Before the onslaught of hatred inevitably comes, just let me make one thing clear: Manny Pacquiao remains one of, if not the, best fighters on the planet.
The ludicrous record of having won world titles in eight different weight classes speaks for itself, while the high-octane style of the Pac Man means you are almost guaranteed a whirlwind of action whenever this Filipino sensation steps between the ropes.
However, Father Time is an impossibly tough man to avoid. Illustrious boxing alumni such as Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis have all felt the wrath of the unrelenting decline of age, and there are the first tentative signs in the greatest fighter of today that things are starting to slow down.
While Pacquiao still remains among the elite of boxing’s current landscape, the question to ask is how the Pacquiao of today would have fared against the juggernaut that first exploded onto the world stage when he beat Oscar De La Hoya in 2008.
The following signs, I believe, make the answer conclusive.
Okay, the fight was of course spoiled by ‘Sugar’ Shane Mosley’s tactics of retreat after he’d been dumped to the floor in the third round.
It’s very difficult to engage with someone who continually runs away from you, but there was no mistaking the lack of spark in Pacquiao’s relatively disappointing performance.
Pac Man at his best is a firecracker—a bundle of energy who buzzes around and stings like a 5'5" wasp on a mission to hurt.
While Mosley had no desire to play ball, there was the distinct feeling around the world that Pacquiao could have done a lot more to draw the older American into a tear up.
In the end, though, the fighters ended up touching gloves more than they actually punched each other.
While the lack of animosity between the fighters probably played a big part in the lack of violence, there is no mistaking this was the first fight in a very long time that Pacquiao wasn’t at his exhilarating best.
While everyone got lost among the post-fight fury aimed at Mosley, it was a largely forgotten fact that the bout’s opening actually promised to serve up something of a thriller.
Mosley, yet to taste the full force of Pacquiao’s left hook, was willing to stand and trade with Pacquiao and—dare I say it—gave the little Filipino more than a little bit to think about.
Using the age-old boxing tactic of stick-and-move, Mosley was able to pick the Pac Man off with his jab and stay largely out of trouble, as the busy Pacquiao repeatedly tried and failed to nip into range.
I’m not the only one who noticed. Judge Glenn Trowbridge also gave Mosley the first round before the Pac Man completed a shut-out on all three judges’ scorecards.
While there is next-to-no significance in one round of boxing (Pacquiao won the fight comfortably, after all), the fact remains this was the fight’s first round, where adrenaline and concentration are at their highest and a fighter’s game plan remains at the forefront of their mind.
Maybe a younger, fresher man than Mosley may be able to execute such a plan for a fight’s full duration.
Bar one fleeting moment in the third round where Mosley’s feet failed to dance, the ease with which Mosley stayed out of trouble is probably the most worrying sign to be drawn from the Pac Man’s last performance May 7.
The boxing ring is not a vast, open stretch of land. It is nothing more than an aesthetically pleasing cage, a pen where the combatants are enclosed in such a tight space that fighting is all but guaranteed; nowhere is the adage 'you can’t run forever' more appropriate.
Yet Mosley did. Pacquiao, renowned for his buzzing and incessant style of fighting, just could not pin the wily old veteran down, despite the space-restricted nature of their surroundings.
While this is largely the fault of Mosley, who spent the majority of the fight back-pedaling, you couldn’t help but get the feeling the Pacquiao of yesteryear would have had no trouble in cutting off the ring and forcing Mosley into having a proper contest.
In the fight’s aftermath it emerged that Pacquiao had been stricken with leg cramps in the middle rounds, which apparently made it impossible for him to catch up with the continually retreating Mosley.
While this may be true, there remains the element of doubt that injury may have played no part in the normally fleet-footed Pacquiao’s failed pursuit of the cautious 39-year-old.
Cast your mind back to Pac Man’s previous bout before the shambles against Mosley and you’ll probably remember a virtuoso performance from him against the much bigger and stronger 'Tijuana Tornado' Antonio Margarito.
While this much is true, with Margarito’s face reduced to a contorted and hideous mess come the fight’s end, on more than one occasion Margarito managed to catch up with the elusive Pac Man and nail him with some leather.
Of course, in boxing getting hit is an inevitable consequence of such a dangerous art, and Pacquiao survived these onslaughts pretty much unscathed, which took commendable heart particularly after a devastating Margarito body shot in the sixth round.
However, while Margarito may have outweighed Pacquiao by some 20 pounds on the night of the fight, the Mexican is, by top-level standards, incredibly slow.
While he is certainly heavy handed (even without the aid of reinforced hand wraps), Pacquiao’s quickness and darting movement around the ring should have been enough to stay out of trouble for the 12 rounds duration.
However, it wasn’t. Perhaps this was due to Pacquiao’s desire to have a scrap, please the fans and truly test whether he could withstand the punching from a genuinely strong light-middleweight.
Or, somewhat more worryingly, it could be a small but nonetheless poignant sign Pacquiao’s sharpness may be slowly starting to slip.
An odd one this, because before every one of Pacquiao’s latest fights, the pre-fight hype always suggested that the forthcoming clash was "Pacquiao’s toughest challenge yet."
Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto were pound-for-pound top 10, Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito were massive while Shane Mosley is a true modern-day great.
However, all of these fights, on deeper analysis, had a bit of an angle to them.
Hatton was too defensively naïve to last the pace with the Pac Man; Cotto was damaged goods off the back of his pasting by Margarito; Clottey and Margarito were big but not quick, while Mosley could only draw with Sergio Mora in his previous fight before Pacquiao.
Of course, the question is who else do you put him in with? All of his recent opponents are certainly among the world’s best, but there is an argument that all these fighters were never going to be in real danger of getting to the Pac Man and causing an upset.
This was particularly true in his last choice of opponent—despite interest from more credible opposition such as Andre Berto or Juan Manuel Marquez, who were both overlooked for the apparently "more commercially viable" Mosley.
Throughout the history of boxing, when a fighter’s manager starts picking opponents based on money rather than ability, it’s a tell-tale sign that perhaps they know something the general public doesn’t.
To use the term "struggle" with Pacquiao is perhaps a little harsh, but throughout his career the flying Filipino has never really produced his sensational best against cagey opposition.
Juan Manuel Marquez is certainly one example, who completely bossed the final stages of his first fight with the Pac Man after being caught up in the initial Pacquiao whirlwind.
The fact is, all of Pacquiao’s best work comes against people who want to fight, who enter the ring with the intention of going toe-to-toe with the pound-for-pound king and having a real humdinger.
De La Hoya, Hatton, Margarito and Cotto were all such fighters who thought they could intimidate the smaller Pacquiao and simply walk through him. All found out through devastating circumstances this wasn’t the case.
But when a boxer goes on the retreat, which was the art practiced by Marquez, Joshua Clottey and Shane Mosley, the Pac Man can start to look a little ragged and particularly susceptible to counter punches.
At this juncture, it’s worth remembering the absolute master of this form of boxing is Floyd Mayweather.
Rewind to May 2, 2009, and you will undoubtedly remember the punch from Pacquiao that detonated on the chin of Ricky Hatton with the comparable impact of a nuclear bomb.
Hatton was unceremoniously flattened, as every ounce of feeling in his body evaporated after being subjected to the full force of a collision with the world’s most dangerous right hand.
Since then though, we have not seen such spectacular displays of punching power.
While this may be down to Pacquiao’s opponents adopting a more cautious approach, the worry is while Pac Man can still cause considerable damage with the cumulative effect of his attacks, it appears that one-punch knockouts are a thing of the past.
Clottey and Margarito never once fell to the canvas against Pacquiao, while Cotto and Mosley’s trips to the floor were only temporary blips rather than actions of terminal consequence.
Previously, Pacquiao’s arsenal carried with it the force to send his opponents to the floor—in the higher weight classes he now fights at, it appears his opponents have every chance of remaining vertical for the full 12 rounds.
The human psyche is an incredibly complex beast, but one thing we can all relate to is the feeling of staleness that overwhelms you when you’ve been doing the same thing for too damn long.
It is an affliction that even affects elite-level sportsmen and one that may be creeping into the mind of the planet’s finest pugilist.
Pacquiao has now been fighting at world level for an amazing 13 years and has been a bona fide boxing superstar since his clashes with the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez in 2003 and 2004, respectively.
Throughout this time Pacquiao has stayed relatively active during his time on top, especially in comparison to the only other fighter who can claim to be the world’s best, as Floyd Mayweather’s visits to the competitive boxing ring have become increasingly sporadic.
Yet this attitude may actually hinder Pacquiao. As to whether he still loves boxing with the same passion he did a decade ago is unclear; after so many tough training camps, hard fights and rigorous sparring sessions, there must surely be a part of Pacquiao that wants to give up the whole thing and focus on the new challenge in his life of politics.
For Mayweather, though, inactivity has probably kept boxing fun, a sideshow to which he can escape to every once in a while. Pacquiao’s desire to keep on fighting is certainly what the fans want to see, but may have made him grow tired of the toughest sport in the world.
If ever there was a clue Pacquiao could be on the slide, there is no bigger indicator than the return to the ring of Money Mayweather.
After a year-long hiatus, Pacquiao’s rival-in-chief to the title of pound-for-pound king will return in September to face Victor Ortiz, and there is no doubting the significance of Mayweather’s timing.
Pacquiao’s performance against Mosley was undeniably disappointing, so for Mayweather to suddenly rediscover his love for boxing surely indicates the Pretty Boy may have seen enough weakness in the Pac Man’s armor to believe he can triumph in the pair’s highly anticipated showdown.
For years, it appeared Mayweather was the one responsible for stalling the fight the world wants to see, but the noises coming out of both camps and the scheduling of their next fights indicates perhaps the world’s best boxers will finally meet one another some time in 2012.
Of course, there is an element of second-guessing here. Nothing has been signed, promised or discussed in any great depth, and previous history between the two suggests there could well be a spanner in the works that once again prevents the biggest clash in boxing from actually happening.
However, you always got the feeling that when Mayweather wanted it, Pacquiao would have it. Say it quietly, but it could well be that the dream fight will soon become a reality.