Two Great Champions Go Down

Manny Pacquiao walked into this punch from Juan Manuel Marquez, ending the fight. AP photo

Manny Pacquiao walked into this punch from Juan Manuel Marquez, ending the fight. AP photo

A pair of fighters with huge local appeal had similar results recently, leaving each of their careers in well-navigated but still murky waters moving forward.

When BJ Penn initially made his soft retirement after losing to Nick Diaz in 2011, “The Prodigy” had not looked like his early dominant persona in some time. But while some fighters deteriorate quickly into noncompetitive shells of their former selves, Penn was still a highly competitive octagon obstacle.

He did not get manhandled by Diaz – a truly gifted fighter – winning one round in that meeting last year. In losing, he merely confirmed Diaz as being a top-level competitor, though Diaz has not been able to build upon that win, currently serving a year-long suspension from UFC.

This return bout that Penn scheduled with Rory MacDonald Dec. 8 was another difficult task, especially after being away from the ring for an extended period. The welterweight fight did not allow Penn to showcase what has made him a legend in the sport. In the prefight build, MacDonald, a rising talent, had made statements about Penn being out of shape and overweight. I don’t think that was necessarily true, but I do think he isn’t physically able to maintain a highly competitive career in the welterweight division.

If Penn were to drop back down to lightweight, exclusively, I think he can still hang with the best in that division. Yet it seems that many around the sport, including UFC president Dana White, would like to see Penn walk away for good.

The same night Penn made his unsuccessful return, beloved Filipino fighter Manny Pacquiao was floored in the sixth round against Juan Manuel Marquez, the first time since 1999 that Pacquiao has been knocked out.

What this does for Pacquiao is unclear, but it seems to have halted any momentum there may have been for finally making a dream fight with Floyd “Money” Mayweather.

While those two sides have bickered over the particulars for a few years now, it seems that if Pacquiao continues to fight, it will be in a pair of revenge rematches and not that ultimate showdown.

The man many had considered to be the only true challenger to Mayweather’s status as best pound-for-pound fighter in the world has now dropped his last two fights. The first was a travesty, a split decision loss to Timothy Bradley in a fight during which no trained (or untrained) eye could have given Bradley more than three rounds. The Pacman was robbed that night of his WBO welterweight title, creating speculation that the fix was in to create the necessity for a rematch.

Now that has been followed by the crushing knockout loss to Marquez in the fourth meeting between the two, all of which have been memorable and action-packed.

There would be plenty of appeal to seeing Pacquiao get in the ring with either Bradley or Marquez again. Though he may not be the devastatingly fast and unexpectedly powerful fighter he was during his peak about three or four years ago – a time when he consecutively disposed of Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto – Pacquiao should have gotten the win against Bradley and was battering Marquez for two straight rounds – and leading on all three judges’ cards – before one perfect punch caught him off guard and knocked him out cold.

The image of Pacquiao face-down and motionless on the canvas is what currently stands out. But Pacquiao is still going to be a huge draw in future fights against the right opponents. Unfortunately for fight fans, it seems that the window of opportunity for Pacquiao-Mayweather has closed, though there are still entertaining possibilities out there.

There have been some, but not many, who have said Pacquiao should hang it up. One was his onetime knockout victim Hatton, who said “He’s an eight-weight world champion. There’s nothing more to be said … He can’t do any more from a boxing point of view.”

However, most would agree that Pacquiao remains one of the most entertaining and skilled fighters, as well as the top box-office draw in the world. He has spread himself very thin with all his other political, business and humanitarian interests, so he should only continue to fight if he wants to, which he has quickly said he does.

I’d love to see both Penn and Pacquiao remain in their respective sports and, with the right direction, reclaim the glory from which they are not so far removed.