By Ludwig O. Daza
Are we witnessing a future star? This was the question posed then by Jim Lampley, while commentating on Manny Pacquiao vs Lehnolo Ledwaba bout. Several fights later, Pacquiao would beat Marco Antonio Barrera black and blue, forcing his corner to throw in the towel. That win made Pacquiao a boxing star, a spitfire to be reckoned with inside the ring.
The first bout against Juan Manuel Marquez was somewhat a disappointment for the Pacquiao fans. They expected him to convincingly defeat Marquez who proved to be a tough nut to crack. The tenor of that first fight would characterize their rivalry spanning four competitive fights: always entertaining and frenetic, capable of putting every fan at the edge of his seat.
Manny emerged victorious in their first three fights, posting two wins and a draw. But these wins were claimed by Marquez as his, and he would chase Manny to the ends of the earth to book another fight. When he visited the Philippines angling for another fight, he donned a shirt saying he won twice against Manny.
These bouts were too close to call. Freddie Roach said these fights could have gone either way. It’s just that Manny got the nod of the judges. Marquez would have the last laugh though in their fourth and last fight that ended tragically, inflicting Manny a numbing loss that will haunt him for the rest of his life. It was a huge mistake. Had Manny followed-up his feint with a lead punch, Marquez haywire of a punch could have been deflected, and its sheer force redirected away from his onrushing face.
In this coming fight against Mayweather, the debacle experienced at the hands of Marquez will be at the back of Pacquiao’s mind, reminding him every round that anything can happen. He cannot afford to let his guard down. But it must not in any way blunt his offensive skill to the point that he would be thinking every time he lets his hands go. He must let his game take over like he is about to shoot a basketball, not thinking ever of missing a shot, but always confident that every shot hoisted will go in, hitting nothing but net.
The Pacquiao vs. Morales trilogy will be remembered not as much for the knockdowns suffered by Morales as to his wincing eyes, while down on the canvas, that very much articulated the words “No Mas”, echoing in silence but more expressive than the way Roberto Duran said it against his arch-rival, Sugar Ray Leonard.
Pacquiao’s bouts with Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Ricky Hatton and Oscar De La Hoya gave him the pound for pound status. These are marquee names that Mayweather avoided like a plague, only agreeing to fight them after their prime.
At this juncture, while Pacquiao relished fighting the strongest opposition available, Mayweather feasted on lesser fighters such as Carlos Baldomir and Henry Bruseles. The call of Antonio Margarito fell on Mayweather’s deaf ears. That Margarito was tough as nails and doesn’t get cut easily could have probably spooked Mayweather, denying the fans another competitive fight to watch.
On hindsight, Pacquiao said that he was more apprehensive of the outcome of his fights against Cotto and Margarito than he is now against Mayweather. Rightly so, considering that they were big and heavy hitter. Of all those marquee fights, it was the fight with Cotto that generated a lot of interest to both the fans and the ordinary Filipino that cared nothing much about sports, much less boxing that evokes memories of Roman gladiators – a sport that, according to some, is a sanctioned assault to a person’s life and limb.
The Pacquiao vs. Cotto bout lived up to its hype. Pay per view then in the Philippines was just gaining traction among the viewers, owing to lack of Information Technology infrastructure. Since a only few then are able to subscribe to live streaming, a media outfit offered the pay per view of the fight to a massive number of fans inside the Araneta Coliseum right smack in the metropolis, the venue of Thrilla in Manila, where they can view the fight live on a giant screen.
The Coliseum was filled to the rafters. Children as young as 6-year old tagged along with their parents to watch this event. My wife and I can’t find a place to comfortably view the giant cube monitor. People were standing up to the uppermost portion of the coliseum, with little place to maneuver to stretch one’s limb after every round. The first 6 rounds were electric. The energy of the people around me ebbs and rises like a tide dictated by the fighters’ give and take motions. It was competitive until Pacquiao got the better of the exchanges.
The fight with De la Hoya was an eye-opener in terms of the skills of Pacquiao. From his days as a one-dimensional fighter, Manny slowly and steadily evolved as a two-fisted juggernaut. What he showed against De La Hoya was a completely evolved fighter – an out of this world fighter, gifted with a stamina that is borne probably of the fact that he was never given a vaccine shot whatsoever, that according to some, is a liability to one’s physical growth given the myriad of illnesses that beset modern humans devoid of the protection of vaccines, but when grown up, after being able to withstand and survived said illnesses, becomes an advantage.
This fight saw a fluid Pacquiao, able to dart in and out of De la Hoya’s range, with both hands covering his face, weaving and bobbing, looking for targets like smart bombs, hands leaving his face only when target is locked in and detonating in De La Hoya’s body and face with force of an atomic energy.
Brandon Rios, after his match with Pacquiao, lamented the fact, that though he can take his punches, it was a surreal match. It was like fighting a creature so fast with so many hands, he said.
The version of Pacquiao that can win against Mayweather is the Pacquiao that fought and made De la Hoya give up on his stool. Manny needs to be ferocious and fast to get past Mayweather. Manny will show in this fight relentless pressure like no other.
As for Mayweather, he will ride his bicycles in the first two rounds just to get the feel of his arch-enemy. Then he and Manny will throw everything at each other, except the kitchen sink, so to speak, to prove to the people watching around the world who between them is “mas macho.”