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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Will Manny Pacquiao’s reach for greatness exceed his grasp?

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FightFan.com’s Ace Freeman examines Manny Pacquiao’s pending challenge for Miguel Cotto’s WBO welterweight title and looks at the signifigance the fight presents for the pound-for-pound king as he stands on the verge of capturing a title in an unprecedented and record setting seventh weight class.

What goes up must eventually come down. It’s an old adage but it’s relevance persists for good reason. In 2009 Manny Pacquiao sits firmly atop the world of boxing. How he got there is the stuff that legends are made of. After bursting on to the scene in 2003 with a sudden and emphatic stoppage over the legendary Marco Antonio Barrera, it was clear the young Filipino fighter was something special. Just how special he would soon become is something no one saw coming.

Fast forward six years later and we sit on the verge of Pacquiao (a former flyweight) fighting a formidable welterweight champion ten divisions north of where he started his career. Before we look at the intangibles of the bout itself, it’s worth pausing to examine the very significance of the fight happening in the first place.

Greatness is a term thrown around loosely in the sporting world. Without the passage of time and room for context, it’s true meaning is fleeting. There are however special cases where it’s quite evident that something special is happening right before our eyes.

Muhammad Ali comes to mind as he was in a position to defy expectations several times on the biggest stage and did so in each instance with a prophetic foresight.

Manny Pacquiao might not share Ali’s brash self assuredness but his penchant for reaching beyond what seems fathomable to most of us who watch him has elevated his status beyond the confines of his sport.

Star athletes such as Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant go out of their way to watch the Filipino terror in action. Movie stars flock to Pacquiao’s Hollywood gym incognito and are humbled at the mere sight of champion in training.

Although boxing has slipped into the background of the collective sporting consciousness in recent decades, it still holds a degree of awe that is contrasted nicely by these mega stars flocking to catch a glimpse of the pound-for-pound king. At the end of the day their games or stories provide a safety net that champions of the ring are not afforded.

Boxers are indeed modern day gladiators who walk to the ring with no one or nothing to stand with them as they fight for glory with their bodies, putting their personal safety on the line.

Future hall-of-famer James Toney captured this sentiment perfectly when he once said “People play basketball and football… you don’t play boxing.”

Indeed, there is a prestige and luster that the “Sweet Science” carries that dates back a hundred years and beyond. As we sit here in the autumn of 2009 the more things change the more they stay the same.

Manny Pacquiao is arguably the biggest sporting star in all of Asia and his notoriety in North America is increasing with each fight he takes.

While his blazing hands and violent knockout power are a big part of that, it is only an aside to his overall story. For several years now he has followed up each seemingly monumental feat that he accomplishes by outdoing himself at every turn.

With each historic win he racks up against top opposition, his next move always seems to be seeking out a bigger challenge, literally and figuratively.

Two years ago I stood in the Wild Card Boxing Club speaking with Pacquiao’s renowned head trainer Freddie Roach. I distinctly remember asking the ace trainer if the rumors of Pacquiao moving upward of ten to fifteen pounds to challenge the likes of Ricky Hatton and Oscar De La Hoya were “crazy talk”.

“No, it’s real,” Roach said assuredly. This was a few years removed from the now famous trainer essentially picking the rounds in which Manny would secure his stoppage victories over the aforementioned fighters.

What a ride it’s been.

I distinctly remember pondering one year ago this month how Pacquiao’s rise to prominence appeared likely to end with the fists of a much larger Oscar De La Hoya. Like many Fight Fans, I thought Pacquiao was biting off more than he could chew.

Yet Pacquiao outclassed Oscar De La Hoya in every sense of the word. His speed and defensive prowess befuddled his larger foe and his lightning fast hands bruised his bewildered opponent like an over ripened banana.

Several months later, the former flyweight nearly knocked world light welterweight champion Ricky Hatton unconscious with a single fight-stopping blow.

Now it is WBO welterweight champion Miguel Cotto who looms largely over the ‘Pacman’ as the two prepare to face off Nov. 14. In photos of the two standing face to face it’s clear that Cotto is cut from a larger cloth than Pacquiao. His broader shoulders and thicker torso prop up his larger head which has a tendency to snarl like a bull when he glares at an opponent in a stare-down.

Yet Manny Pacquiao stands humbly before him and the accompanying cameras, only offering the promise to anyone who will listen that he will “try his best to make the people happy.”

After capturing the world light welterweight title earlier this year there were a lot of options for Pacquiao. As one of the biggest breadwinners in all of boxing he was in the fortunate position of being able to pick just about any opponent in the sport and they would have jumped at the opportunity to fight him for the accompanying payday.

It is this lofty position that has seen one of Pacquiao’s top rivals in Floyd Mayweather Jr. draw so much contempt from a sizable contingent of boxing fans.

Clearly Pacquiao’s equal in the departments of athleticism and boxing prowess, Mayweather is as calculated with his risk management in choosing his opponents as he is with his defensive style inside the ring. While he has fought much better opposition than many of his critics give him credit for, he has clearly not been as ambitious as the smaller Pacquiao.

Miguel Cotto has long been touted as a potential opponent for Mayweather Jr., and while the opportunity has not presented itself on the silver platter the Michigan fighter has become accustomed to, it’s a fight that Manny Pacquiao went out of his way to seek.

Eying his biggest and strongest opponent yet, Pacquiao is currently in the midst of wrapping up training for the bout and is going in looking for the fight that has seemingly alluded him for many years now.

If we look back at each of his biggest contests to date, we see a familiar instance of Pacquiao clasping his gloves together above his head inviting his opponent to trade punches with him. In each case, we have seen any opposing fighter who has engaged him either knocked out, or forced to change their approach to avoid standing and fighting with the Filipino charge.

Even against fighters 140 pounds or bigger we have not yet seen Pacquiao met head on with a fighter willing (or able) to take his punches to trade back with their own.

Is Miguel Cotto this fighter? Is the speed, strength, and fluidity of the Puerto Rican champion’s punches enough that they will finally deter the fighting spirit of Manny Pacquiao?

Can Miguel Cotto meet Manny Pacquiao head on to trade punches and be the first fighter to cause the smaller man to yield?

Freddie Roach contends that Cotto will wisely begin their upcoming fight by moving away from Pacquiao.

Astounding if true, as one would think that sooner or later, the higher Pacquiao goes in weight there will finally come a time where he meets his match in regards to seeking a fire fight.

Pacquiao’s boxing ability has improved in recent years and it is now at the point where it may just carry him through should this momentous event finally occur. Until it does, we will continue to watch with intrigue.

It’s been a captivating rise to prominence for Pacquiao and many who are emotionally invested in his story watch each budding fight with a creeping feeling of doubt. That is only natural when watching someone continuously attempting to defy the odds.

A Fight Fan at heart, this writer finds himself with butterflies in his stomach each time the opening bell rings in a Manny Pacquiao bout. However, something feels different with this fight. Even with the prospect of defeat looming larger than it ever has, there is now a shadow casted from Pacquiao that is too big to ignore.

As the famous poet Robert Browning once so eloquently said… “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

In Manny Pacquiao’s case true greatness has already been achieved. At some point he may eventually be beaten by a bigger man… but never by a better man.

Source: http://fightfan.com/2009/11/will-manny-pacquiaos-reach-for-greatness-exceed-his-grasp/

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