Game Over for PacMan
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As the bell rang, two fighters from vastly different backgrounds met in the middle of the ring. One fighter was a boxing icon who began his career nearly three decades ago, and the other was an experienced fighter in his prime who sought to make a bigger name for himself.
The welterweight title fight that took place on August 21 between Manny “PacMan” Pacquiao and Yordenis Ugas ended in a unanimous decision victory for the Cuban boxer Ugas, but it was the 42-year-old Filipino legend who received a standing ovation during the post-fight interview. Standing in the ring with swollen eyes and several cuts on his face, Pacquiao hinted that the bout may be his last, stating that he was leaning toward retirement “60/40.” If he does choose to hang up his gloves, Pacquiao will end his 26-year-long career as one of the most successful and influential boxers of all time.
Ugas, the 35-year-old Olympic boxer, was not initially scheduled to fight Pacquiao. He came in on an 11 days notice after Pacquiao’s previous opponent, current unified welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr., was forced to drop out of the fight due to a torn retina. The much anticipated bout between Spence Jr. (27-0, 21 KOs) and Pacquiao (62-8-2, 39 KOs) was expected to be one of the biggest fights of the year, with the young American champion a clear favorite and Pacquiao the underdog. These odds were reasonable to most, as Spence Jr. is arguably the best welterweight in the division and has secured a spot on most top five pound-for-pound lists. Many believed that he would be too much to handle for the 42-year-old Filipino veteran.
The odds quickly shifted to Pacquiao’s favor, however, when Ugas replaced Spence Jr. To the general public, Ugas was a relatively unrecognized fighter, being sixth-ranked welterweight by ESPN and lacking Spence Jr.’s reputation. The reserved 27-4 fighter from Cuba utilized an orthodox, high-volume pressure fighting style similar to that of fighters who Pacquiao had already faced and defeated earlier in his career. Contrary to his very slim odds of victory, on the night of the fight, Ugas pulled off an upset and established himself as a major player in the welterweight division.
Blocking Pacquiao’s incoming shots with a high guard, landing cleanly with a looping right hand upstairs, and setting up the right hand to the body by repeatedly double jabbing to the head, Ugas employed these three simple yet effective strategies to claim the unanimous decision victory after 12 rounds. Despite Pacquiao throwing double the amount of punches, Ugas landed more accurate shots at 37 percent compared to his Filipino counterpart’s 16 percent. The Cuban boxer also landed 34 body punches and 50 jabs compared to Pacquiao’s six and 42, respectively. Throughout the entire fight, he was able to utilize his superior size and reach advantage against Pacquiao, patiently picking his shots and overpowering his opponent.
Pacquiao still had his moments in the fight. At times, the Filipino warrior was able to back up the bigger man and land fast combinations to the head and body. He won the first couple of rounds on the judges’ scorecards, briefly tricking everyone into believing that he had not changed since his glory days. But this wasn’t the case. Instead, the fighter we saw on Saturday night was a far slower and less dynamic version of Pacquiao, one that lacked the dizzying speed and destructive power that were once his trademark features. Rather than attacking from different angles as he normally does, Pacquiao was flat-footed and one-dimensional, allowing the Cuban to easily pick off his incoming punches and counterpunch with his own shots. “I had a hard time in the ring making adjustments,” Pacquiao said after the fight. “My legs were tight. I’m sorry I lost tonight, but I did my best.”
He acknowledged that though his body is not able to keep up with boxing, he still has a fighting heart. “This sport is my passion,” Pacquiao said. “That’s why I’m still here fighting at the age of 42. I’m enjoying it, but sometimes you have to think about the response of your body. [...] My mind [and] my heart [are] 100 percent. But my legs were cramping.” Considering all that he has already accomplished in boxing, it is time for the great PacMan to retire from the sport. If he does, he will leave boxing as one of the all-time greats.
Pacquiao made his professional debut as a junior flyweight on January 22, 1995, at the age of 16. His exciting all-action style and charming personality quickly made him a fan favorite, and he rapidly rose through the ranks, winning his first major title on December 4, 1998 by knocking out Thai boxer Chatchai Sasakul to secure the World Boxing Council featherweight title. Pacquiao made his U.S. debut on June 23, 2001 against Lehlo Ledwaba, scoring a sixth-round knockout and winning the International Boxing Federation junior featherweight title. Over the next several years, Pacquiao engaged in several high-profile fights against noteworthy opponents such as Marco Antonio Barrera, Oscar De La Hoya, Juan Manuel Márquez, and Érik Morales, winning title after title and becoming The Ring’s Fighter of the Year in 2006 and 2008. By this time, Pacquiao had become a complete fighter and was widely considered the world’s finest pound-for-pound boxer. His success did not end there, though, as he moved through numerous weight classes to welterweight, demolishing his competition along the way. His most notable fights in this period were against Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Timothy Bradley, and Keith Thurman.
Feats such as becoming an eight-division world champion as well as the first-ever four-decade world champion are legendary in their own right, but perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Pacquiao’s career is his willingness to take on the best fighters in the world, regardless of size or age. His resume is possibly the greatest of all time, and Pacquiao’s popularity in his native Philippines might exceed the national stardom of any fighter in the history of the sport.
If he steps away from the boxing stage, Pacquiao’s next fight will likely take place in the realm of politics. He is currently a senator for the Philippines and is expected to enter the Philippines presidential race ahead of the May 2022 election. Even outside of the ring, PacMan will continue doing what he loves most: inspiring others.