The doorstep calls them all at some point. It beckons with truths about age and fading skills and stories about greatness abating from one’s Hall of Fame resume.
It can be cruel and sudden.
Manny Pacquiao is being called, but is convinced it’s far too early.
He hopes to prove so tonight when engaging Timothy Bradley in a World Boxing Organization welterweight title fight, a rematch to one of the more controversial decisions you will witness when, in June 2012, Bradley was awarded a victory few outside his camp viewed as earned.
It was the split decision from hell, perhaps one reason Pacquiao isn’t ready to stand and face the entrance to a post-boxing existence.
Which better not have a poster of Floyd Mayweather Jr., on it, or Bob Arum is going to have someone’s head at the doorstep shop.
Pacquiao is said to lack the hunger that once made him one of the sport’s most ferocious figures. I’m not sure how a guy who weighs 147 pounds can own such a full belly, but enough has been missing from Pacquiao the fighter of late to have many believe the fire within has faded.
“I think this is Manny Pacquiao’s last fight,” said Joel Diaz, trainer to Bradley. “Like everything in life, things come to an end. I’ve trained fighters in their prime, and I’ve trained fighters toward the end of their prime. Manny has a lot of wear and tear on his body. His lifestyle changed to the point where he is compassionate to his opponents. When that happens, you don’t belong in the sport.
“This is the fight game. If you have reached a point where you feel sorry for your opponent, go find another sport. Go play golf or tennis or something. They’re worried. They’re concerned.”
The smile on Pacquiao’s face doesn’t suggest a tense or troubled fighter, but is perhaps one example of confirming what Diaz and countless others insist: That as he aged and priorities changed, as politics in his native Philippines and a religious awareness began to more and more encompass his life, Pacquiao the warrior became a more docile, forgiving figure on fight night.
Fact: He’s close to that doorstep, perhaps still good enough to win fights by outboxing people because the speed and smarts are still sharp enough. But that isn’t how Pacquiao’s popularity soared. That isn’t what people remember from a stretch in which he knocked out the likes of David Diaz and Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto, in which he punished Oscar De La Hoya into retiring on his stool after eight rounds.
But seven fights have passed since Pacquiao scored a knockout.
It last happened in November 2009.
“I believe I need to keep winning to prove I can still fight and that this journey should continue,” Pacquiao said. “I’m not thinking negative. I always think positive. If your mindset is on the winning side, you’re thinking positive. If it’s on the losing side, you’re thinking negative things.
“It’s not about knocking the guy out. As long as you do well in the ring and give the fans a performance, I’m satisfied with that. Of course, it’s better to knock your opponent out. That’s a bonus of your hard work and training. If it comes, it comes. But my focus as a fighter is to be aggressive and not be careless so what happened doesn’t happen again.”
He was speaking of a fourth fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, when six months after losing the Bradley fight he tasted defeat again. This time, Pacquiao was knocked out cold at the end of the sixth round. He had Marquez beat that night. Had him ready to go in the fifth. Couldn’t finish him.
Pacquiao is 35, and yet some of the wars that have defined his 62 professional fights suggest, like many, he’s finding it more difficult to summon that aggressive nature fans across the globe came to love about him.
That’s the Manny Pacquiao people want to see. But it’s questionable whether the beast returns.
Whether he is capable of awaking the monster.
Pacquiao beat Bradley the first time. Convincingly. Two judges slept through 12 rounds. But this is a different Pacquiao. It’s a much different Bradley. It’s not the same fight.
“I don’t really know the referee or any of the judges this time,” Diaz said. “All I ask is that if Timothy wins, they give him the win. Just give a fair decision. When they gave us the decision the first fight, we were happy. But a few minutes later, looking at everyone’s face like we stole something … it was bad. Our world changed. But two years has given us time to recap everything and learn to ignore and see things differently. Boxing brings a lot of surprises. We are composed. Our fighter is composed. We’re going to make sure that we go home happy.”
Prediction: While the doorstep is closer than at any time for Manny Pacquiao, there was a point during his last fight against Marquez when the beast awoke. When the monster erupted for two or three rounds. It happened.
I believe it’s still in there.
Pacquiao beats Bradley by decision tonight.
You know, like he did last time … and then didn’t … but really did.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.