At this point it’s anybody’s guess how much longer ring legend Manny Pacquiao will continue boxing, but what is known is that the Pacman will step inside the roped square Sunday morning in Kuala Lumpur to face Lucas Matthysse in what could be his last hurrah. While a minor belt will be at stake in this welterweight fight, the fact the 39-year-old Pacquiao is fighting–and is expected to defeat–a hard puncher and well-rounded fighter like Matthysse speaks volumes about Manny’s fighting pedigree, and the high esteem in which the boxing world still holds him.
That said, we’re not here to analyze Pacquiao vs Matthysse, or to speculate about what could come next for the Fighting Senator. Instead, we’re here to try and put into perspective just how amazing the Filipino’s career has been. A daunting task indeed, because when it comes to Manny Pacquiao, numbers and statistics can never tell the whole story. During his most spectacular run, he was the fighter everyone just had to see, a status confirmed by the over 18 million pay-per-view sales his career generated, by the attention from all those celebrities ringside in Vegas for his fights, and by the global media coverage his performances commanded again and again.
All that attention was more often than not justified by what Manny Pacquiao did inside the ring. His fury seldom failed to wreak havoc on his opponents, and was frequently so overwhelming it left our mouths agape and a bloodied foe lying flat on the canvas. But there were also times when his matches left us wanting more, such as when second-tier opponents failed to rise to the occasion, leading to unsatisfying performances and main events which could never live up to the hype. Or when Manny’s sometimes reckless aggression resulted in either intense drama or disastrous consequences. Or both. Yet other times the comic and the quasi-tragic merged into surreal moments that are forever etched in boxing history.
As the opening bell approaches for the 69th fight in the career of Manny Pacquiao, and with so much uncertainty surrounding his future as a prizefighter, this is the perfect time to celebrate all those ‘Manny Moments’ that made him a one-of-a-kind superstar, moments that made us nod in reverence or gasp in awe. Or, on occasion, shake our heads in embarrassment or pity. While Manny’s career is primarily one of triumph and incredible success, there were some valleys which, of course, only make the peaks that much sweeter. When you add it all up, there’s no doubt Manny’s career is as worthy of celebration as that of any of his peers. For proof of this, look no further than these twelve astounding moments:
12. January 26, 2006: The Mexicutioner Arrives
Before Mexican Style, there was The Mexicutioner. After Pacquiao won a super bantamweight belt from Lehlo Ledwaba–on two weeks notice, mind you–he embarked on a journey of destruction against Aztec prizefighters. He knocked out Emmanuel Lucero in three, outclassed and stopped Marco Antonio Barrera over eleven, and dropped Juan Manuel Marquez three times in the first round before earning a controversial draw.
Then came Morales. While Manny Pacquiao’s first encounter against El Terrible was a dramatic battle that saw him drop a clear decision, it also set up one of the Filipino’s biggest wins to date, when in front of a packed Thomas and Mack Center in Vegas, he enacted revenge on Morales. Pacquiao dropped the Mexican great twice in the tenth, gave him the worst beating of his career to that point, and stopped him for the first time ever. The outcome moved Larry Merchant to call Pacquiao a demi-god, a “combination of Ali, Elvis and Bruce Lee.” After we managed to lift our jaws back up from the floor, the rest of us just called him effin’ amazing.
11. May 8, 2004: Lightning Strikes Thrice
The opening three minutes of Manny Pacquiaos’s rivalry with Juan Manuel Marquez still represent perhaps his most brutal display of aggression against an elite talent. Marquez was taking his time, mostly retreating and feinting, trying to figure out Pacquiao’s timing, when all of a sudden boom! a left hand explodes on his face and sends him to the canvas. The Mexican gets up, decides to bring the fight to Pacquiao, only for the southpaw to unleash another combination and boom! there it is again, that freakin’ left fist square on his nose sending his ass to the floor.
Surely it couldn’t happen a third time, right? Think again: with Marquez’ back to the ropes, Manny fires another left, and again the Mexican crumbles to the ground, his nose bloodied beyond recognition and his brain rattling in confusion: “What the hell just happened!?” Manny Pacquiao: that’s what happened. “Juan Manuel Marquez hasn’t ever seen anything like that!” cried Jim Lampley on the HBO broadcast as Dinamita walked back to his corner; “Who has!?” retorted Larry Merchant without missing a beat. And no, that the Mexican maestro came back to eke out a draw doesn’t detract one bit from the “Holy-shit!”-ness of that first round.
10. March 13, 2010: Bang-Banging On Clottey’s Guard
The Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight everyone wanted to see in 2010 didn’t become reality that year, for whatever reason you choose to believe to be true, and so we had to endure Pacquiao sparring with Joshua Clottey’s gloves at Cowboys Stadium for 12 monotonous rounds. Fans were the ones who forked over millions for 50,000 tickets and 700,000 PPV orders, but few of them were more frustrated than HBO’s action-caller Jim Lampley, who witnessed such one-sided action in the ring that in the eighth round he suddenly became unhinged and gave us a singular moment in sports broadcasting history.
“Bang! Try and stop me!” Lampley suddenly shouted, no doubt drawing raised eyebrows from his silent broadcast partners. “Bang-bang! Here I come!” he yelled, his voice engorged with irritation at Clottey’s refusal to open up and fight. “You wanna throw sometime?” he shouted, before following up with another series of “Bang’s” timed to coincide with Manny’s punches. Whether you laughed or cringed when you heard it — and most of us did both — there’s little doubt Lampley’s meme-worthy fit of Tourette’s will live on for decades to come.
9. November 16, 2009: A Time For Hope
November of 2009 will forever be remembered as the peak of Pacquiao-mania, a time when fascination with the Filipino enveloped not only his native Philippines, but practically the whole world. Within days of his historic victory over Miguel Cotto, Manny’s face graced the cover of Time magazine and he was also named one of that publication’s ‘Persons of the Year.’
It’s not often a boxer’s fame holds the same currency in all countries; even stars like De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather. fell short of that mark, and we have to go back to Mike Tyson to find a name as recognizable on a global basis as that of Manny Pacquiao. But in fact Manny drew more comparisons to Muhammad Ali than to Iron Mike, as he was both beloved and respected the world over. His name became synonymous with hope for millions: his fellow Filipinos hoped to see the Pacman cement his status as a worldwide ambassador of their country; fight fans hoped the ascension of Manny Pacquiao would provide boxing a much needed boost; and everyone hoped to see a confrontation for pound-for-pound supremacy with a returning Floyd Mayweather Jr. It’s anyone’s guess when we might ever see a boxer again hold that kind of global appeal.
8. November 13, 2010: Margarito Mauled
Following the Clottey letdown, Manny Pacquiao climbed up in weight to meet the largest foe he’s faced to date. In fact, many expected the Tijuana Tornado to land some serious leather on the smaller Pacman, though not many gave him a chance to win outright. And the Mexican did connect with some heavy artillery in the sixth round, when he capped off his best stanza with a monstrous body shot that made Pacquiao retreat and grimace in pain. Nevertheless, this would prove a mere footnote in what became yet another dominant and fearsome display from Manny Pacquiao; by the end of the night Margarito’s orbital bone was broken, his right eye swollen to comical proportions, and his career dumped into the dustbin of history.
Many considered it rightful punishment to the Mexican for the shenanigans that preceded Margarito’s fight with Shane Mosley almost two years prior. Others just reveled in another amazing Manny Pacquiao show like kids watching a Disney-sponsored fireworks display, enjoying the endless stream of stinging rights and exploding lefts that rendered Margarito’s mug almost unrecognizable. That Pacquiao left a former titlist who outweighed him by 17 pounds and towered above him by a full five inches in a condition resembling chopped liver made everyone sit up and reassess just how formidable a fighter the little Filipino was.
7. July 2, 2017: Sting Operation
Almost a year ago to the date, virtual unknown Jeff “The Hornet” Horn, along with over 50,000 rabid Australian fight fans, welcomed Manny Pacquiao into Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium for a welterweight title fight largely seen as a cash grab for the Filipino. Fast forward twelve bloody, action-packed rounds, and what we got instead was one of the most controversial, most talked-about decisions of recent times.
Most observers saw Manny Pacquiao emerge as the clear winner in a tougher-than-expected fight, but the judges awarded the hometown hero a decision that stripped Pacquiao of his title belt, cuing ESPN’s Teddy Atlas into a trademark, desk-pounding rant that became even more memorable than the fight itself. Atlas topped it off by confronting Horn about how and why he had lost the fight, telling him he didn’t deserve the judges’ nod in what he deemed an unmistakable home decision. Even by Teddy Atlas standards, the whole thing was bold to the extreme, and in fact many speculate that ESPN’s top brass was so unimpressed that this was the real reason they decided to remove Atlas from future live boxing broadcasts.
6. November 15, 2003: A Barrier Felled
Pacquiao’s first fight with Mexican star Marco Antonio Barrera represents a momentous occasion in the Filipino’s career, as his stoppage of the “Baby-Faced Assassin” validated the Pacman’s credentials beyond all doubt and confirmed his membership among boxing’s elite. A three to one favorite, Barrera was riding high after victories over Naseem Hamed, Erik Morales and Jonny Tapia, so the fact he had a less than ideal training camp going into the fight doesn’t detract from Pacquiao’s impressive performance.
Manny twice knocked down an experienced warrior and pitched a shutout against a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. Barrera himself knew from early on he was dealing with more than he had bargained for; for proof look no further than the knockdown he suffered in round three: Pacquiao fires his trademark one-two, landing the left squarely on Marco’s chin, putting the Mexican on his butt. Barrera then sits forward, puts his arms on his knees and lowers his head, a fitting tribute to Pacquiao’s phenomenal talent.
5. November 14, 2009: Chopping Up Cotto
Arguably the single greatest performance in the amazing career of Manny Pacquiao. His overwhelming domination of the third best welterweight in the world at the time–in his first fight at the weight–moved Bob Arum to proclaim him “the greatest boxer I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen them all, including Ali, Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard.”
Sure, Arum’s statement is more than a little suspect coming from the promoter of a guy who had just earned more than 22 million dollars for a night’s work. But given how high the boxing world was on Pacquiao in the immediate aftermath of the Cotto stoppage, the Bobfather’s comment accurately reflected the feelings of throngs of fans and media-members who had just witnessed a lethal combination of speed and power unlike anything in recent memory. To refine Arum’s argument, the victory over Miguel Cotto made Pacquiao look more like the second coming of Henry Armstrong than anything else: a guy who could move between weight divisions with unbelievable ease and not only defeat anyone he faced, but do so in a distressingly dominant way.
4. May 2, 2015: Shouldergate
Given all of Pacquiao’s brilliant performances and thrilling battles, perhaps fans could have found it in their hearts to forgive the Pacman for the monumental egg he laid in his fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. But in boxing things are seldom that easy, especially when the so-called “Fight of the Century” was also the biggest cash-grab of all time. No matter how beloved a fighter might be, fans who pay to see him perform expect at least a modicum of entertainment for their dollars.
When Pacquiao–one of the most entertaining pugilists of his era–failed so spectacularly at giving fans their money’s worth, after years of waiting for MayPac to happen, it felt like an unforgivable betrayal. Fans were only further incensed when Manny blamed his performance on a shoulder injury, as it confirmed that they had shelled out a ridiculous amount of cash for a match in which one of the participants was nowhere near his optimal fighting shape. On the biggest stage of his career, Pacquiao fell embarrassingly short of the mark.
3. “He’s Not Getting Up, Jim!” – December 8, 2012
Here is, without a doubt, the most bittersweet of all Manny Moments. After three hellacious, infuriatingly close contests, the Pacman and Dinamita met for a fourth time to settle the score once and for all. Both promised a knockout going into this fourth meeting as three distance fights had failed to result in the kind of resolution everyone wanted. Like junkies aching for their fix, we all glued ourselves to our screens to watch both Pacquiao and Marquez deliver on their promises, providing us their most consistently violent fight yet. As usual, Pacquiao attacked and Marquez countered, but the viciousness was cranked to eleven, both fighters clearly sick of each other at this point. Marquez dropped Pacquiao in the third with a booming right, but this only served to piss Manny off. The Filipino retaliated with nonstop combinations, his left hand lashing out again and again at Marquez and crushing Dinamita’s nose, much like it had been in the first round of the first fight.
In the dying seconds of the sixth, with Marquez bloodied and unsteady on his feet and desperately looking for an opportunity to change things around before reaching a point of no return, Pacquiao left himself wide open. Dinamita stepped outside of Pacquiao’s jab and countered with a short, stiff right that put an abrupt, dramatic end to Manny’s awesome onslaught, moving Roy Jones Jr. at HBO’s broadcast desk to vocalize the thoughts of everyone watching, and indeed, Pacquiao did not get up. Still, it had been some time since we had seen Pacquiao so hungry, so intent on destruction. Manny was so good that night that amid all the chaos he unleashed he forgot for a moment who he was punching at: the one guy on the planet who was willing to walk through hell to knock him out.
2. December 6, 2008: De La Hoya Demolished
De La Hoya vs Pacquiao was a shocker from the moment it was signed, given that the Golden Boy had not competed below the super welterweight limit in years, and the fact that the smaller man had never fought above lightweight. The so-called “Dream Match” was set at 147 pounds, with most observers expecting Oscar to struggle to make weight but to then enter the ring with significant advantages in both weight and strength. Those expectations, reflected by the 2-to-1 odds in Oscar’s favor, were dashed when it became known De La Hoya inexplicably stayed at the weight limit for days before the match, showing up emaciated not only to the weigh in, but also on fight night.
Thus, the astonishing unfolded before our eyes, with Manny Pacquiao beating up Oscar the way Superman would beat on a piñata if he really, really craved some candy. The never-ending blitz of left hands that transformed the Golden Boy’s good looks into a gross caricature left Oscar to surrender on his stool before the start of the ninth. By making Oscar quit and effectively retiring him, Pacquiao became not only boxing’s kingpin, but also its pound-for-pound boss.
1. May 2, 2009: The Greatest Hit
After retiring the Golden Boy, Pacquiao dropped down to light welterweight to challenge lineal champ Ricky “Hitman” Hatton in a megabucks matchup. The Mancunian entered the ring as a 2-to-1 underdog, but fireworks were expected given both fighters’ offensive stylings. A complete mismatch is what transpired, played in fast-forward too, since Hatton had simply no way to keep up with the Pacman’s devilish pace. A portent of the grand finale that was to come was the beauty of a knockdown Manny scored in the first round, landing a lightning-quick right hook on Hatton’s chin.
Then a second knockdown came, erasing from Ricky’s face any last trace of self-confidence. Poor Ricky; if he only knew what was coming. To cap off the electrifying performance, Manny Pacquiao scored the most brutal, one-punch knockout of his career: a measuring jab followed by a sinister left instantly turned off the lights inside Hatton’s head, sending millions of Filipinos into ecstasy, millions of Brits into despair, and the rest of the boxing world into a furor. Was there anything the Filipino couldn’t do? After such a chilling display of violence, no rival seemed too big, too good, or too strong for the great Manny Pacquiao to beat into a stupor. Hyperbole, you say? For chrissakes’, just look at that damn left one more time and say with a straight face you didn’t think so too.