Boxing's need to unearth a new superstar

Boxing's need to unearth a new superstar

Boxing's need to unearth a new superstar

He had stuck well to the script all night. He was retiring to spend more time with his family and to spend more time helping the people of his native Philippines, Manny Pacquiao insisted when he was repeatedly questioned about his plans after a unanimous-decision win over Timothy Bradley Jr on April 9. Then came a feint from press row.

It seems as if your family wants you to retire more than you do, one reporter said. Pacquiao laughed, sank into the table and looked around.

“You’re good,” he said to the reporter, joking. He paused and pondered in a moment of sincere reflection. Then the truth came rushing out: “My heart is 50-50.”

It is tradition in boxing to ask what’s next — what opponent at what weight in what venue? The inquiries are even more poignant when legends talk of retirement. In boxing, that word can, after all, mean a few weeks off before the next fight.

But in all the poking and prodding over what the future holds for Pacquiao, a slippery 37-year-old welterweight world champion, a deeper, broader question was lurking: How does the sport move forward?

In the matter of half a year, the two seminal fighters of this era, Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr, have said they are calling it quits. Mayweather has moved on to promoting. Pacquiao, who was elected to the House of Representatives of the Philippines in 2010, is running for a seat in the Senate, with the election a month away.

Both have left doubters in their wake, in part because of the sport’s dubious history with retirement and also because each man has shown that he still possesses dominating skills. And there is the fact that a rematch between the two -- for as dull as their first fight was -- would still be boxing’s most lucrative fight at the moment.

Mayweather, 39, with a 49-0 record, left the door open to a return to the ring in a recent interview with Spike TV, saying that he did not know what the future held. Pacquiao (58-6-2) just wants people to stop asking him about tomorrow for a moment.

“Let me enjoy, first, retired life,” he said after last Saturday’s fight. The boxing world still has plenty to look forward to.Saul Alvarez, the middleweight known as Canelo, is cementing his dominance one blow at a time. Emerging fighters like Gennady Golovkin and Terence Crawford are close to becoming the next greats in the sport. And the American light heavyweight Andre Ward is on his way to re-emerging as a commanding figure.

Still, these fighters have yet to show that they can command the mainstream marketability of Pacquiao or Mayweather. And it is so hard for us to let go of the old guard when they are still so good.

“No,” Bradley, 32, said after last Saturday’s fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. “No, Manny Pacquiao shouldn’t retire.”

Bradley, whose only two losses in his 37-fight career have come against Pacquiao, should know.
Through the first half of the fight, Bradley was elusive, escaping Pacquiao’s lunging left hands, but he was also unable to get close enough to land any clean blows of his own. Each fighter was clearly trying to draw the other in to connect with powerful combos.

By the fifth round, the blows started landing. Finally, it seemed, the fighters were throwing caution to the wind, taking risks, allowing themselves to be hit so they could be in better positions to hit.
And Pacquiao started getting the better of the exchanges.

In the sixth round, Bradley came in headfirst, trying to fire a right hand, but Pacquiao deftly and quickly twisted to his left to meet his opponent’s head with his right fist. The first knockdown — unconvincing as it was — came a round later when Bradley lunged off balance and Pacquiao basically pulled him to the canvas with his left hand.

Two rounds later, however, Pacquiao left no doubt about who was in control. He stunned Bradley with a left-handed counter, and then, as Bradley crouched, Pacquiao met him low, reached back with his left hand as if winding up for a fastball, and unleashed a peppery hook. That sent Bradley rolling to the ground, his legs kicking up over his head, like a gymnast doing a backward tumble.

Even when Bradley got the better of Pacquiao, he seemed only to energize him. After Bradley landed perhaps his best shot of the fight, a left hook in the eighth round that sent Pacquiao back to the ropes, Pacquiao stopped the onslaught, smiled and whispered in Bradley’s ear.

“I saw him smiling quite a bit in the ring tonight,” said Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer. “That shows me how much he loves the sport. He was really happy with what he was doing.”

Roach added that he saw Pacquiao do something he had seemed to get away from in recent fights — pounce when he had his opponent hurt, to try to land a knockout.

“I think the old Manny Pacquiao, that’s the way he used to be,” Roach said. “That’s what makes him such an exciting fighter.”

It is also what will leave fight fans disappointed if Pacquiao does, indeed, say farewell to boxing once and for all.

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