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.
Former schoolteacher Jeff Horn stunned world champion Manny Pacquiao to win the World Boxing Organisation welterweight crown with a unanimous points decision in Brisbane on Sunday.
Given no chance by most observers, the 29-year-old Horn’s ultra-aggressive style proved too much for Pacquiao, with the three judges scoring the fight 117-111, 115-113 and 115-113 to the Australian after 12 rounds.
Pacquiao, 38, is an eight-weight world champion considered one of the greatest fighters of his generation. His camp had predicted a “short and sweet” win over Horn, a 2012 Australian Olympian.
But Horn showed no signs of being overawed by the occasion, taking the fight to the Filipino great from the opening bell.
He moved forward relentlessly, not allowing Pacquiao time to find any rhythm.
Pacquiao did manage to land some left jabs in the opening rounds to take the early points, but Horn refused to back away and his brawling tactics paid dividends through the middle stages.
Pacquiao, bleeding profusely from cuts to the head high above both eyes, then launched a savage counterattack in the ninth round and appeared to have Horn in trouble, only for the Australian to come back and win the 10th as he reasserted control.
Both fighters began to tire in the final two rounds but Horn’s early lead proved too much to peg back as he claimed the biggest win of his career.
Pacquiao had been hoping to set up a second big-money showdown with Floyd Mayweather, but it was Horn who called for a fight with the unbeaten American immediately after his win.
Hughie Fury will bid to emulate troubled cousin Tyson Fury and become a heavyweight world boxing champion as on Friday it was confirmed he will fight New Zealand’s WBO titleholder Joseph Parker on September 23rd.
It will be a doubly emotionally-charged night as the title fight will be at the Manchester Arena, where a suicide bomber blew himself up on May 22nd after the end of an Ariana Grande concert resulting in 22 dead and scores injured.
The 22-year-old Hughie – who like Tyson faces a hearing with UK-Anti Doping over allegations they tested positive for the steroid nandrolone in 2015 – said he would prove the sceptics wrong.
“I’ve waited so long for this chance and my team have worked very hard to get me this fight and I’d like to thank everyone involved,” said Fury.
“I’m going to shock the world and prove all my doubters wrong and what better place to do it than in my home city of Manchester.
“Parker is a good fighter and I’ve no doubt we’ll both bring our A-game on fight night. I can’t wait to be crowned world champion.”
The undefeated Fury has a fight lined-up next Saturday – his last combat was against Fred Kassi in April 2016.
He had been due to fight Parker on May 6th this year in New Zealand but had to pull out of the title challenge because of a back injury.
Parker – whose record reads 23 wins in 23 bouts with 18 knock-outs – said he wasn’t intimidated by having to fight on his challenger’s home turf.
“Fighting away from home holds no fears for me. I will arrive having previously fought on the undercard of a Wladimir Klitschko world title fight in Germany and also twice in America.
“I believe that with so many kiwis and Samoans living in the UK, I may even have more supporters in the crowd on fight night than Hughie Fury.”
Fury, who has a record of 20 wins with 10 inside the distance, had spoken in late May of his desire to bring some cheer to Manchester in the wake of the terror attack.
“My hope is that fighting in front of Manchester fans for the world title would help give the city some light after the darkness,” said Fury, who has never fought in Manchester.
“But even though I’m a fighter and go into the ring and take punches, the real heroes are the victims’ families who will now have to show incredible bravery to carry on with their everyday lives.
“The one thing that has really showed me the love and compassion of the people in the city, is how they have all pulled together in this terrible time.”
Provided by Press Association Sport