In love, absence makes the heart grow fonder. In sports, it can mean disaster. Since losing a shocking knockout defeat at the hands of perennial nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez in December last year, Filipino boxing icon Manny Pacquiao has not taken a single fight.
The lofty worldwide ranking he once held has since slipped from his tight grip. His once omnipresence in daily Filipino life has been relegated to the hardest core of boxing fans and political supporters and observers. And except for some occasional mention of him in the Philippine press, the re-elected Sarangani representative has largely gone unnoticed.
Once the darling of Congress and an apple in the eye of Malacañang, Pacquiao has been reduced into ‘begging’ for plum chairmanship of ‘minor’ House of Representative committees, which he has failed to get despite joining the administration party.
This was unthinkable two years ago when Pacquiao was at the apex of his popularity and everybody in his camp, including Top Rank promoter Bob Arum, was suggesting he could someday run for president and win.
Pacquiao’s journey is one of many ebbs and tide. Of twist and turns. Over the last decade, especially after the turn of the millennium, a tide of unequaled success in boxing made him rich and famous. So much so that boxing gifted him his soon to be regular day job. Come to think of it, it is always daytime in the Philippines whenever he fights in the US. And it will be daytime in this part of the world when he goes up against Brandon Rios in Macau in November.
Two successive losses last year however dented his marketability, although he remains a marquee fighter – one of the two elite boxers that can still command eight-figure boxing purse. The other is perennial rival and dream opponent Floyd Mayweather Jr. Had Pacquiao not been derailed by the two losses in 2012, the fantasy fight with Mayweather would have been the talk and one of the biggest events of this year – in boxing or otherwise. And this would not have him rethink his political plans in the future.
It is said that Pacquiao is now reconsidering the trajectory of his political career. Instead of gunning for a seat in the Philippine Senate, Pacquiao might just content himself with another term as congressman. That will however be dependent on what happens to his boxing career and bank account in the next two years.
No, Pacquiao has not bottomed out as far as boxing is concerned. He still has the skills, the power and the fearsome reputation, although many thought he lost the hunger. But some in his camp are admitting the eight-division boxing champion is now down to his last two or three fights before going full-time into Philippine politics.
That, however, could change. He has fallen and risen more than a couple of times before. He could still do it.
Pacquiao needs and longs to exit the boxing world with a bang. He wants to erase the ignominy of the Marquez defeat. Only a rematch with Marquez and a Mayweather fight will restore his wounded pride and fill is lust for more personal glory.
He knows he cannot forever be the 25-year-old who burst into boxing fame by stopping Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera. But neither is he seeing himself hanging around like the bloated Erik Morales with whom he had three memorable fights.
A lackluster exit could make people forget that this is one great boxer who made every Filipino proud.