Philippines, 11 Dec 2019
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Will the Manny Pacquiao legend march onward July 20th?

I was once struck by Manny Pacquiao. It was some time before the De La Hoya fight as the Filipino icon skated, fleet footed around a blank sheet of canvass at Freddie Roach?s Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood. I?d had the good fortune of spending time behind closed doors with Team Pacquiao for a number of years? but this particular occasion was different.

?He?s really going to move right up from lightweight, straight into fighting Oscar de la Hoya at welterweight?? I asked Roach with a sly disbelief.

?Yep, it?s real,? said the renowned hall of fame trainer with an almost cunning grin. Like he knew something we didn?t.
Manny struck me that day when he exuded the pristine shine of a new, high-performance sports car. I?d seen him up close many times before and marveled at the way his ten-punch combinations sliced through the air with the precision and quick whip of Zorro?s sword. However this occasion was different.?

Oscar de la Hoya cannot hide from Manny Pacquiao's flurries.

The almost ballet-like pivots in his bewildering footwork dug into the mat, grinding to a halt like an ice skater stopping on a dime. He?d spring into a planted foot position at an obtuse angle and unleash a flurry of punches. They seemed to carry a new weight.

Sure enough, this was an introduction in an instant to the height of the Pacquiao era. He went on to campaign as an under-sized, elite-level welterweight for years to come. Always enjoying a hearty breakfast the morning of the weigh-in, he smiled with child-like glee about the chance he was going to get to ?make the people happy? with a ?good fight?. This spanned the better part of a decade where historic achievements came one after another in kind like building blocks in a hall of fame career.

As I sit here fondly reminiscing of seeing that prize winning thoroughbred at his peak, I?m reminded of the grey in our beards these days (Manny and I are the same age). While he?s still a formidable welterweight, Manny Pacquiao is a middle-aged man, with a few more miles on the odometer than that new Ferrari, fresh off the lot way back when.

This Saturday, July 20th?it will be he who steps between the ropes as the wily veteran hoping to tame the young lion across the ring. Gunning for him is undefeated WBA welterweight champion Keith ?One-Time? Thurman, a man ten years Manny?s junior.

Keith Thurman disrespects Manny Pacquiao during their New York press tour last May.

Thurman is a big boy. He?s a strong young athlete who was naturally a thick-looking welterweight. While giving up size is nothing new for Pacquiao, he is skating on thinner ice than he used to. As a young triple-crown winning steed his physical prowess put him two steps ahead of everyone. That youthful exuberance has since fallen to the wayside along the river known as Time and the playing field is closer to level than it was during those glory days.

Despite this he still remains a formidable package of speed, unorthodoxy and now veteran experience. Not to mention star and earning power.

The ever present risk of fighting as a smaller (older) man against a big-punching young buck is one that can always lead to disaster, but the challenge itself is the same. It?s always been about staring down a bigger man and an often deemed insurmountable task, something the current Filipino charge has always done with ?No Fear? (a popular endorsement deal dating back to his younger years).

?He genuinely LOVES fighting,? the late great broadcaster Ronnie Nathanielsz once said to me with astonishment. ?I see many fighters walking to the ring like they?re stepping over their nerves on the way. Manny looks like he is on the way to a carnival?every time. He really does enjoy it.?

In the grand old days of yesteryear, I?d see Manny 24 hours before his fights evading team members at Las Vegas?s Mandalay Bay, in a Cloak & Dagger game of mischievously sneaking off for some free time. Those high jinks were replaced in later years with prayer groups lead by the mature and stoic Congressman, reading his favourite bible passages.

The religious Manny Pacquiao.

While the younger man was a blend of ferocity and exuberance, the older, wiser one looks to his experience, guile and enduring faith.

Faith and fighters has always been somewhat of a marvel.

?They say I don?t have a prayer,? Muhammad Ali once said about one of his many fights the world told him he couldn?t win. ?Well all I need is a prayer? because if that prayer is heard then not only will my opponent fall, but mountains will fall!?

The opponent for this Saturday may be different but the magnitude of the occasion remains the same. Boxing spills into the mainstream sports headlines once again as the world?s collective gaze locks in on what some of my Filipino friends fondly refer to as ?our national fist?.

Will the Pacquiao saga roll on with another dramatic chapter this Saturday night? Or will time finally catch up with the quick-fisted legend the way it has with so many others before him? Keith ?One-time? Thurman thinks he knows. He thinks Manny?s ?time? has come.

Has it?

The answer is one Pacquiao has told us repeatedly through this entire, fantastic ride?

God will know.

Pacquiao vs. Thurman will pit boxing's only eight-division world champion and Philippine Senator Manny "Pac Man" Pacquiao against undefeated WBA Welterweight World Champion Keith "One Time" Thurman in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions on FOX Sports Pay-Per-View event Saturday, July 20 from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

The pay-per-view begins at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT and will also feature undefeated former world champion Omar "El Panterita" Figueroa Jr. taking on Yordenis Ug?s in a WBC welterweight title eliminator, plus hard-hitting former world champion Sergey Lipinets goes toe-to-toe against rugged veteran John "The Gladiator" Molina, Jr. and undefeated power-puncher Luis "Pantera" Nery faces slick-boxing Juan Carlos Payano in a bantamweight bout.

Ace Freeman is currently working on a novel about the last fifteen years covering Manny Pacquiao on his epic journey into the boxing history books. Contact him to say hello or to share any feedback at

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Ace Freeman.

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