There was a significant moment during the sixth round of Manny Pacquiao’s shock defeat to Jeff Horn when an accidental collision caused a thick stream of blood to spill from a gash on the Filipino’s forehead.
Pacquiao himself asked for the ringside doctor to assess the damage, and given the anguished expression on his face, you’d have forgiven him for thinking: “Why am I still doing this?”
Many observers have been wondering the same thing for quite some time. Calls for the 38-year-old to retire are nothing new.
They started after his chilling knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012 and have followed him throughout his transition from sportsman to full-time politician in his homeland.
They reached a crescendo after his controversial points defeat to Horn in Brisbane on Sunday, the logical consequence of losing his WBO welterweight title to an opponent he would have ruthlessly outclassed during his prime years.
The consensus might be that he was the victim of erroneous scoring, but this was a close fight, far closer than expected, and it was inevitable that the image of a bloodied and ultimately defeated Pacquiao should be met with pleas for him to hang up the gloves.
For the sake of balance, nothing should be taken away from Horn’s effort. The Aussie was aggressive, rugged and determined as he imposed his will and made it his sort of fight. He dragged his legendary opponent into a savage brawl in the afternoon sunshine.
It certainly wasn’t what Pacquiao had signed up for, and he may well have been cursing his luck that the supposed riches on offer for his preferred option of a Dubai showpiece against Amir Khan had turned out to be fool’s gold.
The Filipino’s troubles could be explained by the fact he clearly underestimated his opponent, or that his rotten luck with cuts prevented him from bossing the second half of the fight.
But the danger there is that once the cracks are papered over and excuses are made, the narrative spawned by a set of questionable scorecards masks the wealth of evidence suggesting his decline is speeding up.
He may have out-landed the Aussie in most of the rounds, but he also struggled to cope with the home fighter’s youth and ambition, being physically bullied and taking some heavy shots in the process.
Save for a vintage ninth frame, when Pacquiao had that trademark bounce in his step and unleashed his full arsenal on a staggered and badly-hurt Horn, this was a poor performance and far below the standard he set in impressive wins over Tim Bradley and Jessie Vargas last year.
A rematch with Horn now seems a certainty, but the bigger picture looks increasingly bleak for Pacquiao and the unavoidable question remains: Where is all this heading? He reneged on a promise to retire when he won a seat in the Filipino Senate last year, and while he has spoken of “one or two” more fights, it is difficult to believe him.
The cynics feel that he is fighting for the money – he earned $10 million (Dh36.7m) for facing Horn – while he says that he carries on because of his love for boxing.
That sounds an awful lot like Roy Jones Jr, who is living proof that even the most glorious body of work can be tarnished by going on past your sell-by date.
Whatever your opinion of the scoring in Brisbane, Pacquiao now has four losses in his last nine outings, and it would be tragic if his struggles Down Under set the tone for a wholly unnecessary final chapter in his Hall of Fame career.
The Filipino should be remembered for epic bouts with a host of Mexican greats, for stopping Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Oscar De La Hoya – not for going life and death with a fringe contender in a rugby stadium.
Pacquiao could quite feasibly bounce back from this and dominate Horn in a rematch, but whether he fights on for money, or for the love of the sport, he is already doing so at a cost to his legacy.
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