Weary Manny Pacquiao Takes 1 Step Closer to Retirement with Ugas Loss

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistAugust 22, 2021

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The pictures, as they tend to do, told a thousand words.

As he sat on his stool before the 12th round, Manny Pacquiao looked like a spent force.

His right eye was swollen. His left eye was bleeding.

And as much or more than those two factors, he looked like an old, tired fighter.

Even as his corner team tried to coax him. Even as the crowd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas tried to inspire him. Even as he knew what the scorecards were probably about to tell him.

There was nothing left to give.

At least not the level to which he's accustomed.

Faced with the imposing blend of his own limitations and a talented, motivated, short-notice foe across the ring, the Filipino's 42-year-old best wasn't nearly good enough to hold serve as he dropped a narrow, but hard-to-dispute decision to Yordenis Ugas on Saturday (115-113, 116-112, 116-112).

No one who'd watched the entire 36 minutes seemed to have any real contrarian argument.

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Not the broadcast team comprised of fighters, trainers and talking heads. Not the majority of the hyper-partisan pro-Pacquiao fans. And not Pacquiao himself, who instinctively raised his hands at the final bell but seemed resigned to the inevitable long before Jimmy Lennon Jr. made it official.

"I'm so thankful to the fans. I'm sorry that we lost tonight, but I did my best," he said, as a respectful Ugas sneaked in for a quick post-fight hug. "That's boxing, and I congratulate my opponent for winning."

Officially, the result legitimized the 35-year-old Cuban's claim on the welterweight title belt he'd been gifted earlier this year when the WBA stripped Pacquiao for inactivity during a global pandemic.

It certainly put Ugas front and center when it comes to calling for opportunities against fellow 147-pound champions Errol Spence Jr.—whose eye injury opened the door for him less than two weeks prior to Saturday—and Terence Crawford, who's reigned since 2018 following previous titles at 135 and 140.

The real takeaway, though, was what it meant for Pacquiao.

Which, for all intents and purposes, really ought to be the end of the line, but not because he embarrassed himself against Ugas.

In fact, given fates often suffered by veteran fighters anywhere close to his age, Pacquiao was a competitive anomaly. He threw more than twice as many punches as his foe (815 to 405), never appeared badly hurt or significantly buzzed and was still consistently pressing forward in the final round.

The fact that it came against a guy who'd won 11 of his last 12 fights—losing only on a split decision to a then-reigning Shawn Porter—and was a legit top-five operator in the division, even more so.

Lest anyone forget, Ray Leonard never won a fight past age 33. Mike Tyson was 0-2 past 36. Muhammad Ali lost to fighters at 38 and 39 who'd have barely laced his boots a decade earlier.

So to say Pacquiao ought to leave because of work quality is foolish.

He was ranked third in the division going in and is still a top-10 talent going out, which means he'd be an odds-on favorite against far more fighters than not.

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Still, given the recurring give and take from end to end against Ugas—which saw Pacquiao busy and intermittently effective early before evolving into more catcher than pitcher in the second half—there seems little reason to believe that another six months would translate to success on the highest level.

So why bother?

He complained in the aftermath of tight legs, a familiar issue that won't get any better with age.

His face was reddened and swollen from the first few rounds on, a sure sign of balky punch resistance.

And his lack of welterweight pop—exactly one win by KO since 2009—doesn't provide a game-changing threat to fall back on when all else is failing, as it was Saturday.

Oh, and let's not forget, the guy has other options.

He's a wildly popular politician in the Philippines and has long been considering a run at the country's presidency, a decision he said he'd make for certain by next month. Even if he remains content with his current post as a senator, it's not as if cutting weight and getting punched in the mouth is a must-do.

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While he didn't officially show his cards, his words and expressions seemed to lean that way.

"I don't know. Let me relax and make a decision," he said when asked directly if he'd return to the ring. "We're facing difficult problems in more important worlds than boxing.

"I hope that in my more than 20 years I gave you enjoyment."

Well, Manny, let's put it this way:

After 26 years, 25 title fights and 10 alphabet title reigns across seven weight classes, anyone who wasn't entertained wasn't paying attention. And anyone who argues otherwise doesn't know what they're talking about.

"I don't know what's left for him to reach," Fox analyst Joe Goossen said. "I think the man should enjoy the rest of his life outside the gym. Give the guy a break [and] let him go live a normal life."