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Manny Pacquiao: To retire or not to retire

IBHOF inductee Graham Houston weighs up Manny Pacquiao’s fighting future and pays tribute to the influential British boxing promoter Jarvis Astaire who passed away at the weekend.

So, after losing to Yordenis Ugas in last weekend’s welterweight title bout, Manny Pacquiao is faced with the dilemma that all ageing boxers have to confront: To retire or not to retire.

Pacquiao is 42. At that age, retirement would seem to be the sensible option. He has made huge amounts of money over the years. But it seems that a celebrity always needs more money. There are lifestyles to maintain. Pacquiao has political expenses as a Philippines senator. Manny also has five children. He is known to have given generously to his constituents in Sarangani province. It’s not so easy simply to walk away.

Although defeated on a unanimous decision, Pacquiao wasn’t beaten up in the bout with Ugas. There were no cuts or noticeable bruises. He was never knocked down or in serious trouble. Indeed, Pacquiao fought well. One of the judges gave him five of the 12 rounds. He got the vote of at least one of the judges in seven of the 12 rounds.

This was against one of the best welterweights in the world. Pacquiao could tell himself that, considering he hadn’t boxed for two years, it wasn’t such a bad performance. And nor was it, if you overlook that fact that Pacquiao was a 5/1 (-500) betting favourite by the time the fighters stepped between the ropes.

There were the telltale signs of slippage, though. He had trouble getting out of the way of Ugas’ jabs and right hands. Manny launched some nice flurries but his punches lacked the venom of the past. He couldn’t sustain his attacks. Pacquiao looked good only in flashes. This wasn’t the “typhoon blowing across the Pacific” (in the words of HBO analyst Larry Merchant) who seemed to have inexhaustible energy.

If Pacquiao fights on, there are bouts out there that would be attractive enough to put on PPV and that would make him more millions. Pacquiao even now against almost anyone in the welterweight division would attract interest, although perhaps we wouldn’t really want to see him in the ring against Saturday’s original opponent, Errol Spence Jr. Or against the relentless and powerful Vergil Ortiz. But Pacquiao against, say, the unbeaten Eimantas Stanionis, would be a competitive fight on paper. 

An “old timers” fight between Pacquiao and Robert Guerrero could be fun. If the 38-year-old Guerrero could be matched with 34-year-old Victor Ortiz in the chief supporting bout in Las Vegas last Saturday, then why not Pacquiao against Guerrero? Pacquiao versus, say, Kell Brook, could be an event, especially if staged in the UK.

Or maybe Manny could get back down to 140lbs. Pacquiao against Josh Taylor would be a big fight. Or Pacquiao against Jose Ramirez. Even now you wouldn’t write off Manny’s chances against leading contenders at 140lbs such as, say, Jose Zepeda. Pacquiao against Tank Davis? I’m not sure that would be a good match-up for Manny but it would be a saleable fight.

Of course, if Pacquiao fights on as a past-his-best great he will be in a sense selling his name. And what a name. Pacquiao has been a champion in eight weight classes if you recognise so-called “lineal” title fights. He is surely the greatest fighter ever to come out of Asia. The term “living legend” isn’t too far off the mark. But many will say that Pacquiao risks sullying that great name if he decides to box on.

However, practically every great fighter has fought on past his best and ended up losing to opponents who once wouldn’t have lived with them. You know the names.

Very few have got out when they were on top and resisted the urge to come back, notably Tunney, Marciano, Calzaghe, Monzon, Lennox Lewis, Finito Lopez and Carl Froch. You could add Floyd Mayweather. (We won’t see Mayweather back in the ring unless it’s in some sort of exhibition match in which everything is in his favour.) 

If Pacquiao had walked away after his win over Keith Thurman two years ago it would have been the perfect exit. But there are few storybook endings in boxing.

I’m not making a case for Pacquiao to continue his career. That’s going to be his decision. And as Sonny Liston commented when asked if KO victim Floyd Patterson should retire: “Who am I to tell a bird not to fly.” 

Most of us would surely like to see Pacquiao retire. But equally, it would be perfectly understandable if he decided to give boxing another whirl, even if for just one more fight. And a “farewell” fight against an opponent he can beat would make sense. But it’s up to Manny.

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Jarvis Astaire, who died on the weekend at the age of 97, was a powerful figure (although operating mostly behind the scenes) in British boxing for many years. He was part of what became known as the “syndicate” (also known as the “cartel”), joining forces with matchmaker Mickey Duff, manager Terry Lawless and the promoter Mike Barrett, who had exclusive rights to promote boxing at the Royal Albert Hall. 

After an “investigation” in the early 1980s the British Boxing Board of Control ruled that the syndicate was not a monopoly. The Board even went so far as to issue a statement praising all four members for their contribution to British boxing, which some thought was going a little too far. “It’s OK to clear them of being a monopoly but there’s no need to give them a bleedin’ illuminated manuscript as well,” writer Reg Gutteridge told me in conversation at the time.

Astaire had diverse business interests outside of boxing. He was the driving force behind a company called Viewsport, which brought boxing events to fans via closed circuit television at UK cinemas. Astaire was also involved in film production and management (actor Dustin Hoffman was one of his clients). He received the OBE (Order of the British Empire) for his charitable work.

Astaire and Co. became the dominant force in British boxing, ousting Jack Solomons, who for years had been Britain’s prominent promoter.

Astaire believed the Solomons had become stuck in the past, making matches featuring boxers of undoubted quality who weren’t necessarily fan friendly, whereas the syndicate (not a term Astaire used) focused on crowd-pleasers such as the popular heavyweight Billy Walker and the all-action middleweight Terry Downes. 

Astaire was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2006. 

I remember reading an article about Astaire years ago after he had been appointed to the board of a major corporation at the age of 82. When a reporter wondered if perhaps he might be taking on too much at such an age, Astaire replied: “I’m not like any 82-year-old you’ve ever known.” He was probably right about that.

Main image: Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions.