn’t – couldn’t? – follow his orders, which is a sign of decline. And, just as important, he never figured out how to cope with Ugas’ style.
I think the Pacquiao of even a few years ago could’ve beaten Ugas or at least given him a better fight, but this version is 42 and hadn’t been in the ring since July 2019, when he outpointed Keith Thurman. The Pacquiao of old seems to have given way to an old Pacquiao.
He said after the setback that he will weigh the pros and cons of retirement and then make a decision. “In my heart, I want to continue [to] fight. But I have to consider, also, my body. … In this sport, this is my passion, this is why I’m still here fighting at the age of 42. I’m enjoying it, but sometimes you have to think about the life span of your body.”
If I were advising him, I would tell him that it’s time to move on, time to focus full time on your family and political career. He’s been a professional fighter for more than a quarter century. He’s won titles in a record eight weight divisions. He’s given fans more thrills than the sport’s Top 10 fighters combined.
Anything he accomplishes at this point is redundant. His once-in-a-lifetime legacy has been set in stone for some time.
The early victories over the great Mexican trio of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez were probably enough to get him into the Hall of Fame. Then came the sensational knockouts of Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto.
After that came victories over Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley and Tim Bradley, as well as his loss to the greatest of the era, Floyd Mayweather.
Was he finished? Not quite. At 40, he did the impossible by defeating the previously unbeaten Thurman to add one more major belt to his collection and prove beyond a doubt that he’s one of the greatest of all time.
That’s about all a boxer can accomplish.
And think about this: Many once-great fighters go out on a horrible note. Muhammad Ali, not able to defend himself adequately, was pummeled by Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick in his final two fights. Sugar Ray Leonard was knocked out by Hector Camacho. And, again, Pacquiao himself forced De La Hoya into retirement with a terrible beating.
Does anyone want to see Pacquiao go out like that? It will happen at some point if he continues to fight.
The Filipino hero gave a solid performance against Ugas, one of the best welterweights in the world. He was never knocked down, never endured brutal punishment, never even completely dominated by a fighter seven years his junior.
That’s a good way to finish a career, particularly one as remarkable as Pacquiao’s. He’s given so much of himself for so long. It’s time to “think about the lifespan of your body.”
I have nothing negative to say about Robert Guerrero and Victory Ortiz other than how I felt as I watched them fight on the Pacquiao-Ugas card: It was difficult.
I remember when Guerrero held titles at featherweight and then junior lightweight more than a decade ago. He was an excellent boxer with unusual toughness and decent power, which made him a nightmare for opponents at the lower weights.
And who can forget the fact that he was at his peak at a time when his wife was battling cancer. Those were trying times.
I remember when the gifted Ortiz realized his potential by outpointing Andre Berto to win the WBC welterweight title in 2011, which seemed to be just the beginning for him.
Those days – for both fighters – are long gone.
They showed a lot of heart but little else in their meeting on Saturday, in which they fought almost exclusively nose to nose. It was more a battle of attrition than skill, as if they no longer have confidence in their ability to fight from the outside.
Maybe they were just shedding rust. After all, Ortiz, 34, hadn’t fought in 3½ years. Guerrero, 38, had been out of the ring for two. That’s an optimistic notion, however. More likely their skills have eroded after long, taxing careers.
Guerrero won the 10-round welterweight fight by a close unanimous decision, with all three judges scoring it 96-94. He earned the right to take part in another high-profile fight. And Ortiz probably acquitted himself well enough to stay active if that’s what he wants to do.
I have to be honest, though. I keep thinking back to the days when they had something special. I don’t want to witness another performance like I saw from both fighters on Saturday night.
Pacquiao’s wife, Jinkee, posted a touching tribute to her husband on Instagram after his setback against Ugas. It was a personal message to the most important person in her life. However, some of her sentiments undoubtedly are shared by Pacquiao’s countrymen and many others. Here’s what she had to say:
“Words cannot express how proud I am of the Man you are. We your family have seen how much you have toiled, [sacrificed] and given of yourself blood sweat and tears since the beginning when you dreamed of becoming world champion. You never think of yourself and not afraid to risk your life on the ring time and time again because you love to make the people happy. Over the years we have become even more proud to be by your side as you inspire us to be kind giving and helpful to all.” Well said. …
Featherweight contender Mark Magsayo, who is managed by Pacquiao, gave an inspired performance on Saturday’s card. He got off to strong start by putting opponent Julio Ceja on the canvas in the first round but went down himself from body shots in Round 5 and generally struggled in the scheduled 12-round bout. Then, with the momentum in Ceja’s favor, Magsayo suddenly unloaded a perfect straight right that rendered Ceja unconscious and followed with a short right as he was falling. Just like that, Magsayo turned what appeared to be a disappointing night into a spectacular victory. And he did it on the biggest stage. … Another featherweight contender, unbeaten Carlos Castro, also had to overcome significant resistance to win his fight on the Pacquiao-Ugas card. The Phoenix-based Mexican had to fight off relentless veteran Oscar Escandon before finally taking control of the fight and stopping his Colombian opponent in the 10th and final round. In the end, Castro made a strong statement. … Gervonta Davis survived a scare on Saturday afternoon. A private plane in which he was flying had to make an emergency landing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The pound-for-pounder wasn’t injured but he’ll think twice about using that mode of transportation in the future. “For everyone wanting to fly private, I think that’s over for that,” he said. … I’m driving or catch a train.” Davis was among a small group of people headed to Las Vegas for the Pacquiao-Ugas fight.