That time has come, Manny Pacquiao

SYDNEY, Australia – At the final bell, Manny Pacquiao did something he’d never done before.

After spending the last few moments of the fight pressed against the ropes by Jeff Horn, Pacquiao bounced around after the bell and shadowboxed. He wanted to show the judges he had more left to give, but he might as well have been trying to convince himself as well.

Few probably expected to hear the words “AND THE NEW!” from Michael Buffer’s mouth as he briskly moved through the scores. The verdict came to the amazement of many, and to the jubilation of Horn’s corner and his supporters at Suncorp Stadium, the culmination of a longshot coronation ceremony of a promotion between Duco Events and the Queensland government.

Blame the judges for favoring Horn’s raw aggression over Pacquiao’s cleaner punching, and the referee for not curtailing Horn’s use of the head and forearms, and constant clinching. But Pacquiao had his chances to prevent any controversy in the ninth round.

Once the most devastating finisher in the sport, Pacquiao couldn’t cut the ring off as Horn wobbled around. Horn recovered enough to make it to the final bell without another scare. CompuBox credited Pacquiao for landing 182 punches to only 92 from Horn. Those statistics, plus $15 Australian dollars, will buy you a train ticket from Brisbane to the Gold Coast.

Amid the disbelief from the boxing community over the decision, which has been widely criticized as dubious in the boxing world, is the uncertainty about whether Pacquiao will exercise his option for a rematch – also in Brisbane – or if he’ll ever fight again. Many around Pacquiao, including his trainer Freddie Roach and wife Jinkee, have urged Pacquiao to call it a career.

“When I have already relaxed, that's when I will think hard about it,” said Pacquiao about the possibility of retirement. "I am also considering the opinion of people, the opinion of my family, and my body.”

It’s certainly worth thinking about. He was ready to do so before his third fight against Timothy Bradley Jr last year, or at least he thought he was. Then-senatorial candidate Pacquiao said he’d retire and focus on his political career should he win the election – which he did. But he soon found out how hard it could be to leave behind the sport which brought him from the poorhouse to the penthouse.

Losing to Horn, no matter how disputed the decision, is a major setback in Pacquiao’s future interests. A Floyd Mayweather rematch – already highly unlikely to happen – is not even worth discussing. The loss also can’t help his bargaining position for a fight with Terence Crawford, whom Pacquiao’s team wanted $20 million to face. He’d already been planning to fight outside of the US for future fights to avoid becoming another Vegas lounge act.

What would be the point of a rematch with Jeff Horn? To prove he was better than a fighter virtually everyone thought he beat, and no one outside of Queensland wanted to see him fight in the first place? He'd be close to 39 in November, and even if the judges scored the fight for Horn the first time, Horn still needs Pacquiao more than vice versa. That is, if Horn’s camp wants to reverse the widely held stigma of a gift decision in the rest of the world.

If Pacquiao felt he was “set up,” as he said, the best revenge would be to walk away from it all. After all, George Foreman walked away after being robbed blind in his final bout to the younger Shannon Briggs in 1997. Foreman offered one knowing grin behind a pair of shades and never fought again, and the people still love Big George.

Pacquiao has nothing left to prove in the boxing ring. He’s the sport’s only fighter to win world titles in 8 divisions, and was in the highest-grossing match of all-time against Floyd Mayweather in 2015. He was the Boxing Writers Association of America Fighter of the Decade for the 2000s, and beat the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Ricky Hatton, Oscar de la Hoya, and Miguel Cotto, and many others.

He went from wearing mismatched slippers on the streets of General Santos City to having tea in Buckingham Palace with Prince Harry. He put the Philippine flag on his back and brought the country to the world stage.

When he’s finally enshrined at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, his display will be one which stands out from most.

Of course, this is an oversimplification, and the decision to retire takes into consideration many other factors. Pacquiao, even at 38, can still beat most fighters around his weight. It’s hard to tell a man who made millions for a fight most of the world thought he won to call it quits. And there’s the question of whether he can afford to retire without significant lifestyle changes. It's a decision only he can make.

But consider the reality of what happens if he doesn’t start planning his exit. The sport of boxing is as unforgiving to older fighters as it is redeeming for younger ones. 

Pacquiao has never been beaten up the way Sugar Ray Leonard was against Hector Camacho, or Roberto Duran was by William Joppy, or Oscar de la Hoya was by Pacquiao himself. But that day will come eventually, if he hangs on long enough. It does for everyone who rolls the dice enough times, figuring they’d always somehow find a way to beat the odds. Boxing is like gambling; the house always wins if you stay at the table.

If it happened to Muhammad Ali, if it happened to Sugar Ray Robinson, if it happened to Joe Louis, it can happen to Pacquiao too.

Pacquiao’s fans are angry at the Horn decision. But they’ll be feeling much worse if that day comes. Why not walk away one fight too soon instead of one too late?

Only Floyd Mayweather and Rocky Marciano, and a few others, were able to walk away on top with their finances and their faculties intact. When a fighter doesn’t need money, it’s very hard to get him to do what you want him to do. That’s why fighters don’t retire from boxing; boxing retires fighters.

What Manny Pacquiao has accomplished in the ring won't soon be replicated. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images/AFP

What Manny Pacquiao has accomplished in the ring won't soon be replicated.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images/AFP

Pacquiao has been a part-time fighter since politics became his main job. And each time he’s switched back on fighter mode, that fire has burned a little dimmer and dimmer. He hasn't scored a knockout since 2009, and his ability to corner and batter opponents has faded as his foot movement has become more labored. There were times when Pacquiao was just about to land the knockout blow against Horn, but the punch arrived just a fraction of a second too late – and a fraction slower than it once would have.

As Freddie Roach said after the fight: “He didn't fight badly….He just wasn't consistent enough for what I want.”

The best way to show Pacquiao support is if the private sector comes together to sponsor one last go around in the ring in the Philippines, his first fight in his home country since his 2006 win over Oscar Larios. Let Pacquiao put on a final show for his hometown fans, and stack the undercard with young Filipino talent that the fans can support to keep the sport alive after he retires.

I’ve been saying for 5 years that the end is near for Pacquiao. Now I’m saying that the end should be now.

We just assumed Manny Pacquiao would make that walk into the ring forever. After 22 years of leaving his blood on the canvas, he doesn’t owe the sport of boxing another drop. – Rappler.com

Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at ryan.songalia@rappler.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.