LAS VEGAS: Even Manny Pacquiao is uncertain whether his 26-year professional boxing career is ending Saturday night when he faces Yordenis Ugás for the WBA welterweight title.
Pacquiao has plans and ambitions reaching far beyond the fight game at this point in his wild life, and that's why he might be saying goodbye at T-Mobile Arena. If he enters the presidential race in his native Philippines a few weeks after this bout, as nearly everyone expects, he will be running for a job that would effectively prevent him from fighting again.
While the 42-year-old Pacquiao has said nothing official, his fans around the globe realize it's at least one of the final chapters in a boxing story with few equals.
“I never imagined what I would have accomplished in boxing from the beginning of my career leading up to now,” Pacquiao said. “I went from nothing to something in order to be an inspiration for people both inside and outside of the ring.”
Almost nobody in the history of boxing could do what Pacquiao intends to accomplish over the next year — although that's been true for pretty much every year of the Filipino senator's time in the professional fight game. If being an eight-division world champion was an achievable goal, plenty of boxers would have a collection like Pacquiao's closet full of belts.
Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs) is returning to the ring after a two-year absence — the longest of his career — to fight for another world title in front of a big Vegas crowd and a pay-per-view audience.
In the next few weeks, almost everyone in the Philippines expects him to declare his candidacy ahead of the May 2022 presidential election.
A presidential campaign would be longer and more grueling than any training camp in Los Angeles, where he teamed up again with Freddie Roach to prepare for one more title challenge.
“The thing about Manny is he's almost always been prepared when it's time to start,” Roach said recently at the Wild Card Gym. “Even this time, after two years away — the longest he's ever gone without a fight — he came into camp in shape, and the speed was still there. He takes care of what he has to take care of, even with everything else happening in his life.”
Pacquiao faces much stiffer odds in his latest political ambition than he does in the ring. He is a solid favorite to beat Ugás (26-4, 12 KOs), the cagey Cuban veteran who got a surprising chance for a life-changing win at late notice.
“I feel young right now,” Pacquiao said. “I’m just happy with what I’m doing, because boxing is my passion. I enjoy training camp, and I was excited to sacrifice and be disciplined every day to prepare for a fight like this.”
Pacquiao's power and speed hadn't diminished significantly in his last bout against Keith Thurman. If he shows up against Ugás with the same combination of skills, it likely would be too much for the man who holds the belt Pacquiao took from Thurman in 2019 before the WBA abruptly awarded it to Ugás earlier this year.
“I didn’t like that someone took my belt without challenging me in the ring," Pacquiao said. “I’m glad that we can settle that dispute about the WBA title. It’s always better to talk in the ring.”
Pacquiao doesn't expect his longest-ever layoff or the late change in opponents to bother him. He was scheduled to fight Errol Spence Jr. until early last week, when Spence discovered he had a torn retina during a prefight physical.
Roach knows more than anyone about Pacquiao's preparedness, and he sees no public reason to worry. He seems satisfied by Pacquiao's training this summer even while he spends late nights on Zoom handling his congressional responsibilities — and likely laying groundwork for his greatest quest of all.
If this turns out to be the final fight of their partnership, Roach will be sad to lose regular contact with his old friend — but he is confident Pacquiao will go out in a manner befitting their two decades together.
“Before training camp, somebody asked when was the last time I talked to him, and I said, ‘It’s been over two years,'” Roach said. “'You don’t talk over the phone?’ And I said, ‘We both (stink) on the phone. We’re both terrible phone people.’ He never calls me. I never call him. He does send me tapes of his workouts, which I appreciate, and I do call him on his birthday. I know his birthday. It might be the only one I know.”