In the 1993 classic “Rookie Of The Year,” washed up major leaguer Chet Steadman, played by American treasure Gary Busey, tells child wunderkind and scientific anomaly Henry Rowengartner, “Henry, don’t take this serious. But it’s nothing to joke about. One day, your gift will be gone.” Steadman is way past his best, and exists as a hero only to young boys who remember when he was The Rocket. Like many of us who’ve ever made a living relying on our bodies, he’s desperately clinging on to what’s left of his career, simultaneously wallowing in the self-loathing that encompasses us as we wince in pain with every motion, hoping that what we once were is just beyond the threshold of our tolerance, but recapturing it requires us to destroy anything we might be in the future.
It’s a curious thing. You can see what is there before it happens, and you tell yourself that if you can withstand the pain, you can make your body do it one more time. The entire field opens to you, just as your reflexes no longer respond, your muscles no longer explode, and your tendons and ligaments will no longer withstand the tension. You’ve suddenly become a spectator.
Even a fighter like Manny Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KO) gets an indifferent fate. For the first 17-18 years of his 22 year career, Pacquiao was a human pinball, if that pinball set off a grenade every time it touched something. He darted in and out, never in the same direction, throwing and landing punches that shouldn’t have been damaging, but were. He threw them so hard and from such bizarre angles that the very finest fighters of his generation were often left on their ass, bloody and confused by what the fuck had just happened to them. His face had really only two expressions: a goofy smile, or the hardened look of a predator after he’d been struck back but steeled himself to make the kill consequences be damned. Inasmuch as a man can be only one thing, Manny Pacquiao was a fighter. He was instinctual, physical and utterly overwhelming.
Since Pacquiao’s (wrong) decision loss to Jeff Horn (17-0-1, 11 KO) in their welterweight bout this past Saturday, there has been as much talk about the bad judging, horrific commentary (fuck you forever Stephen A. Smith), and backlash to those backlashes as anything. Missing from it was Pacquiao missing. Over the past few years, his punches have gotten progressively shorter. He sets himself up in the same spots, but where once he punched through his opponents, his jab is now almost a paw, and his once lethal left cross is a tap. He’s lost about 6 inches on his range. The legs, that I can only hope inspired HBO’s Jim Lampley to compose a series of sonnets which will posthumously be published as the “Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang Collection,” no longer have the spring they once did. Manny Pacquiao looked ordinary.
His prime demonstrably ended a few years ago, but he was still formidable enough to easily beat two top ten welterweights just last year. No, Manny just looked ordinary. And that wasn’t something we’d ever been able to say about him. Pacquiao was a generational talent, and that talent is gone. Those of us who were young as he made his rise now have gray hair and are left to look at another icon who has succumbed to the undefeated march of time, as will we all.
Most of us never get to be at the height of our powers. Most of us haven’t got the faintest clue what the height of our powers are or could’ve been. Some shortcoming just won’t allow us to endure the pain necessary to find out what that might’ve been. Seeing someone who can and did those things endure the pain once more, only to find that the powers are no longer there is uncomfortable. It reminds us of everything they were, and everything we never knew if we could be.
- If ESPN is serious about showing boxing, Stephen A. Smith, Teddy Atlas, Joe Tessitore and whatever taint licker was enabling Smith in the studio have to go. I watched the fight with some other boxing writers, so the broadcast noise was minimal, but on rewatch that coverage was shameful. Smith is an idiot, openly mocking the product. Atlas is rabid, and Tessitore’s bizarre need for Teddy’s approval torpedoes any semblance of sanity.
- The 4 times he did talk during the broadcast, Timothy Bradley again showed himself to be insightful and well spoken, apart from the “Japans” gaff. Obviously.
- Speaking of the morons over at the Worldwide Leader in Sports, who the fuck cares what Aaron Rodgers and Chauncey Billups think? They don’t know shit about boxing. Was it a bad decision? You bet your ass it was, but the only thing I need to know from Rodgers is if his girlfriend has tips on how to beat my godsons at Call of Duty Black Ops. Seriously, I need help. I got curb stomped.
- I suppose I should mention, some extremely knowledgeable boxing people had the fight very close, or a draw, and didn’t think it was a robbery. It’s a subjective sport to judge. It’s OK to disagree, that doesn’t make people who were OK with the decision ISIS supporters.
- Word of advice, if Al Bernstein posts a long ass Facebook status, extremely politely putting someone in their place, that he links to Twitter, do not screen shot it and post it. My phone was going off like I was having a fucking telethon for 36 hours.
- For our younger readers, telethons were what people did before GoFundMe existed. We called in and everything. It was neat.