We knew in August that it was over for Manny Pacquiao when he lost to Yordenis Ugas for the welterweight title. Ugas is a good fighter, but nowhere near Pacquiao’s caliber at the Filipino's peak.
Ugas is a guy who would have been pesky for a while before Pacquiao figured him out and stopped him somewhere in the second half of the fight.
And we knew about 10 days ago, when Pacquiao accepted the nomination of his party to run for president of the Philippines in 2022.
But on Tuesday, there he was on our computer screens, standing in his home, looking into a camera and telling us, finally, that his magnificent boxing career had come to an end.
To the greatest fans and the greatest sport in the world, thank you! Thank you for all the wonderful memories. This is the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but I’m at peace with it. Chase your dreams, work hard, and watch what happens. Good bye boxing. https://t.co/Bde4wO82sA
— Manny Pacquiao (@MannyPacquiao) September 29, 2021
It was unquestionably the right call, because boxing isn’t kind to those who overstay their welcomes. At the same time, though, it was hard to accept because of how much he and the sport are inextricably intertwined.
He’s one of the greatest boxers to ever set foot inside the ring, probably landing somewhere between Nos. 25 and 50 on the all-time greatest list. He did things in the ring that were never done before and may never be duplicated, like winning world championships in eight weight classes. He was also lineal champion in an astonishing five of them.
He fought the best of his era in every weight class he was in. Six of his opponents — Floyd Mayweather, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosley, Oscar De La Hoya, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales — have already been inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Miguel Cotto is all but certain to join them. And Timothy Bradley, Ricky Hatton and Keith Thurman at least have a chance.
If those four all make it, it would mean 10 of Pacquiao’s opponents wound up in the Hall of Fame.
Talk about a guy who was willing to take on all comers. He fought Marquez four times, Morales and Bradley three times each and met Barrera twice.
It was his humanity, though, that will be hardest to forget. In 2013 before he fought Brandon Rios in China, I sat in his hotel room as Pacquiao talked about building a school and a hospital in the Philippines, and about his wish to build housing.
He was far more engaged talking about what the hospital would mean to the people in the region than he ever was about boxing.
Ultimately, he built 1,000 homes, but it wasn’t a business deal to get rich. He paid for the land and the construction of the homes and then gave them away to the needy.
There have rarely been more accessible superstars. Go into his room fight week and you might find 100 or more people crowded into it. Many of them stayed with him all the time, sleeping in the closet, at the foot of the bed or anywhere they could find room to lie down.
He made these people, many of whom were poor, ordinary citizens, feel special and as if they were part of something important.
He treated everyone the same, from celebrities and powerful politicians to the media and his opponents and people from all walks of life who couldn’t do anything but who would show up in an effort to try to catch a glimpse of him in the flesh.
He was hardly perfect. Like many superstar athletes, he was a womanizer, but when his wife, Jinkee, confronted him about his infidelities, he made a dramatic change in his life. He also made despicable anti-gay statements for which he gave a half-hearted apology.
The devotion that his people had for him — both native-born Filipinos and those of Filipino descent — was astounding. By 2013, I’d been covering Pacquiao fights for 12 years. I was walking to the news conference after he’d beaten Rios and was mobbed by a group of Filipino people as I was making my way to the ballroom in the Venetian Macau where it would be held.
There were maybe 150 or 200 people there, the vast majority of whom had no idea who I was. But a couple did and asked to pose for photographs. Soon, I was taking pictures with many of them and it took me more than 15 minutes to finish, all because I’d been around Pacquiao.
As a boxer, he was gracious in both victory and defeat. He didn’t moan when he lost a hotly disputed decision to Bradley, and congratulated Bradley on a great fight at a time when many of his supporters were losing their minds.
He was as good as they get inside the ring, and he had a combination of speed, power and footwork that was rarely matched in the sport. But he was far more than a boxer. He changed the lives of thousands of people with his untold acts of kindness.
That’s the Manny Pacquiao I choose to remember.
Manny Pacquiao the boxer will retire with 62 wins and just eight losses and two draws in 72 fights, 39 of which he won by knockout.
But Manny Pacquiao the statesman, Manny Pacquiao the philanthropist, Manny Pacquiao the nice, humble, simple, honest guy, lives on and will keep doing his work.
The world would be a lot better place if more of us cared for others and were as selfless and giving as he’s been.