Lost in the rush to hand out year-end awards and “best of 2019” recognition was, perhaps, the biggest and most obvious “best of” of the year—the story of Manny Pacquiao.
More precisely, 2019 was the year that the Filipino Icon achieved the most unlikely of accomplishments— he reestablish himself as an elite-level world class fighter. Not only did he beat Adrien Broner in a one-sided affair, but, more impressively, he beat universally-regarded top 3 (and some insist number one) welterweight Keith Thurman via thrilling twelve-round split decision.
Some of us had been asserting all along that that the multi-division world champ had never STOPPED being an elite-level world class fighter. But we were shouted down by a legion of media “experts” who insisted that Manny should hang up his gloves and walk away from the sport before suffering some sort of permanent injury. Some of these guys were practically begging for him to retire.
The push to force Pacquiao into retirement came in 2015, after he lost decisively to archrival Floyd Mayweather in a big-money mega-fight. The loss, according to some, proved that Manny was a shell of his former safe, a faded great that had little left in the tank.
Wins over Timothy Bradley and Jessie Vargas, however, quieted that line of talk—at least until Pacquiao lost to Jeff Horn in July of 2017, dropping the WBO welterweight title. Forget that it was a controversial decision that many felt should’ve gone to Pacquiao, this was supposedly proof positive that now, for sure, Pacquiao was done.
Except, he wasn’t “done.”
A year later, Manny was delivering a one-sided beatdown to WBA “regular” welterweight titlist and Argentine power puncher Lucas Matthysse, scoring three knockdowns en route to a seventh-round TKO.
Then came the win over Broner, who was no longer considered a top-level fighter, but did still possess high-end ability and the raw talent to be a good challenge for anyone on any given night. Pacquiao breezed past Broner with little trouble and proved to even the harshest critic that he still belonged among the very best in the sport.
His next win, against WBA “super” welterweight champ Thurman, proved that not only did he belong among the very best, but that he WAS among the very best.
The thirty year-old Thurman, who was in his second fight following a long, injury-caused layoff, was ten years younger than Manny. Thurman also possessed a world class skillset that was built around high-end athleticism and a well-regarded natural boxing instinct.
Pacquiao, though, dealt fairly easily with everything Thurman had and walked away a winner against a fighter universally regarded as one of the three best welterweights in the world alongside Errol Spence and Terence Crawford.
Manny Pacquiao’s 2019 and the reaffirmation, at 40 years of age, that he is still a great in the sport should be the story of the year. Maybe Broner and Thurman don’t earn him Fighter of the Year and maybe the Thurman fight wasn’t quite bombastic enough to be Fight of the Year or Event of the Year, but what Manny did in 2019 certainly deserves major recognition.
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