The PacMan’s Last Hurrah?

Yes, it’s hard to believe, but it’s July of 2018 and, for better or for worse, it’s another Manny Pacquiao “Fight Week.” Pacquiao vs Matthysse. It’s going down, fight fans, this Saturday. One year after his questionable decision loss to Australia’s Jeff Horn, eight division champion Manny Pacquiao returns to the ring to face WBA welterweight champ Lucas Matthysse.

Now if the last part of that sentence sounds a bit strange to you, well, it does to us too. To be clear, Keith Thurman, despite being inactive for the last 16 months, is in fact the WBA “super” champion at 147 pounds; Matthysse became the WBA “world” champion after losing to Viktor Postol, undergoing eye surgery and taking a nice long layoff, and then beating two boxers held in low regard by everyone except the WBA.

And which belt is that again? (Does it matter?)

Indeed, in the interests of being completely upfront about this situation, we remind you that the man Matthysse defeated for his so-called world title was one Tewa Kiram, a largely unknown contender who is currently regarded as the 93rd best welterweight on the planet by Boxrec. His eighth round collapse against Matthysse struck many fight fans as peculiar as he was knocked down by a glancing right hand before being knocked out by a jab. Immediately after, the comment sections and chatrooms were buzzing with speculation of a dive, many noting that prior to round eight, Kiram appeared to be coping just fine with Matthysse’s power. No matter; if the point of this HBO-aired show was to give the Argentinian enough credibility for a big money fight against Manny Pacquiao, it was mission accomplished.

Against Matthysse, Kiram lasted until the eighth.

And so, despite everything and to our bemusement, it’s Manny Pacquiao fight week. But strangely, for the first time in many years, Top Rank is not at the helm for a Manny Pacquiao event, and Freddie Roach is not in the Pacman’s corner. As well, the match is not on pay-per-view and for weeks it was a mystery as to how Pacquiao vs Matthysse, which is being staged in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, would be viewable on this side of the globe. As recently as a month ago there was much discussion about the promotion being a shambles and that the event might be cancelled. But it is now a go as, at the last minute, it was announced the fight would be viewable via the dreaded ESPN+ application.

Freddie was not invited to Malaysia.

It is difficult to know exactly what to make of this match. On the one hand, the powerful Matthysse could be a potentially dangerous opponent for a creaky, aging, undersized ex-champion who is 39-years-old, did not look particularly strong or sharp in his last outing, and who hasn’t stopped an opponent since 2009. On the other hand, Matthysse has looked even worse of late and hardly merits being considered a top 10 contender, let alone a “champion.” As limited as Jeff Horn looked against Terence Crawford the other week, at this point in time I would definitely pick Horn to beat up and probably stop Matthysse, who, after all, did his best work at 140 pounds.

All things considered, the signs point to the strong possibility of this being Manny Pacquiao’s final fight. Matthysse has just enough credibility and name brand recognition to guarantee Manny a strong payday and the exclusion of Bob Arum and Freddie Roach from the event means more cash in the Filipino’s pocket. This event is being staged to benefit the congressman’s bank account and nothing more. And if that’s the case, more power to him. What fight fan wouldn’t want to see Pacquiao exit the game on his own terms, with a win over an ex-champion and one final big paycheck? I, for one, would hate to see Manny exit like so many greats have, from Sugar Ray Leonard to Bernard Hopkins to Muhammad Ali: taking a beating from the fists of a much younger fighter.

No one wants to see Pacquiao exit the way Hopkins did.

We know how Pacquiao will perform. No matter what he says in the pre-fight hype, you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, and his style will remain the same. The question is what will we see out of Matthysse? The 35-year-old Argentinian has had a solid career with wins over Lamont Peterson and Ruslan Provodnikov and 36 knockouts. He’s banged with the best. His four losses were against elite-level talents: Danny Garcia, Viktor Postol, Zab Judah, and Devon Alexander. To note, the stoppage loss to Postol was voluntary as Matthysse made the decision to stay down so he might fight another day. A smart veteran knows when to do that, and I credit him for making a wise decision for his future.

Matthysse rumbles with Provodnikov in 2015.

Joel Diaz is cornering for Matthysse and the two previous encounters he’s had with Pacquiao as trainer for Timothy Bradley may be of benefit to the Argentinian. That said, the match figures to boil down to a clash between Pacman’s greater speed, mobility and combination punching and Matthysse’s strength and power, but this is assuming neither man is totally washed. It’s quite possible that this bout will in fact come down to which over-the-hill fighter retains better punch resistance; based on their most recent outings, one would have to favour the Filipino in that department.

Ideally, we get a solid, entertaining scrap and then, whatever the result, both men retire. But you just know that Bob Arum will be lurking in the background, looking to match the winner with his top dog at 147, Terence Crawford. “Bud” against either Matthysse or Pacquiao would result in a one-sided drubbing which no one needs to see, but should either of these aging warriors look at all impressive on Saturday, you just know that match will suddenly become a distinct possibility.

Is the great PacMan about to call it a career?

I hope I’m wrong, for everyone’s sake. But the brutal trade of prizefighting is always about money, first and foremost. And if Pacquiao vs Matthysse is essentially a pointless fight whose sole reason for happening is to put much-needed cabbage into the coffers of the “PacMan,” then one big money grab very often leads to another. Should Manny look impressive and score a resounding victory on Saturday, you know it will take extraordinary restraint and discipline for Senator Pacquiao to turn down the offer Bob Arum will put in front of him.

Pacquiao vs Crawford? God help us. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.      — Neil Crane 

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