Where does Manny Pacquiao go from here?

MANILA, Philippines – The look on Manny Pacquiao’s face as he sat on a chair atop the ring told the story of the final hour of a 5-year journey. Showered and dressed in an orthodox button-down, Pacquiao stared ahead blankly before drooping his head towards the floor.

It wasn’t just the pain from an old shoulder injury that became aggravated early in the fight, or disappointment from being on the wrong side of a unanimous decision in the most hyped boxing match of this century.

His expression was that of a stunned man. Stunned that, after 5 years of chasing a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr, his target was more elusive between the ropes than he had been during any of their failed negotiations.

The Mayweather fight didn’t take nearly the physical toll as was the case when he was knocked cold by Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012, but in many ways it was harder to swallow. Marquez had previously given Pacquiao 3 of his hardest fights, and at his core was a blood-and-guts warrior of the same ilk.

Pacquiao had always envisioned his brand of southpaw aggression and heavy metal approach to fisticuffs would overwhelm the staccato bebop of Floyd Mayweather. He was a 2-to-1 betting underdog, but in the eyes of his supporters, there was no safer bet than Pacquiao.

The action inside the ring was underwhelming, but conclusive. Mayweather had outboxed Pacquiao, surviving heavy blows from Pacquiao’s left cross early on to land his own rights with consistency. Mayweather’s movement and counterpunching – and then just its suggestion – limited Pacquiao’s offensive bursts.

Pacquiao’s pride wouldn’t allow him to accept the defeat initially, telling HBO commentator Max Kellerman that he felt he won the fight. Then the focus switched to his right shoulder which he injured in a sparring session a month before the fight. But after a night of sleep, his approach changed.

"I want a rematch if he wants. I wasn’t 100% ready for last night because of this shoulder but I don’t want to use that complaining that I lost the fight. I’m just accepting the fact that I lost."

What comes next?

A docile fight week and underwhelming contest have given way to a post-fight fallout that has been more divisive than anything that transpired between the ropes. Talks of fines and perjury charges for not disclosing his injury on his pre-fight medical questionnaire; lawsuits from opportunistic “fans”; and Pacquiao’s claims of being sabotaged for not being allowed a shot of legal anti-inflammatory drugs on fight night by the Nevada Athletic Commission.

The Mayweather fight had always been the end-game for Pacquiao. After undergoing surgery on his torn right rotator cuff this past Wednesday, he’ll be 37 before he can throw a meaningful punch with that arm again.

Manny Pacquiao hangs his head at the post-fight press conference. Photo by EPA

Manny Pacquiao hangs his head at the post-fight press conference.

Photo by EPA

He’s 65 fights into a 20-year boxing career, and with world championships in a record 8 weight classes, there are no more horizons left to explore in the ring. And so the question remains: where does Pacquiao go from here?

Pacquiao left the dais before reporters could ask him his future plans, and maybe it’s because they didn’t need any explanation. The Mayweather fight gave Pacquiao his biggest payday to date, and fighting lesser opponents would be like getting demoted from editor-in-chief to newspaper delivery boy.

“All we can do is hope for a rematch,” said Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach, the morning after the fight as he rushed towards the Delano Hotel elevator.

Setting a rematch will require some effort and time for the public to forget about their first meeting. The first fight fails to meet the criteria for a second go-around as it was neither particularly exciting, nor did it have a controversial outcome. What it did was make both fighters wealthy after 48 minutes under the MGM Grand’s lights, and selling a shoulder injury as justification will be hard at $100 for a pay-per-view.

Mayweather initially obliged to a rematch with Pacquiao through a text to his new media conduit Stephen A. Smith before saying he would not because Pacquiao was a “sore loser” and a “coward.”

The irony of course is that Mayweather had blamed his poor performance in his controversial first meeting with Jose Luis Castillo on a torn rotator cuff suffered two days before the fight. After surgery, Mayweather dominated Castillo in a rematch later that year.

None of that means anything for the time being. Pacquiao will either be sidelined for 4-6 months, as adviser Michael Koncz told Rappler, or 9-12 months, as Surgeon Neal ElAttrache told ESPN.

The biggest determining factor in setting a rematch will be if Pacquiao’s absence from the ring and the constant teasing and withdrawing of a rematch offer from Mayweather will drum up enough interest to justify a second meeting. If the fight still makes dollars, it’ll still make sense.

Pacquiao says he has no hesitation about going straight from rehab to a rematch, which would give him just a short training camp to test the shoulder’s integrity, and would mean a year or more out of the ring for his reflexes and timing to further erode.

Plus, there is no guarantee that Pacquiao’s arm will ever be the same as it had been. 

Just ask James “Buddy” McGirt, who entered his first fight with Pernell Whitaker in 1993 with a damaged shoulder. His managers hid the injury from him, he says, so he wouldn’t pull out from a career-high payday. He had surgery afterwards, lost a rematch, and his career never fully-rebounded.

“It’s all mental,” explains the two-division champion turned championship trainer. “But the difference is that Manny is getting $100 million and $100 million will ease the pain.”

Pacquiao had success in the first half of the fight with straight left crosses between Mayweather's gloves. Photo by EPA

Pacquiao had success in the first half of the fight with straight left crosses between Mayweather's gloves.

Photo by EPA

It’d be foolish for Pacquiao to leave the potential money from a rematch on the table, as well as forego an opportunity to answer that “What if?” lingering in his mind.

His other option

But what if a rematch never materializes, then what?

Pacquiao is under contract with Top Rank through December 31, 2016, though his contract could be extended due to him being unable to fight for the rest of 2015. The two fighters Top Rank CEO Bob Arum has mentioned for future opponents – Kell Brook and Terence Crawford – are versatile, undefeated and hungry fighters.

Boxing is a young man’s sport, and both fighters are nearly a decade younger than Pacquiao. It’s one thing to fight someone like Mayweather who is at the very end of his career and is no longer capable of dealing out the beatings that he gave to fighters like Arturo Gatti and Diego Corrales.

It’s a very different task trying to get motivated to fight a younger, more dangerous foe who brings a significantly lower purse than he earned against Mayweather. 

In that case, why not retire? Or negotiate a final farewell bout in the Philippines against a durable but stationary opponent? That would give his home country fans one last chance to see him as he was at his best, instead of him chasing an opponent around the ring.

With estimates for his prize money from the Mayweather fight appearing astronomical, he should be financially secure now. And it’s not as if he doesn’t have enough activities to keep him busy in retirement. The two-term congressman is expected to run for the Senate in 2016, plus he coaches the Kia Carnival in the Philippine Basketball Association, in addition to a number of activities that divide his ever-stretched schedule.

In boxing, few exits are dignified. Ask Oscar de la Hoya, Ricky Hatton, or the litany of other fighters whom Pacquiao escorted to an unexpected retirement.

If there is any boxer deserving of such a way out, it’s Pacquiao. He went from a fighter making $2 per dust-up in dingy gyms around Manila and Mindanao, to main eventing PPV fights at the casinos of Las Vegas. He’s beaten odds far greater than 2-1 in making it to this point.

Pacquiao’s return parade on Tuesday, May 12, will have few suggestions of the defeat he incurred. To his fans, Pacquiao could never be a loser. – 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.