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Nothing Lasts Forever, Not Even Manny Pacquiao’s Exquisite Ring Career

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Nothing Lasts Forever, Not Even Manny Pacquiao’s Exquisite Ring Career

If there is one thing I’ve learned as a temporary passer-through during the millions and millions of years of mankind’s Earthly existence, it is that nothing really lasts forever. Something might stay relatively the same for years, maybe even decades, but if enough time goes by it either gets better, worse or vanishes altogether.

And while that is true for all of us, the span of athletic excellence would seem to be especially abbreviated. Oliver Wendell Holmes was mentally facile enough to have served as a Justice on the United States Supreme Court until his retirement, at 90, in 1932. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg served until she was 87, when she finally was outpointed by the Grim Reaper. Physical prowess, however, almost always has a much-earlier expiration date. If that was not apparent before, it should have been after 58-year-old, four-time former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield didn’t make it through a single round of his recent sanctioned fight in Florida against former UFC star Vitor Belfort, 44, which never should have been allowed even as a grin-and-giggle exhibition.

The inevitable law of diminishing returns, at least as it pertains to boxing, was reaffirmed on Wednesday when Manny Pacquiao, increasingly a graybeard of boxing at 42 but relatively youthful as a politician, announced his retirement from the ring after 26 years, 72 professional bouts, world championships in a record eight separate weight classes and, for his global legion of fans and admirers, countless memories made. Perhaps Pacquiao was influenced by his most recent and likely final bout, a 12-round, unanimous-decision loss on Aug. 21 to Yordenis Ugas, who came away with “PacMan’s” WBA welterweight title. Then again, perhaps not. A sitting member of the Philippine Senate since 2016 and prior to that a Representative of the Sarangani Province to the Philippine Congress from 2010 to 2016, it has long been his desire to someday ascend to his country’s highest elected office. If he is truly done with boxing, he can now fully focus on his bid to succeed 76-year-old incumbent Rodrigo Duterte, whose six-year term expires in 2022.

In a Facebook post confirming what many had already expected, Pacquiao said, “It is difficult for me to accept that my time as a boxer is over. Today, I am announcing my retirement. I never thought that this day would come. As I hang up my boxing gloves, I would like to thank the whole world, especially the Filipino people, for supporting Manny Pacquiao.”

Still, you have to wonder which way Pacquiao might have turned had he reached back into his glorious past to summon enough of what had made him a living legend and defeat the very capable Ugas, thus again demonstrating that he is somehow immune to the ravages of age that make even the best of the best seem merely mortal. Would his retirement announcement, previously hinted at, again be put on hold? Even given his vast popularity, could he have reasonably asked Filipino voters to go to the polls next year and cast their ballots for a part-time fighter, part-time President?

Pacquiao as the possible leader of a nation of 90 million, or even as a fighter who would go on to achieve some of all that he eventually did, seemed unlikely at best and ridiculous at worst when he made his United States debut on June 23, 2001, at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, as a challenger to IBF super bantamweight champ Lehlo Ledwaba of South Africa in early-undercard support of the main event that paired Oscar De La Hoya with WBC super welterweight titlist Javier Castillejo. The arena and press section were both less than half-full when Pacquiao, virtually anonymous in America despite the world flyweight and junior bantamweight belts he had won while fighting almost exclusively in his homeland (only two of his previous 34 pro bouts were outside the Phillippines), stepped inside the ropes to painfully introduce himself to Ledwaba and, in a sense, everyone else who cared to take notice.

At least one U.S. writer fortunate enough to have taken his ringside seat early – me – was mesmerized by what he had seen of the little southpaw whirling dervish, who stopped Ledwaba in six one-sided rounds. I made a mental note to keep tabs on a fighter I was convinced could become something special, and as time went by Pacquiao’s emergence as a force of nature was not unlike that of a gigantic avalanche rolling down the side of a snowy mountain.

In comparing notes with longtime Associated Press boxing writer Ed Schuyler Jr., we discovered that his first glimpse of a young Panamanian destroyer named Roberto Duran, a one-round demolition of solid journeyman Benny Huertas in Madison Square Garden on Sept. 13, 1971, was as indelible as mine was of the scrawny, 22-year-old Pacquiao. Later, for a story for this site that was posted on Dec. 5, 2012, I compared my initial impression of Pacquiao to how Michael Corleone, hiding out in Sicily, felt upon seeing the lovely Apollonia in the 1972 Academy Award-winning film The Godfather, which one of Michael’s bodyguards compared to “getting hit by the thunderbolt.”

For boxing buffs, the thunderbolt strikes whenever they first-catch sight of someone they hadn’t seen before, and maybe even hadn’t heard about, but whose style, charisma or power have the effect that Apollonia had on Michael Corleone. We immediately reserve a part of our heart for that fighter, and the likelihood is that he resides there for the remainder of his ring career, and possibly forever. For diehard loyalists, the thunderbolt came in the form of a mobile, fast-handed and mouthy heavyweight named Cassius Clay, for others it was a snarling, compact wrecking machine, Mike Tyson.

Objectivity is the name of the game for professional chroniclers of the sport, and emotional and/or personal feelings shouldn’t come into play when reporting on a particular fight or fighter. There are other practitioners of the pugilistic arts I have liked as much personally, or admired as much professionally, as I have Pacquiao. Other fighters stir less-positive feelings because, well, media members are as human as anyone else. But we are obliged to call ’em as we see ’em; it is a narrow path that does not allow for much if any deviation.

There have been occasions involving other sports when the thunderbolt has struck me. As a young sports columnist for the Jackson (Miss.) Daily News, I experienced a Pacquiao-like epiphany when a sophomore running back for Jackson State, Walter Payton, revealed himself as a generational talent. Same thing when Pete Maravich showed up at LSU as a gangly freshman wunderkind who could do things with a basketball nobody had ever seen before, or when then-rookies Albert Pujols and Ken Griffey Jr. swung their bats as if they were future tickets to enshrinement in Cooperstown branded into the wood. True greatness sometimes is delayed in its arrival, but when it arrives it is impossible to look away. So, we look, and look, and keep doing so until the Paytons, Maraviches and Pacquiaos no longer can or wish to try squeezing more magic out of their expiring primes.

Is Manny Pacquiao the greatest fighter ever? Maybe not, but the roll call of those who merit a higher place in history’s pecking order is short and distinguished. The Fab Filipino didn’t linger as long as Bernard Hopkins, who was still a world-rated light heavyweight as he entered his 50s, or Archie Moore or George Foreman, but he is the only man ever to hold world titles in eight separate weight classifications or in four decades (the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s). His 62-8-2 career record, with 39 knockouts, includes victories over a Who’s Who of boxing’s elite: Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Juan Manuel Marquez, Tim Bradley, Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman.

Additional testimonials to Pacquiao shouldn’t be necessary now that he seemingly has fought his last fight, but consider these culled from insiders I have spoken to during the Age of Manny.

Prior to his Nov. 14, 2009, clash with another future Hall of Famer, Miguel Cotto (Pacquiao won on a 12th-round stoppage to claim the seventh of his eight titles in different weight classes), “PacMan’s” longtime trainer Freddie Roach offered that “Manny is a throwback. He is like Henry Armstrong (the only fighter to simultaneously hold three world titles in different weight divisions). But the amazing thing is that he’s carrying his power with him along with his speed. He is passing people like Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns, who were six-division world champs.”

And this, from the late and great Philadelphia trainer, Naazim Richardson: “The last fighter I saw who fought like Pacquiao was Aaron Pryor. Pryor was an all-action fighter. His energy level was just extraordinary. Pacquiao brings the same level of energy into the ring. He’s so consistent. He’s fought bigger guys, but his fights have gotten easier because the high-energy guys are usually in the lower weight classes. When he’s fought bigger guys, he’s actually had an easier time.”

Enjoy your retirement from boxing, Manny, although you might find that possibly assuming the duties of your country’s presidency might make duking it out with another king of the ring seem like child’s play. Years ago you marveled at what you had accomplished inside the ropes, saying it was “more than my dreams. But then everything in my life has been so much more than my dreams.”

How many fighters – anyone, really – can say that?

Editor’s Note: Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of last year. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Vol. 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, arrives this fall. The book can be ordered through Amazon.com, in hard or soft cover, and other book-selling websites and outlets.

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Boxing Odds and Ends: A Travesty of a Heavyweight ‘Title Fight’ Jake Paul and More

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It’s official. On Wednesday, Feb. 22, a formal press conference was held in Sofia, Bulgaria, to announce the forthcoming fight between Mahmoud Charr, formerly known as Manuel Charr, and Kubrat Pulev. They will meet in Bulgaria’s capital city on March 30 at a 12,000-seat arena.

Charr vs Kubrat bears the imprimatur of a world heavyweight title fight (WBA version). Charr is considered the champion, notwithstanding the fact that others have held the title since he first laid claim to it more than six years ago.

The WBA, as we know, recognizes two champions in some weight classes, a “super” champion and a “regular” champion. The “super” designation was created in 2000. It was designed to segregate title-holders into levels of accomplishment. In theory, a “super” champion has made five successful defenses and is recognized as a world title-holder by at least one of the three other major sanctioning bodies. “Super” champions are allowed certain liberties with respect to mandatory title defenses.

The bifurcation was greeted with hoots of derision. The Panama-based WBA trivialized the sport.

Mahmoud Charr

Mahmoud Charr was born in Beirut but has resided in Germany since he was a little boy. He won the vacant title with a 12-round decision over unexceptional Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany.  It was a close fight. TSS ringside correspondent Phil Woolever had Ustinov winning 7 rounds to 5, but conceded that the verdict could not be called an injustice.

The title that Charr won was vacated by Ruslan Chagaev who won the belt from Fres Oquendo, lost it to Lucas Browne, and got it back by decree when Browne’s post-fight urine tests showed evidence of banned substances. But Chagaev never fought again. His fight with Browne was his last.

Charr’s first defense was to come against Fres Oquendo. Slated for March 23, 2019 in Cologne after being pushed back from September of the previous year, the match never came to fruition when Charr tested positive for two banned substances. Things get really muddled from here with Charr pushed to the sideline by legal battles complicated by Don King’s shenanigans. King arranged a fight in Florida between Charr and his fighter Trevor Bryan and succeeded in getting Bryan the WBA belt when Charr was unable to get a visa. The belt is vacant again after Bryan was knocked out by Daniel Dubois who, in turn, was knocked out by “super” champion Oleksandr Usyk.

There are more threads to this saga but let’s not go there. Suffice it to say that after defeating Ustinov, Charr was out of action for the next three-and-a-half years. He’s had only three fights since 2017 and to say that his opponents were men of low repute would be giving them the best of it. In his most recent assignment, in December of 2022, he scored a second-round stoppage over 46-year-old Swiss-Albanian slug Nuri Seferi. That brought his record to 34-4 (20). He has been stopped three times, most recently in 2015 when he was halted in five frames by future cruiserweight champion Maris Briedis.

Kubrat Pulev

Kubrat Pulev will have the home field advantage in Sofia. Charr will have youth on his side. He’s 39; Pulev is 42.

Pulev sports a 30-3 record. The losses came at the hands of Wladimir Klitschko (L KO 5), Anthony Joshua (L KO 9), and Derek Chisora (L SD 12). He last fought in December at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, CA, where he won a lopsided decision over Polish journeyman Andrzej Wawrzyk.

In a previous engagement here at the Hangar, a concert hall that seats a shade over 3,000, he TKOed Bogdan Dinu. That bout is remembered mostly for what happened after it ended. In an incident that went viral on social media, Pulev surprised Jennifer Ravalo, a self-styled journalist, with a kiss on the lips. That animated women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred and led to an 8-page spread in Playboy (of Ravalo, not Allred). The California State Athletic Commission fined and suspended Pulev and mandated that he undergo sexual harassment training. The suspension lasted 120 days.

The match between Charr and Pulev, says a blurb about it, is an “eagerly anticipated” clash between “two evergreen living legends.” We will let you provide the punchline, The winner is expected to fight Martin Bakole who was knocked out by Michael Hunter.

Jake Paul

Jake Paul, the enfant terrible of prizefighting, returns this Saturday on a card in San Juan, Puerto Rico, that will air on DAZN. Paul, an influencer who brought his big social media following with him when he took up fisticuffing, is coming off a first-round stoppage of Andre August, a no-name fighter from Texas. Saturday’s sacrificial lamb is a fellow from Dickinson, North Dakota (by way of Benicia, California) named Ryan Bourland.

Bourland, who is reportedly 35 years old but looks older, scored his signature win in 2018 when he avenged a previous defeat with a 10-round majority decision over Jose Hernandez. He has fought only one since then, TKOing a fighter with a losing record in a 6-rounder at a lodge on a remote Indian reservation in North Dakota. That improved his ledger to 17-2 (6 KOs).

Regarding Jake Paul, Thomas Hauser once wrote that he’s worked hard to become a better boxer and is “certainly better than a Golden Gloves novice.” There was a time when this reporter, perhaps naively, thought that Jake had the potential to become a legitimate top-15 cruiserweight, but his recent choice of opponents suggests that he is comfortable just spinning his wheels.

His bout with Bourland will play second fiddle to Amanda Serrano’s featherweight title defense against Germany’s Nina Meinke (18-3, 4 KOs). Although Amanda has a lot of mileage on her odometer, she is expected to have little difficulty with Meinke. In another bout of note, Puerto Rican campaigners Jonathan Gonzalez (27-3-1, 14 KOs) and Rene Santiago (12-3, 9 KOs) will meet in a 12-rounder with Gonzalez’s WBO light flyweight title at stake.

—-

Let’s conclude this write-up on an upbeat note. Hall of Fame boxing writer Bernard Fernandez, a frequent TSS contributor, informs us that his fifth and presumably final anthology is nearing completion with a likely release date of April or May. “Championship Rounds, Round 5” includes a foreword by Gerry Cooney and has drawn glowing reviews from the likes of Dave Kindred and Dr. Gordon Marino who both had an early peek at the manuscript. Kindred, a renowned sportswriter and author, was the subject of a 2021 piece on “60 Minutes.” Marino, a Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, has written extensively about boxing for the Wall Street Journal.

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Results from Orlando where Berlanga KOed McCrory in a Possible Prelude to Canelo

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Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom organization was at the Caribe Royale tonight, a non-gaming resort near Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Unbeaten super middleweights Edgar Berlanga and Padraig McCrory squared off in the main event.

The fight started slow, but it soon became apparent that McCrory, a 35-year-old father of three from Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a domestic-level fighter, notwithstanding his undefeated (18-0) record. Berlanga, whose last five fights had gone the distance, roughed him up with some dirty tactics before taking him out in the sixth round with a crunching right hand that sent the Irishman face-first to the canvas. As McCrory pulled himself upright on rubbery legs, the towel flew in from his corner. The official time was 2:44.

As well-documented, Berlanga opened his pro career with 16 consecutive first-round knockouts. Nonetheless, he was let go by Top Rank in what purportedly was an amicable divorce. This was his second fight under the Matchroom banner. Eddie Hearn signed him with an eye on scoring a big-money match with Canelo Alvarez. The red-headed Mexican superstar is committed to returning to the ring in May on Cinco de Mayo weekend in Las Vegas, but hasn’t yet locked in an opponent.

If Berlanga gets the nod, he would be a heavy underdog, but the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico angle (coupled with Berlanga’s new-found reputation as a dirty fighter) would make it an easy sell.

Co-Feature

In only his third professional fight, Cuban defector Andy Cruz was bumped into the co-feature. That was in recognition of his amateur pedigree. Among his accomplishments, he was 4-0 vs. Keyshawn Davis with the last win coming in the gold medal round of the Tokyo Olympics.

Cruz, 28, was expected to win as he pleased against his Mexican opponent, Bryan Zamarripa, and he did win all 10 rounds on all three scorecards, but in common with many great Cuban amateurs, he seemed to lack something in the power department. Zamarripa was 14-2 heading in.

Other Bouts of Note

In a 12-round welterweight contest that was devoid of drama, Uzbekistan native Shakhram Giyasov, an Olympic silver medalist who has lost precious few rounds as a pro, won a lopsided technical decision over well-recycled 34-year-old Mexican Pablo Cesar Cano.

Giyasov (15-0, 9 KOs) sent Cano (35-9-1) to the canvas in the third round with a body punch. At the end of round 11, as their feet were tangled, he pushed Cano to the canvas and the Mexican ostensibly suffered a broken ankle when he fell. That sent the bout to the scorecards where the decision (109-99 x3) was a formality. With the victory, Giyasov earned a shot at WBA belt-holder Eimantas Stanionis.

The 12-round bantamweight match between Antonio Vargas and Jonathan Rodriguez, two fighters of Puerto Rican descent, was framed as a WBA bantamweight title eliminator. Rodriguez, the underdog, floored Vargas in the opening stanza. He had scored a stunning first-round knockout of 27-1 Khalid Yafai in his previous start and it appeared that another upset was brewing. But the match quickly turned one-sided in favor of Vargas who put Rodriguez on the canvas in the very next frame (and had two points deducted for hitting him after the bell) and then put him down again at the end of round seven with a sweeping left hook after which Rodriguez’s corner properly pulled him out.

Vargas, a 2016 Olympian who had home field advantage in Florida, improved to 18-1 (10 KOs) and became the mandatory opponent for Takuma Inoue who won earlier today in Tokyo. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s Rodriguez declined to 17-2-1.

The opening bout on the TV portion of the card was a 10-round flyweight affair that looked like a runaway for showboating Yankiel Rivera until gritty Andy Dominguez made things interesting.

Rivera, who improved to 5-0 (2), was Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the Tokyo Olympics. In Mexico-born Andy Dominguez, he was fighting a former three-time New York City Golden Gloves champion who was also unbeaten (10-0 heading in). Rivera dominated the match but was caught napping in round nine and Dominguez, although all busted-up, hurt him and almost put him down. That was most lopsided round of the fight, but also the only round that Dominguez won in the eyes of the judges.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

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Junto Nakatani Turns in Another Masterclass on Saturday’s Tripleheader in Tokyo

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In a rather odd juxtaposition, several of boxing’s best little men were on display today at Japan’s National Sumo Arena in Tokyo. The best of the lot, Junto Nakatani, improved to 27-0 (20 KOs) while tearing away the WBC world bantamweight title from Tijuana’s Alexandro Santiago (28-4-5) who was making the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in May when he upset Nonito Donaire.

It was a one-sided beatdown. Nakatani, who had a 5-inch height advantage, won every round before ending the contest in the sixth. The end came at the 1:12 mark when Nakatani terminated the affair with his second knockdown. The first came earlier in the round, the result of a straight left hand. The finisher was a big right hook.

With the victory, Nakatani became a world title-holder in a third weight class. He’s an outstanding talent, worthy of pound-for-pound consideration, and would be favored in a unification fight with Takuma Inoue.

Inoue, the younger brother of pound-for-pound king Naoya “Monster” Inoue, did his part to bring the match to fruition with a ninth-round stoppage of Filipino veteran Jerwin Ancajas in the main event. Inoue (19-1, 5 KOs) was making the first defense of the WBA diadem he won with a wide decision over Venezuela’s mildewed Liborio Solis. That title was conveniently vacated by Takuma’s renowned brother.

This figured to be the most competitive match on the card and Ancajas (34-4-2) had his moments before Inoue ended the contest at the 0:44 mark of round nine with a four-punch combination climaxed by a shot to the liver. Heading in, Ancajas, who had a long title reign at 115, was 9-2-1 in world title fights and hadn’t previously been stopped.

In the first of the three title fights, 29-year-old Kosei Tanaka became a four-weight belt-holder in record time with a unanimous decision over Mexicali’s stubborn but out-classed Christian Bacasegua “Rocky” Rangel. At stake was the vacant WBO junior bantamweight title.

Tanaka, who previously held belts at 105, 108, and 112, started slow but the outcome was never in doubt after he knocked “Rocky” to the canvas in the eighth frame. The judges had it 119-108, 117-110, and 116-111. With the victory, Tanaka improved to 20-1 (11). In his only defeat, he was stopped by countryman Kazuto Ioka. He hunkers for a rematch but, if it happens, he might wish that it hadn’t. Ioka is long in the tooth – he turns 35 next month – but is very good and shows no signs of slowing down. Rangel (22-5-2) had won nine straight heading in, but against questionable opposition and was making his first start outside Mexico.

The Teiken Promotions card was presented in association with Top Rank and aired in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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