Eight-division world champ Manny Pacquiao just turned 35 on December 17 and, by all accounts, is nearing the end of a glorious Hall of Fame career.
Pacquiao, if he had decided to retire in 2008 before making his move up to lightweight, would still be regarded as a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection with victories over fighters such as Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, and Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, rising from complete and total poverty to world titles and boxing stardom at the lower weights. From flyweight to super featherweight, Pacquiao was able to overwhelm opposition with his frenetic energy, awkward fighting style, and a drive to succeed that was second to none.
By Manny’s thirtieth birthday, he was boxing’s ultimate Cinderella success story and a legitimate crossover star in his native Philippines. To hardcore fight fans in America, Pacquiao was a guaranteed good time and one of the sport’s most compelling battlers.
Then, Manny seemed to do the impossible by moving up in weight and claiming title after title and victory after victory against fighters regarded as naturally bigger and stronger than him.
For about four years, Pacquiao astounded fans and media with matchmaking sleight of hand aimed at turning easily predictable stylistic mismatches into apparent superhuman feats.
Pedestrian paper WBC lightweight champion, David Diaz, was demolished in Manny’s first step up the ladder while an ugly beating of a severely dehydrated and past-his-prime Oscar De la Hoya at welterweight paved the way for true Pacquiao super-stardom.
A blowout of a faded and defensively confused Ricky Hatton at junior welterweight affirmed that Manny would be staying above the lightweight limit from now on. Then, total destruction of Miguel Cotto and Joshua Clottey in his next two fights brought him true legitimacy at welterweight.
From that point forward, Pacquiao began to feel the ill effects of his promoter’s nasty habit of only pursuing “in house” challenges for him against fighters already signed under the same promotional banner.
Ugly mismatches against Antonio Margarito and Shane Mosley paved the way for ugly losses to Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez, with all four unfavorable match-ups having their origins in Top Rank’s quickly diminishing pool of potential challengers.
Now, after Pacquiao’s recent return to mismatched glory against Brandon Rios in Macau, the question is whether he can close out his career with a legitimate main stage victory over a fighter beyond his stylistic comfort zone. Rematches with Bradley and Marquez could, possibly, deliver different results, but would likely be similar in pace and flow.
Manny, though, needs a change for his final tour of duty. He needs to get back to the days when his opposition wasn’t so carefully chosen for him.
It has been suggested that Floyd Mayweather needs Manny Pacquiao in order to affirm his legacy. Well, the opposite could also be said. Pacquiao definitely needs Mayweather in order to not only affirm his legacy, but to also rekindle a fire that has been extinguished by his recent highly-calculated rise to glory from lightweight to junior middleweight.
Pacquiao is the type of fighter whose star shines much brighter when accomplishing the improbable than when going through the motions against hand-picked opposition.
Top Rank, Bob Arum, and the rest of Team Pacquiao need to humble themselves, put past stubbornness behind them, and truly make an effort to deal with Team Mayweather. At this point, Pacquiao needs Mayweather more than Mayweather needs Pacquiao and a deal should be reached with that in mind.
In the ring, where he plays second fiddle to no man, Pacquiao has made a habit out of accomplishing the impossible and, against Mayweather, he’d have a shot at finishing his stellar career with the biggest, most improbable win of all time.