I knew I wasn’t going to like the analysis of this past weekend’s fight between Manny Pacquiao and Lucas Matthysse, but I’m still disappointed. I have to admit, I could have been a little biased against the fight because of the ESPN+ app’s complete incompetence (had to use 3 devices to finally get the live fight). No hard feelings against commentators Joe Tessitore and Tim Bradley, who were as insightful and as enjoyable as ever–but as for my general ESPN experience, I want my five bucks back.
Since I’m on the topic, (and no one reading this cares much about coherence anyway) ESPN+ really sucks. They promise boxing fans a big archive of fights from ESPN Classic. Wow! I thought, 5 bucks a month and you get live fights too, what a deal! It’s not, it’s really not at all. Sure, I got to see a fight for 5 dollars, but it was a big hassle to get it to load correctly and process my new subscription. Then, because my SmartTV’s version of the ESPN app doesn’t offer the ESPN+ service, I had to watch the fight on a damn laptop. There were distracting audio and video issues not caused by my equipment, and the quality of the broadcast in general was just very low for a subscription service. The classic fight “archive” is basically the Ali-Frazier trilogy, a few clips from Ali’s other big fights, and a Mike Tyson the-early-years knockout reel. There are are few recent ESPN fights included, but hardly enough to constitute an “archive” (at least not one worth paying for). But enough about that, the fight sucked too.
In the ESPN analysis of Pacquiao’s performance, writer Nick Parkinson claims the fight “silenced arguments that he is on the slide after losing to Jeff Horn a year ago.” You know who else had a team rally around them to claim a new beginning after a big loss? Ironically it was another fighter trained by Freddie Roach, Miguel Cotto. Even moreso, his unexpectedly dominant performance also came against an aging Argentine, Sergio Martinez. For years, Martinez had been consistently able to compete at the highest level of the sport, just like Matthysse, and suddenly–all at once–he wasn’t even close.
The same thing happened this past weekend with Pacquiao. The disparity between the fighters was so great that I’m actually skeptical of the fight’s authenticity. I doubt any corruption was responsible for the result of Cotto-Martinez, but certainly the post-fight analysis is the same with Pacquiao-Matthysse.
Parkinson isn’t the only sycophant singing Pacquiao’s praises. Fellow ESPN writer Noel Zarate claims Matthysse was “doomed” from the beginning: “Once those fighters survive the first round, they usually have a different perspective on Pacquiao’s speed and power.” I’d argue that looking at Pacquiao would tell you very little about the fight when compared with watching Matthysse.
From the first round, the formerly strong, healthy-looking Argentine seemed like he was suffering from severe arthritis. Or some exotic flu. He couldn’t move laterally, his hands were slow and hesitant, and he shuffled his feet nervously as if he expected to be knocked out early. The referee’s reaction is its own mystery. But there was only person who came to mind in watching Matthysse’s inexplicable transformation: Sergio Martinez.
Neither Martinez nor Matthysse was a young man when these incidents occurred (at least not for a prize fighter) but the contrast between their defeats and their previous performances is too extreme to accept without some analysis. When Cotto fought Martinez in June of 2014, he was coming off losses to the pound-for-pound champion, Mayweather, and a lesser but still formidable Austin Trout, who was fighting just below the elite level. He easily beat a low-level journeyman in his next fight, securing his comeback and drawing a lot of attention. Then, after his destruction of Martinez, this new Miguel Cotto was hailed as the second coming–a better, stronger, wiser Cotto. Bullshit, I thought, he didn’t find a fountain of youth, he was in the ring with an invalid. But the critics praised him as having found his inner strength, adjusted his training and his style to be more exciting.
And what happened? He took one more warmup fight against a journeyman, and won. Yet another affirmation for the delusional analysts imagining he was somehow better than he was 10 years and 5000 punches ago. Then he went after Saul Alvarez, and refused to even stay in the ring to accept the announcement of the obvious result. Another two fights, and he’s losing to the journeymen he had built his comeback on just three years earlier.
Enter Jeff Horn. He wasn’t shy about using his head or forearms to get an advantage, and the bloody mess that resulted in his match against Pacquiao showed both that Horn’s talent was very limited, and that Pacquiao was fading. Yes, Horn was physically much bigger than Pacquiao, but also at a totally different skill level. Everyone agrees Pacquiao should have been given more rounds on the scorecards, but we should also agree that he should have performed a lot better against a fighter like Horn. In case there’s any confusion, yes; Jeff Horn probably would have beaten Matthysse this past Saturday, too.
It was naive to think, even with an outstanding performance, Matthysse could have taken a decision in that situation. The crowd in Kuala Lumpur gave a standing ovation every time Pacquiao wiped sweat from his forehead. But I’m confident that I can read Pacquiao’s performance (along with his history) just as well as I did Cotto’s. A lot of the similarities are coincidence, but taken all together, the result is inevitable. Pacquiao got lucky, either through dishonest business practices or by pure chance (or some combination of the two), fighting an ebbing shadow of the fighter we expected to see as his opponent. He gets a boost in confidence and popularity, but his ability remains the same. He’s obviously still got some spark left, but the consequences of so much punishment from so many wars are unavoidable.
The excitement generated by his wins will get him set for another big payday in the next year or two, and then he’ll retire, because he’ll be utterly defeated by someone not much better than Jeff Horn. If he’s smart, he’ll stop talking about a fight with Terence Crawford, and set his sights on something achievable. If he does, we’ll get to watch an entertaining conclusion to a great career. If not, he’s the one who’s doomed.