The morning of Aug. 21, 2021 started with just about everybody expecting Manny Pacquiao to cruise to an easy victory over last-minute opponent Yordenis Ugas in Las Vegas, for him to extend his glorious, lucrative career as well as heighten his public profile ahead of a planned presidential campaign back home.
But as fate would have it, Pacquiao dragged his feet in losing to a game, nothing-to-lose Cuban after he fought minus all the moves that made him one of the greatest in the sport. The loss pulled him back to reality as everyone in attendance in Sin City and the millions watching worldwide saw that no one could beat Father Time. By the end of that day, even his political aspiration was put in doubt.
“He wasn’t ready to face anyone at this moment,” said former representative and top sports leader Monico Puentevella, who is one of Pacquiao’s advisers. The former baker’s help-turned boxing legend and later on politician was supposed to meet him as well as other personalities from Philippine politics, US media and other supporters the day after the fight.
Instead, they formed a long line of visitors at Pacquiao’s rented home in the pricey district of Los Angeles. Pacquiao, who at 42 suffered the most devastating defeat of his career without hitting the deck, didn’t show up.
Badly bruised both physically and emotionally, Pacquiao’s loss wasn’t that shocking at all to the ones that followed him in training.
His penchant for over-training, mostly fueled by the strong desire to please the adoring crowd that would constantly follow him, was the very thing to blame, according to people in his inner circle that includes his best friend and trainer, Buboy Fernandez.
Another insider blamed Pacquiao’s dislike for modern recovery techniques embraced by elite athletes of today. “He only likes to listen to his body [when it comes to training],” said a close aide.
“I told him (Pacquiao) that he’s hard-headed, he should listen sometimes,” said Fernandez. In eight weeks of training, Pacquiao sparred extra rounds, spent more time needed in working the mitts and overexerted road work in Las Vegas during fight week.
By the third round of that fight at T-Mobile Arena, Fernandez climbed the corner, bypassing Freddie Roach as Pacquiao began showing signs of cramps on both thighs.
“He (Pacquiao) asked me, ‘are we ahead on points,’ I said yes, but Ugas is fast catching up,” Fernandez said in Filipino.
Fernandez was spot on.
Lightly-regarded considering that he just replaced Errol Spence Jr. a week before the fight, Ugas sensed something was wrong when Pacquiao couldn’t move sideways and appeared to be a step slower than usual.
By the 11th, Ugas piled up enough points and didn’t press the action anymore against the the only eight-division champion in boxing who looked every inch a tired old champ even before the final bell sounded.
Soon after, boxing greats old and new, were posting on social media their respect for the only remaining crossover superstar of the sport, citing what an incredible career it has been.
But Pacquiao didn’t mention retirement up until the end of September, when he formally announced his decision to run for president.
“I just heard the final bell, tapos na ang boxing (the fight is over). Thank you,” said Pacquiao in an address posted on his Facebook page. INQ
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