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Pacquiao Takes on Spence Because He Wants to be King of the Seven Kingdoms

By Hermie Atienza
Thu, 22 Jul 2021

Manny Pacquiao is facing the toughest challenge of his career on August 21st against Errol Spence Jr and it might spell the end of boxing’s first and only 8-division champion.

In an elite welterweight division stacked with top-flight champs and contenders, Spence (27-0, 21 KO) is the consensus king of them all, the only champ with 2 belts, while also among the top pound-for-pound fighters.

Why would Pacquiao (67-7-2, 39 KO) risk fighting the most dangerous opponent out there? Given he’s just a few months shy of 43, and with all his boxing achievements, no one would protest had he picked an easy foe in what may well be his last fight.

For me, the ideal adversary would’ve been Mikey Garcia (40-1, 30 KO), a former 3-division champ with a substantial Mexican-American following, which would ensure a handsome payday. Mikey is also an undersized welterweight, so for once, Manny would be fighting someone his own size. Garcia’s lone defeat was when he moved up to challenge Spence, and Pacquiao will likely beat him too with superior speed and power.

If the PacMan was too proud to be accused of opting for an easy fight, he could’ve chosen any of the other belt-holders or contenders and all of them would’ve been difficult fights, and he would probably lose some of them.

But no, what’s the point of fighting the 2nd or 3rd best? To be the runner-up king? For a true warrior, it can only be the top guy. You have to beat the best to be the best. Pacquiao has to climb Everest because it’s there. Kilimanjaro ain’t good enough. He doesn’t want to be King in the North, he needs to be King of the Seven Kingdoms.

Pacquiao did not choose this fight because it was easy and knew he would win. He took it because it was the biggest challenge on the horizon and almost everyone said he could not win, but he would try as only a true legend would.

Las Vegas initially had Manny as much as a 7-1 underdog, though sentimental money for his reputation has brought it down to about 3-1, which are still the longest odds he’s ever faced since becoming a superstar.

Pacquiao was only a slight underdog against Mayweather, and the only other time he wasn’t favored was in his last fight against Keith Thurman. Manny proved he still had it at age 40 and snatched Thurman’s title to become the oldest welterweight champ in history and oldest current belt-holder in boxing.

But Spence is a different matter. He’s a Mayweather clone, only younger, bigger, faster, and stronger. If Pacquiao couldn’t beat an aging Floyd in 2015, it’s hard to imagine how he could do it 6 years later against a better version like Spence.

Physically, Spence is 4 inches taller and 5 inches longer in reach. He’s a slick Olympic boxer with fast hands and knockout power. We know about Manny’s power and legendary speed but it’s obvious he’s lost a step in recent years and his punches have lost some sting. Plus he hasn’t fought in 2 years (the longest layoff of his career) while Spence fought last December.
When Spence beat Mikey, he outpunched him more than 2-to-1 and won every round on every scorecard. It was such a wash that Spence didn’t bother going for a knockout. Being the same size as Mikey, Manny would surely have the same trouble touching Spence.

Ex-champ Shawn Porter gave Spence fits for many rounds with his ultra-aggressive, bullrushing style but Spence eventually knocked him down on the way to victory.

Pacquiao could mimic Porter’s strategy, but that’s really not his style, at least not anymore. He’s a more calculated boxer now, and while that might help him avoid getting knocked out, with his physical limitations, it won’t help him outbox a pure boxer like Spence.

The best-case scenario is if, like most of Pacquiao’s opponents, Spence is surprised by Manny’s speed, gets befuddled, abandons his game plan, and decides to fight toe-to-toe against a natural brawler, then PacMan may catch him and knock him out. Or at least disrupt his rhythm enough to outpoint him over 12 rounds.
Of course, we all like this image of an aging legend dethroning a youthful pretender. But that’s like imagining Ali beating Holmes, or Holmes beating Tyson. More like a pipe dream very far from reality.

The most likely outcome is for us to be rewarded with an entertaining fight where Pacquiao will be aggressive enough to have his moments to make the fight stimulating and competitive. Spence would likely respect Manny’s power and be defensive and content to pot-shot and counterpunch. I don’t think he would aggressively seek a knockout unless Manny gets careless and gives him an opening.

Pacquiao will show his champion’s mentality and give his best but he just would not overcome Spence’s physical edge and youthful abilities. I think we will hear the final bell with Spence winning a close but convincing victory.

It would not be the outcome we hope for but no matter. Winning is not the point. Only the challenge is. A win would put Pacquiao back at the pinnacle of the sport and he can retire on top. But no one truly expects that, so it’s a no-lose situation for Manny. He just displayed his gladiator spirit once again and the loss would not diminish his legacy in any way.

Mayweather may be the richest and deemed the most successful boxer in this era, but no one regards him as a warrior. He cherry-picked his opponents his entire career and never fought any top fighter at their peak. To protect his undefeated record, he never took real risks, thus his fights lacked excitement. Kowardly Floyd Chicken (KFC) would never have the guts to fight a prime champion like Spence. Instead, he is tarnishing his legacy by staging money-grab, circus sideshows, facing a diminutive 20-year-old Japanese kickboxer “na pinabili lang ng suka” (just an errand-boy to buy vinegar) and an amateur YouTube celebrity. Who would he fight next, Matilda the Boxing Kangaroo?
In contrast, Pacquiao fought all comers, legitimate champs and top contenders, many much bigger than him. He gave us thrilling trilogies with Hall-of-Famers and future legends in their prime. Mayweather’s record looks like a 5th-grade book report beside Pacquiao’s doctoral dissertation.

Decades from now, people might only faintly remember Mayweather as an ordinary champion. Who remembers Joe Calzhage, who retired as undefeated champ in 2008? Exactly. Boring fighters die and simply fade away. But everyone will always speak of Pacquiao’s undisputed legend as a fierce gladiator who electrified boxing.
Yes, this might be the end of Manny Pacquiao, but his legacy as an all-time great will live on in the sport’s pantheon as one of the most exciting natural fighters to ever practice the sweet science.

On August 21st, incidentally another Filipino national hero’s day (Ninoy Aquino), let us celebrate Manny Pacquiao’s brilliant career. Let us thank him for the tremendous pride and glory he brought our country.

Mabuhay ka (Long Live), PacMan!

Hermie Atienza is a former professor at the University of the Philippines (Diliman) who has lived in Vancouver, Canada with his family for 19 years.

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Hermie Atienza.

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