Whenever they went back to the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao would point to a child, who was sleeping on a sidewalk, running in a park. There was a lot to choose from.
He will turn to his trainer, Freddie Roach. “That was me,” Pacquiao would say.
For some time, the house of Pacquiao was hard ground. He used a cardboard box as his blanket.
Which is why the stories of Pacquiao’s long journey to the championship in eight weight classes are such a joke. She had little chance of living, boxing very little, very little boxing for 26 years, much less the fashion of one of the most remarkable careers in history.
Pacquiao retired last week, with a touching video in which he thanked everyone imaginable and reiterated, “God is good all the time.”
Lightweight contender Ryan Garcia is just 23 years old but knows his game. He recently said that Pacquiao is the biggest star since Muhammad Ali.
Pacquiao became the first boxer to win the championship in four decades and holds 12 belts in total. In doing so, his weight ranged from 106 pounds to 147. Twenty-two of his victims were either current or former world champions, and even though he lost eight, he also defeated three of his winners: Eric Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and Tim Bradley.
He had a seven-match stretch in which his opponents were either undefeated or lost once, and his stellar performances over Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito didn’t count.
And, of course, he jumped from lightweight to welterweight in two weight classes in 2008, and retired Oscar de la Hoya.
Pacquiao’s last and perhaps best storm came in 2019, when he won a split decision over unbeaten Keith Thurman. Pacquiao was 40, Thurman was 30.
His next fight was two months earlier, when he chased Errol Spence Jr., another young favorite. Then Spence developed COVID-19. Instead of winning the fight outright or insisting on the rookie, Pacquiao welcomed Yordanis Ugas, who had inherited the WBA title when Pacquiao was stripped. It was a no-win for Paccao, who clearly did not win.
“I didn’t like that fight for Manny,” said top-ranked matchmaker Bruce Trampler, who helped guide Pacquiao’s climb. “I really thought Spence was a better fight for him. I didn’t want to see it because I didn’t want to see Manny lose.
“But he acknowledged what happened, exactly when Bradley beat him (in a very critical decision), right when he (Floyd) had a shoulder problem in Mayweather’s fight. He didn’t complain.”
Paccao was, of course, involved in the worst sporting event of the millennium ever. He lost an overnight decision to Mayweather in 2015, generating $600 million in revenue and 4.4 million pay-per-view purchases.
Pacquiao was training with a bad shoulder that eventually required rotator cuff surgery, but there was no way he could back down, not after years of tortuous conversations and humiliations.
“Freddie thought Manny could get through this, but we assumed we could get an injection the day before the fight,” Trampler said. “Nevada Commission Refuses to Comply.”
He didn’t knock out many welterweights, and Roach tried to bring him back to 140. Maybe a fight hit with Mickey Garcia, maybe a match with Luis Ramirez or Josh Taylor.
But it is difficult to find any champion, except perhaps De La Hoya, who left such a small unfinished work, failing to find and destroy all that seemed relevant.
“They opened up the markets, but in fact they opened up the continents,” Trampler said. “That’s why we were able to have cards in Macau, or all over Asia. Whenever I meet someone from the Philippines, I ask them about Manny. They all smile. Except Michael Jordan really didn’t know that. There is none with global recognition.”
When Marquez defeated Pacquiao in his fourth and final bout, after several scary seconds Pacquiao got up and smiled and blushed again. He later said that he had imagined his loss long ago, that God would use it as a way to strengthen him. He became an evangelical Christian, driving many Filipinos into the largely Catholic nation. And he succumbed to temptations, especially those that involved gambling.
But Pacquiao was honest to his core group. Their fights were happy events. He and Bradley had trouble “stairdown” because they were too busy making each other laugh. He never got personal. He was the man who worked the longest, straightest and narrowest path of any modern athlete.
Did Pacquiao leave boxing in a better place? No, because he was a boxer, not an illusionist.
More importantly, he carved his own niche. It’s not likely to bother.