The Manny Pacquiao Train Keeps Chugging Along—God Forbid, Right Up to Malacañang’s Doorstep?

by Mark Lorenzana

I used to cover Manny Pacquiao a lot back when I was still writing seriously about boxing and mixed martial arts for Interaksyon, for a couple of boxing websites, and for my now-defunct fight blog. This was before Pacquiao entered politics for the first time, running for a seat in the Philippine house of representatives in the May 2007 legislative election, aiming to represent the first district of South Cotabato province.

Pacquiao was eventually defeated in the election by then-incumbent representative Darlene Antonino-Custodio, who said, “More than anything, I think people weren’t prepared to lose him as their boxing icon.”

I remember, back then, Pacquiao was extremely disappointed about the loss and chalked it up to his lack of a college degree at that time (he has since earned his degree in political science, graduating from the University of Makati last year). But I agree with Antonino-Custodio: I believe that Pacquiao’s fans didn’t want to see him swallowed up and corrupted by politics.

Before running for congress, Pacquiao had already avenged his loss to Erik Morales, both by stoppage. He had already upset Marco Antonio Barrera and had fought Juan Manuel Marquez to a draw in a barnburner of a fight that saw Pacquiao drop Marquez three times in the first round. Pacquiao’s stock was going up, and the future was bright for him, boxing-wise. Why try to derail that by entering politics?

Pacquiao’s fans heaved a huge sigh of relief when their idol lost in the 2007 elections, but it was short-lived. Manny eventually won a congressional seat, but this time in Sarangani, the hometown of his wife, Jinkee. Now he is a senator, having won a seat in the Philippine senate in 2016.

In my short-lived career as a boxing writer, I had to write about Pacquiao a lot, not only because he was one of the hottest commodities in the sport—he’s eventually become boxing’s only eight-division champion—but also because my boss in one of the boxing websites I was writing for demanded that I write about Pacquiao 24/7, even though I wanted to write about other fighters, about other fights. This led me to quit my job there, but that’s another story.

The point here is, as much as his fans never wanted Pacquiao to enter politics—this blogger included—he has shown that he could actually juggle being a politician and being a boxer well (or maybe not: Pacquiao is actually the top absentee in the senate). Could he have reached even greater heights as purely a boxer instead of as a boxer-slash-politician? Hard to say. Pacquiao, both in and out of the ring, thrives on chaos: inside the ring he’s a whirling dervish of energy, his in-and-out, side-to-side movement and the nonstop pumping of his fists having brought him much success in his boxing career; outside the ring his love for chaos—evidenced by a huge entourage of hangers-on (which have included unsavory political allies) and the unbelievable ability to juggle, as well, not only sports (including basketball; he was once a playing coach for the Philippine Basketball Association) and politics, but also show business (he has made a couple movies and hosted several TV shows)—has brought him, ironically, much peace of mind. Sure, some have argued that a couple of Pacquiao’s losses here and there could have been the result of the Pacman stretching himself thin, but in the end it’s only speculation.

Especially since, in the course of his last three fights, Pacquiao has strung up three straight wins—a stoppage victory against Lucas Matthysse and two impressive distance victories against Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman, where Pacquiao even scored a knockdown early in the fight against the latter—since losing his fight against Jeff Horn in Australia. Pacquiao’s recent resurgence isn’t something new, even at the ripe age of forty-one, as bouncing back from a loss has been a trademark throughout his career: after his first loss early in his career to fellow Filipino Rustico Torrecampo, Pacquiao won fifteen straight; after getting stopped in Thailand back in 1999 and losing his WBC world flyweight title, he managed to string thirteen victories; after losing a hard-fought decision to Morales, Pacquiao managed to string another fifteen-fight winning streak.

But it remains to be seen whether Pacquiao will continue fighting, especially since the sports world right now—apart from the odd live Ultimate Fighting Championship events held every few weeks—is at a standstill.

But Pacquiao being Pacquiao, he can’t seem to find solace from the limelight. Just recently he figured in a couple of news items: one, Freddie Roach throwing out there that Manny could possibly fight middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and two, Bob Arum saying that Manny could possibly run as president of the Philippines in 2022.

Speculation, of course, but God forbid that both push through—especially the second. We all know that Pacquiao won’t be a good president. Don’t believe F. Sionil Jose.

(Photo by Bleacher Report via)

THB Quick Hits

 

by Mark Lorenzana

First order of business: the upcoming rematch between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin this September 15. The first fight ended up in a controversial draw, with an immediate rematch scuttled because of Canelo testing positive for clenbuterol, which he claims is the result of tainted meat. Now finally, thankfully, we’re a few days removed from both guys trading leather again, and Canelo’s camp has been very vocal about knocking out Golovkin.

Frankly, I think that’s easier said than done and remains to be seen. While I scored the first fight for Canelo because of what I perceived as the cleaner punches landed, even though Golovkin was the aggressor, there goes the rub: Canelo didn’t fight Triple G toe-to-toe and relied on his boxing skills instead. Why? I think Canelo knows that if he fought Golovkin in the pocket and didn’t box, eventually Triple G would catch him with a big one and end the fight.

I have to say thought that I was pretty impressed at how Canelo took Golovkin’s best shots. The Mexican handled the Kazakh’s power well, but I don’t see the former knocking out the latter; if someone’s getting knocked out in the rematch, I still think it’s gonna be Canelo.

That said, I only see two outcomes to this fight: Golovkin by knockout or Canelo by split decision.

***

Note to myself: never, ever doubt Donnie Nietes again.

Don’t get me wrong–Nietes is one of my favorite fighters ever, and it’s an amazing feat that he’s been undefeated all these years and that even at his advanced age he still manages to showcase his world-class boxing skills fight after fight (mind you, 36 years old is ancient for someone who campaigns at boxing’s lower weights).

But I really thought climbing up another weight class would be too much for him, plus the fact that he’d be facing a much-bigger and taller Aston Palicte.

Like I said: never, ever doubt Donnie Nietes again.

It wasn’t the most exciting fight, but it showed that Nietes is worlds away from Palicte in terms of skill–the ALA fighter schooled his fellow Filipino all throughout the tactical (some will say boring) fight and deserved to win by a wide margin instead of settling for a draw. Nietes should be a four-division world champion by now.

You know what? I think he will still eventually get that fourth title in a fourth weight class, but I hope he steps back into the ring sooner than later owing to his advanced age.

***

Fun fact: Manny Pacquiao’s camp has threatened to sue Top Rank because Bob Arum’s promotional company allegedly failed to remit Pacquiao’s share of the television earnings from the Lucas Matthysse fight in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Pacquiao, according to a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, alleged that Top Rank is contractually bound to pay him the equivalent of 85 percent of the TV earnings when the fight was shown in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico via ESPN+.

I’ve always wondered why, all these years, Pacquiao has stayed with Arum and Top Rank instead of trying to strike out on his own like Floyd Mayweather did. Recently, Pacquiao seeemed to realize that Top Rank doesn’t really have his best interests at heart, but at age 39 and at the twilight of his career, perhaps it’s a little too late for this realization from the Pacman?

Stay tuned.

(Photo by HBO boxing via)

Kickboxing Is Kicking Me In The Butt

by Mark Lorenzana

It’s been a couple months now of training here at 9Round gym in Polanco, at the heart of Mexico’s business district, and everything has been awesome. I had been training in boxing for a few years now, give or take ten years or so, on and off, and although I also weight-trained, played basketball, tried spinning classes, it’s boxing that holds a special place in my heart. Not just because I love the sport itself, not just because boxers are the most down-to-earth athletes I have ever had the privilege of meeting and befriending, not just because some of the most amazing trainers I’ve ever trained with are former boxers–it’s also because it’s one of the most physically taxing sports that you will ever take up in your entire life, and therefore will get you in the best shape of your life.

I’m not going to fight in a professional boxing match soon, hell no, and I’ve only even had a few sparring rounds under my belt; but I’m pretty confident that I can throw decent punches at my level right now, and I even have pretty good power especially my favorite punch, which is the right cross (or right straight). I throw a pretty good jab too, and serviceable uppercuts and hooks. So when I started at 9Round I was pretty comfortable throwing punches already, both during punch-mitt sessions and heavy-bag sessions.

But 9Round isn’t a boxing gym, it’s a kickboxing gym. So then I was required to kick and to throw knees and elbows as well.

Holy shit. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone.

The knees and the elbows, with time, I was able to get the hang of pretty quickly, the elbows especially because when throwing them you still have both your feet planted on the ground, which helps a lot obviously with balance and power. It’s the kicks that have been a pain in the butt so far, and after two months of trying hard to execute a proper side kick, round kick, and front kick, I admit that I haven’t quite got it down pat yet.

I’m relishing the challenge, though, because kicking is actually very useful in a street fight. Not everyone you will meet on the street who is aching for a fight will want to fight you strictly with boxing rules, and learning how to kick well will certainly help. Kicks have a longer reach than punches, and a properly thrown kick with good leverage can be more devastating than even the most powerful punches. And a perfectly timed kick to an opponent’s knee can end a fight in minutes. Why try to be macho and slug it out with punches when you can disable your opponent quickly?

So yeah, I’ve been enjoying the challenge of trying to learn kickboxing (even at this age, which doesn’t lend well to flexibility, so I’ve actually been very forgiving to myself by not forcing myself to kick as high as I can and just focusing on trying to kick with proper form, so you won’t ever see me trying to kick a guy’s face or even chest–I’m sticking to the abdomen, the nuts, and the knees, LOL). Right now, honestly, kickboxing is kicking me in the butt, but I know that given more time I’m eventually gonna get the hang of it.

Well, if not, there’s always pure boxing.

Or spinning classes.

It’s Easier Said Than Done, But Why It’s Always Better to Just Go for the Damn Knockout Every Time

by Mark Lorenzana

This year alone we’ve seen several controversial decisions in boxing: Jeff Horn winning an upset over Manny Pacquiao in Australia, Wisaksil Wangek Rungvisai dealing the once-invincible Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez his first loss (and his second, via knockout, in the rematch but that’s another story—or blog post), and Saul Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin settling for a draw (after an exciting fight that lived up to its expectations as one of the most must-see bouts of 2017 between two of the best middleweight fighters in the game today).

But that’s the thing, and there goes the rub: the reality is, boxing is a very difficult sport to judge, as everything is subject to one’s own personal interpretation (add to that the fact that personal biases also come into play).

For instance, I remember back when Manny Pacquiao fought Tim Bradley for the first time; I scored that fight a close victory for Bradley and in the immediate aftermath posted my thoughts on social media. I was horrified and aghast, however, when I saw the reactions on social media/blog posts from boxing analysts immediately after the fight—they claimed that Pacquiao, indeed, should have won.

Majority of the boxing writers saw Pacquiao winning that bout, with only a couple of scribes giving the nod to Bradley, one of whom is highly respected veteran boxing journalist and author Thomas Hauser. To be honest, it made me feel a little better that a writer of Hauser’s caliber got it “wrong.” I was still contributing to boxing websites at that time and was even a resident boxing/MMA writer in one of the sports websites in the Philippines when that happened (and also ran, on the side, an award-nominated sports blog that is now since defunct), so I was understandably upset. I immediately put out a blog post explaining what happened and why I thought Bradley won that fight and admitted that it was an off night for me, scoring-wise. Regardless, the “damage” was already done—both to my nonexistent credibility as an unknown boxing/MMA “analyst” and to my ego as a “writer.”

So let me ask you: in a fight between a defensive-minded counterpuncher and an aggressive brawler or boxer-puncher, which style are you going to favor? Are you going to lean toward that aggressive, come-forward fighter who throws many punches, more punches than the defensive fighter, even if those punches miss a lot and hit nothing but air and/or the opponent’s arms or gloves? Or are you going to lean toward the counterpuncher, especially if he lands the cleaner blows, even though he doesn’t throw as much as his more aggressive opponent?

Take the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather fight. I know quite a few knowledgeable boxing fans from the Philippines who believed that Pacquiao should have won that fight, even though he wasn’t the unstoppable whirlwind of years ago who humiliated Oscar de la Hoya, one-punch-kayoed Ricky Hatton, TKO’d Miguel Cotto, punished the bigger and stronger Antonio Margarito in the course of 12 brutal rounds (and broke his orbital bone), made Sugar Shane Mosley and Joshua Clottey forget about their own offense just to survive, and broke Juan Manuel Marquez’s nose in the last fight of their epic four-fight saga before getting knocked out himself because of his recklessness. Pacquiao had stalked Mayweather the entire fight, and Mayweather being Mayweather fought a brilliant defensive fight for 12 rounds, landing the cleaner shots even though he threw fewer punches. I scored that fight for Mayweather, who unsurprisingly won via unanimous decision. Immediately after the fight, when Pacquiao was interviewed in the ring by HBO’s Max Kellerman, Manny said he thought he won the fight, to Kellerman’s surprise. Freddie Roach, for his part, was more diplomatic but hinted that his fighter indeed lost the fight.

With the Pacquiao-Horn fight, I gave Pacquiao the nod by two rounds, as I felt that it was indeed a close fight but that the Filipino did enough to retain his belt. Immediately after the fight, though, there were howls of protests that Pacquiao should have won a wide decision (I didn’t understand that, though, as, like I said, I felt that it was a close fight). Bob Arum, for his part, thought that it could have gone either way (although it’s understandable for Arum to feel that way because he promotes both fighters); and Freddie Roach, although he said he thought that Pacquiao should have won, never protested the decision vehemently and even went so far as to suggest that Manny’s retirement isn’t that far off, perhaps believing that his prized pupil could have done more but was hampered by the physical deterioration in the ring brought about by age (after all, when was the last time Pacquiao looked like the relentless dynamo of yesteryears that gobbled up his opponents?), his senate “responsibilities” that limited his training and his sparring, and the comforts of the high life that almost always affects a boxer’s hunger to train and to destroy his opponent (a problem that Roach has actually harped on for several years now, what with Pacquiao’s penchant for letting the judges decide the outcome of his bouts, with his killer instinct seemingly evaporating into thin air after his impressive TKO win over Miguel Cotto an eternity ago). The point is, perhaps the judges in the Pacquiao-Horn fight felt that the latter’s aggressiveness and, yes, his seemingly “dirty” tactics helped neutralize the former’s once-impressive offensive attacks—indeed, aside from a ninth round where Horn was close to hitting the canvas, Pacquiao for the most part was often stymied by the bigger, stronger, and “dirtier” fighter who didn’t mind taking a page out of the MMA stylebook and repeatedly used his forearms, shoulders, head, and even his elbows to his advantage.

With the Rungvisai-Chocolatito fight, I scored the fight for Chocolatito but also admitted to myself that the Nicaraguan, one of my favorite fighters of recent years, didn’t look as sharp as he had been, especially when he was still campaigning in the lower weights and blasting all comers, making a case for himself as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. In that fight, the bigger and stronger Rungvisai never let Gonzalez intimidate him and, like Horn, decided to make it hard for Chocolatito by resorting to borderline illegal tactics to frustrate the Nicaraguan. And, to the judges at least, it worked—they thought the Thai did enough that night to wrest the titles away from Gonzalez. Perhaps the judges thought that Gonzalez, being the brilliant fighter that he was, should have been his always-impressive self and that anything less than Chocolatito blasting away Rungvisai was not enough for him to retain his belts? Was Chocolatito unfairly judged because of the lofty standards that he set for himself and that, because he failed to live up to these standards, the opponent was judged “good” enough and therefore deserving enough of the win?

With the Canelo-Golovkin fight, I thought that Canelo won by a couple of rounds although I don’t think that a draw is unreasonable, as well as a scorecard that awarded Golovkin a win by two or three rounds, because the fight I saw was a close fight wherein GGG was the aggressor throughout but with Canelo banking on his better boxing skills, much-improved movement, and superb counterpunching to land the cleaner blows. (I have a problem with Adalaide Byrd’s card, though, that only saw Golovkin winning two rounds; it’s a fucking travesty that deserves its own separate blog post). With that said, a lot of people also saw Golovkin winning by a wide margin, because of the way they perceive how a fighter should fight in order to win: go forward and attack, attack, attack. This is not a wrong way of seeing things, as it is also not wrong to favor the fighter who, although is backpedaling and moving and counterpunching, lands the cleaner blows and is perceived to be outboxing his opponent. Personally, I thought Golovkin missed a lot and wasted a lot of punches.

Boxing decisions will continue to be controversial as long as the judges themselves have their own perception of what a winning fighter should do in order to deserve the nod. After all, we all have our own way of seeing things (and not seeing things, for that matter)—even the most seasoned boxing judge, who’s had hundreds of title fights under his/her belt.

But Juan Manuel Marquez knew the perfect remedy for that, though, after being on the short end of the stick three times against Manny Pacquiao—just go for the damn knockout.

Pinoy Fight Scribe: Pacquiao retirement after Bradley fight a good idea

(This piece appeared in InterAKTV on February 21, 2012.)

by Mark Lorenzana

Manny Pacquiao turns 34 this year.

As a boxer, he has logged a lot of miles: since turning pro in 1995, he has figured in a total of 59 fights, which translates into 353 rounds boxed. Just recently, Pacquiao had hinted that he might walk away from the sport after his upcoming fight with Timothy Bradley on June 9.

According to the Retired Boxers Foundation, the average age of retirement for a professional boxer is in the mid-30s. Some boxers, especially those who lose a lot of fights early in their career, decide to hang up their gloves at a young age while others hang on and continue fighting until their 40s. Right now, Pacquiao is at the optimal retirement age for boxers.

This is not the first time, though, that Pacquiao has hinted at retirement. Three years ago, Pacquiao announced that he would retire at the end of 2009 as he unveiled his plans to run for Congress. Then in 2010, after defeating Joshua Clottey, Pacquiao hinted that he might talk to his family about his possible retirement that year. The year after that, in 2011, there were talks once again that Pacquiao might call it quits after his fight with Sugar Shane Mosley.

Those previous retirement talks never really amounted to anything, so die-hard Pacquiao fans can at least take solace in the knowledge that nothing is set in stone yet, and that there’s a big possibility that Pacquiao might change his mind.

But here’s the thing: after Bradley, who’s next for Pacquiao? Floyd Mayweather Jr.? He won’t step in the ring with Pacquiao until he feels that Manny is too old and too shot. That fight will never happen in a million years. Juan Manuel Marquez? He has Pacquiao’s number, but Marquez will never ever get the benefit of the doubt against the judges because of his counterpunching style. The surest way for Marquez to beat Pacquiao is by a knockout, but it’s been three fights already, and he hasn’t floored the Pacman even once. Besides, Marquez already said that he will retire at the end of this year even if the fourth fight with Pacquiao doesn’t happen.

In other words, if a fight against Mayweather or Marquez can’t be made, who else could be a meaningful opponent for Pacquiao? A severely dehydrated Sergio Martinez? The high-risk/low-reward Lamont Peterson? Miguel Cotto again? Why?

So yes, Pacquiao retiring after the Bradley fight is perhaps the most logical decision that the reigning pound-for-pound boxer and future hall-of-famer can make at the twilight of his brilliant career. In boxing, it’s always a good idea to quit while you’re ahead, and not until you’ve been squeezed dry by your greedy promoter.

* * *

Speaking of the undefeated Timothy Bradley, the reigning WBO light welterweight champion, how might he fare against Manny Pacquiao?

Juan Manuel Marquez had an interesting thing to say about the matchup: “Even though Bradley is a great boxer, and he has skills, he needs the power. He [doesn’t] have that power. Pacquiao has the speed and Pacquiao has the power. The difference in this fight is power. The difference will be the power punches that Pacquiao has.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Marquez’s assessment. In my last column, I wrote: “Timothy Bradley is young, undefeated, a good boxer with decent-enough skills, someone who has defeated quality opponents. Problem is, Pacquiao tends to make mincemeat out of offensive-minded fighters who take the fight to him, especially someone smaller and who has no power punch.”

I stand by what I wrote. To reiterate, the difference will be the power. It’s just common sense, really: Bradley doesn’t punch that hard, and Pacquiao has a world-class chin. If you cannot make Pacquiao respect your power, what’s gonna stop him from coming in and raining down blows on you until you scream “uncle” or until you get pounded out or until your cornerman throws in the towel, whichever comes first?

And here’s a little-known fact about Pacquiao that might seem trivial but I think is worth noting anyway: since Pacquiao won his first world title as a flyweight by beating Chatchai Sasakul in Thailand fourteen years ago, he has knocked out every single opponent he faced when he either lost or scored a draw in his previous bout.

Cases in point: Pacquiao knocked out Reynante Jamili in two rounds after losing to Medgoen Singsurat, Pacquiao stopped Jorge Eliecer Julio in round two after he settled for a draw against the late Agapito Sanchez, Pacquiao scored a fourth-round knockout against Fahsan 3K Battery after he drew with Marquez in their first fight, and Pacquiao annihilated the tough Hector Velasquez within six rounds after he lost his first fight against Erik Morales.

Pacquiao is coming off a close win against Juan Manuel Marquez, a fight that could have gone either way, a fight that boxing pundits thought should have been awarded to Marquez. Pacquiao’s performance against Marquez has been criticized, and who’s to say that the Pacman isn’t itching to bounce back and score an impressive win? Technically, Pacquiao didn’t lose his third fight with Marquez, but who’s to say that he won’t want to bounce back with an emphatic performance?

In his poem “The Hollow Men,” T. S. Eliot wrote, “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.”

On the contrary, going back to the earlier point at the beginning of this column about Pacquiao’s possible retirement, if this is indeed where the Pacman’s legendary career ends, he’d most certainly want to end it with a bang, not a whimper.

That said, be afraid for Timothy Bradley. Be very, very afraid.