Boxing continues to be the sport where aging athletes and ex-champions never retire but instead keep holding out for one more dance in the spotlight, not to mention one more big payday. Recent reports indicate 51-year-old Bernard Hopkins continues to search for a suitable opponent for a farewell fight that pretty much no one wants to see, and now comes word that 43-year-old Juan Manuel Marquez is back in serious training and hoping for a major showdown in the near future.
No one should be surprised to learn that Hopkins, ever the attention-seeker and with an ego to rival Donald Trump’s, cannot say goodbye, but the case of Marquez is more puzzling. Hampered by a knee injury and out of action for more than two years, Dinamita’s motivation is difficult to discern. Does Marquez really want “a retirement fight” or is he still chasing the obsession that has largely defined the latter years of his career, that being the man they once called “The Mexicutioner,” Manny Pacquiao? As strange as it may sound, one senses that Marquez cannot retire until Manny finally does. But Pacquio has since fallen to Floyd Mayweather and his upcoming match with Jessie Vargas has been rejected by HBO as not pay-per-view worthy. Surely this is a rival and a rivalry no longer worth fighting for, not to mention training for.
After all, time rolls on and both Marquez and Pacquiao are well past their “best before” dates. And yet neither can walk away. For Manny, the motivation is obvious: he needs cash. In addition to a huge entourage to support, he must fund his political career and future campaign to become president of the Philippines. Despite defeats to Marquez and Mayweather, he remains one of the most popular boxers in the world and thus can still earn the huge money he needs, no matter who he faces in the ring. But the same can’t be said for Marquez, who has no political ambitions to finance.
You’ve done it all, Juan, so why keep fighting? You’re without question one of the great champions of your era, one of the greatest Mexican boxers of all-time. You boast wins over a long list of outstanding fighters, including champions Orlando Salido, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Diaz and Joel Casamayor. And no matter what anyone thinks of the decisions in your first three battles with Pacquiao, everyone knows you were blatantly robbed at least once, and then you nullified all of the previous Pacquiao fights with one of the most unforgettable one punch knockouts in the history of pugilism. What more is there left to accomplish? Answer: nothing. Except to save face.
Because after your huge victory over Pacquiao, after landing that thunderous right hand on his jaw and putting him to sleep and shocking everyone, you pulled one of the most bone-headed moves in boxing. You did the opposite of what anyone in their right mind would have done and you’re still searching for some way to make up for it.
You were on top of the world. You had just scored the biggest win of your career and were now a legit sports star and a legend of Mexican boxing. It was time to cash in, to reap what you had sowed, to get the big juicy reward you had, for so long, struggled to get. You were the “A side,” the man in the driver’s seat, ready to pick up the most stupendous payday of your career. But then you turned down a fifth fight with the Pacman, told the boxer who had given you multiple chances and rematches when he didn’t have to, to get lost. And in the process you shot yourself in the foot. And I mean, blew it clean off with a double-barreled shotgun.
Pride goeth before the fall, they say. You had the pleasure of proudly telling Manny to take a fifth fight and shove it, but then you fell flat on your face.
No one knows exactly how much you would have been paid for a fifth showdown with Manny Pacquiao, but one thing is certain: it would have been a lot. As in, an awful lot. Think all your previous purses put together and then double it and we’re maybe in the ballpark. In any case, way more than the six million you made for your scrap with Timothy Bradley.
Bob Arum and Pacquiao both wanted that fifth fight badly and were ready to fork over big money for the privilege. After all, you’d earned it. There was even talk of the match happening in Mexico City and of your guarantee, before percentages, of being around 11 or 12 million. With some shrewd negotiating, you might have collected something around $20 million once all the gate receipts and pay-per-view numbers came in. (And I’ll spare you the agony of discussing the kind of money you might have then made in matches with guys like Brandon Rios and Chris Algieri had you won fight five.) But instead you took on Bradley, lost, and ever since you’ve been agonizing over what has to be one of the dumbest career moves in sports history.
Because no matter how hard you tried to spin it afterwards, you lost to Bradley, fair and square. Yes, the fight was reasonably close, but no one thought you were blatantly robbed except yourself and your trainer, Nacho Beristain, and let’s face it, you guys think you’ve been screwed every single time a decision doesn’t go your way. But in fact you had a lot of difficulty with a boxer who Pacquiao had defeated with room to spare, though the judges gave Bradley the bogus decision. And as a result, all the leverage you had gained with that stupendous knockout of Pacquiao instantly vanished.
Turning down the biggest paycheck of your career and a fifth fight with Pacquiao was really dumb. Going on to lose to Timothy Bradley was even dumber. You know it. And man, that’s gotta haunt you. Keep you up at night. Burn in your brain like some demonic voice from the netherworld saying over and over again: Que estabas pensando?
One imagines what it was like to go and deposit your checks for the Bradley fight and then your meaningless win over Mike Alvarado. As you sat with the bank executives and your financial advisor and discussed investment options, did you wonder what was going through their minds? Was it difficult to ward off the horrible thought that everyone in the room was keenly aware of the fact that you turned down a payday which might have quadrupled your net worth, not to mention their commissions, and for reasons that no one really understands? As you sat there thinking to yourself, “Dios mío, I am such a idiota!” did you wonder if they too were reflecting on the fact that their client, while a four time world champion and perhaps the most successful boxer in Mexico’s history, was also a first-class moron?
So it makes sense that you can’t walk away. That feeling of unfinished business must be hard to shake. One last big payday. One last big pay-per-view event. One last win, inside or outside the ring, over the man who was your obsession for so long, the Pacman. Because if HBO deems his upcoming fight with Jessie Vargas unworthy, how sweet would it be to upstage him? Thus the dream of taking on Miguel Cotto in a match that would be huge, that would galvanize Mexican fight fans and bring in massive pay-per-view numbers and would give you a final huge payday to make you forget all about the fortune you stupidly turned your back on. But, alas, Cotto is no longer a welterweight, and you are no junior middleweight, and thus no high stakes, high value match-up appears on the horizon.
In retrospect, when you defiantly said No gracias to that fifth blockbuster with Pacquiao, how much more dignified it would have been if, right then and there, you’d simply walked away from boxing for good. Boom! The biggest punch of your career; Pacquiao knocked out cold; redemption at last. And then you ride off into the sunset, forever triumphant. Instead, here you are, back in training, chasing ghosts while nursing that tender knee, hoping for a final big fight as you keep one eye on your white whale, Manny Pacquiao. Given all you have accomplished and all those great performances and great victories, there’s something kind of sad about that. — Robert Portis