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Manny Pacquiao still hasn't quit boxing, but boxing has quit him

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Manny Pacquiao is far removed from the glory days when he commanded briefcases full of money and bigger U.S. audiences. (Getty Images)

Manny Pacquiao has become a world traveler over the last few years, though it has nothing to do with his political career. Instead, the Filipino senator has fought in China and Australia in the last five years, and will meet Lucas Matthysse on Sunday (Saturday in the U.S.) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

There was also the much-discussed bout with Amir Khan that was supposed to have taken place in Dubai, that was going to be financed by some uber-rich people who never came through with the money.

As he’s become less of a draw in the U.S. and less of an elite fighter, there has been a significant decrease in demand to see him. He’s not as good as he once was, he no longer knocks anyone out and he’s only a part-time fighter at best.

The result is that his team has had to look elsewhere to get him fights, where seeing a fighter of his stature, even though he’s well past his prime, is something of an attraction.

Pacquiao is forever revered as a hero in the Philippines, where he’s built schools, churches and made other charitable donations. (Wendell Alinea/MP Promotions)

The fight with Matthysse nearly didn’t come off. It was originally pegged to be on ESPN Pay-Per-view in the United States, but the financing for the deal was so uncertain that a deal couldn’t be done in time. Instead, the fight will be distributed in the U.S. on the streaming service ESPN+.

Millions of American fans saw Pacquiao lose a controversial decision on ESPN last year to the unheralded Australian, Jeff Horn. It was viewed at least in part by 4.4 million, with an average audience of 2.8 million.

How far has Pacquiao fallen since then? His fight on Saturday with Matthysse for another phony world title will be available on the new ESPN streaming service where it likely will be seen by far fewer than 100,000 viewers in the U.S. ESPN has no places to release subscriber numbers for ESPN+, or viewership of any particular event.

Pacquiao goes into the fight without his long-time trainer and confidante, Freddie Roach, who built him into a once-in-a-generation star and led him to unprecedented heights. Pacquiao never told Roach that he was fired, and insisted that media reports indicating that Roach was let go, were incorrect. He was apparently miffed that Roach suggested to Yahoo Sports after the fight with Horn that he retire.

When to retire is a very personal decision, and is largely up to each fighter. Pacquiao is only a shell of the fighter he was at his peak, around a decade ago, in which he was in the midst of a dominant 15-bout winning streak.

Despite his advancing years and clearly declining skills, he’s not yet at a point where a commission needs to consider not licensing him. He’s no longer a superstar, and would get destroyed by the truly elite welterweights, such as Terrence Crawford, Errol Spence, Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia, among others.

But he’s a competent professional boxer and will beat a majority of the fighters in his division. He’s simply not beating the elite guys.

The problem, though, is that those who have appreciated Pacquiao’s rise, and watched how generous he was with the hundreds of millions of dollars he’d won, worry that he’s soon to have to fight for the money.

Pacquiao hasn’t hinted at when he’ll call it quits. (Wendell Alinea/MP Promotions)

He’s built churches and schools and given money to every conceivable cause, some well-deserving and many exceptionally dubious and unvetted.

He’s been poorly served by those closest to him, the unusually large entourage that follows him everywhere, often with hands out. His charitable spirit is admirable, but giving his money to con artists and charlatans and not to those truly in need is questionable.

One hoped to see a more dignified ending for such an elite athlete. And while he’s had more than his share of flaws as a man – promoter Oscar De La Hoya once gave him several hundred thousand dollars of cash in a suitcase as an inducement to sign a promotional contract, and Pacquiao gambled it away that night – he’s cared deeply about his country and made it a far better place to live with his generosity.

His former promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank, often called him the social welfare system in the Philippines.

With declining skills, he can’t command the same kind of purses, and is avoiding the U.S. because of the taxes he must pay as a foreign athlete.

It’s a sad and disturbing finish to a great career, and he insists he’s going to go on after this fight.

It’s all too familiar to long-time boxing fans, who have seen great champions such as Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones, Evander Holyfield and many others hang around well past their sold-by date because they needed the money and/or couldn’t drag themselves away from the spotlight.

This isn’t setting up to be a great ending for Pacquiao.

Hopefully, he’ll come to his senses and gets out before he loses them.

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