Way back on December 8th of 2012, former Pacquiao opponent Erik Morales tweeted a controversial phrase (since deleted) that has given some fans the impression that they got a peek behind the proverbial curtain that night. After losing 2 of their previous bouts and earning a draw in the first, Juan Manuel Marquez (of Mexico) was ready to step back in the ring with the Filipino superstar. He ended up getting a win despite taking heavy punishment through six rounds, with a one-punch fight-ending shot in the last second of the round. That’s when a fighter whom both knew, now serving only as a spectator, posted his thoughts on Twitter: “The Mexican pharmacy was better.”
Why would Morales assume Marquez (or Pacquiao, for that matter) was using performance enhancing drugs, ever? Well, Morales had some experience in the ring with one of them. Specifically, he fought Mr. Pacquiao three times between 2005 and 2006. He lost more (2) than he won (1) of the three-fight series, but it wasn’t until a couple years later that Pacquiao’s career suddenly took off when he moved up two (or three) weight classes–from Super Featherweight to Junior Welterweight–in just over a year and a half.
Can small, talented guys who bulk up make these kinds of jumps? You’d be tempted to say “sometimes,” except it’s really just him and a couple other guys in history. But, okay, he did. And he started his meteoric rise at the 50-fight mark.
He had already fought 50 times professionally, and reached the age of thirty before this life-changing evolution. He started taking on much stiffer competition, too, starting with veteran 130-pounder David Diaz, and then leaping light years ahead to brutally dominating Oscar de la Hoya in 2008, and damn-near decapitating Ricky Hatton in 2009. It wasn’t long before he dismantled the just-past-his-prime Miguel Cotto. With those fights, he lined himself up with the most successful fighter of the era, Mayweather.
Now the question becomes, can small, talented guys who suddenly bulk up (at the age of 30) make these kinds of jumps with this kind of success? Not naturally–at least, that’s the assumption. For someone to develop professionally for 13 years before suddenly becoming the outstanding fighter in the world is unheard of, and unrealistic. To add to the incrimination, Manny’s physical appearance changed dramatically during that time, most notably, his cranium seemed to swell three sizes, kinda like the Grinch. Except the Grinch was lanky and had superpowers, whereas Manny is ostensibly human with short arms and legs.
This past Saturday–I still can’t believe I’m writing this–Pacquiao again turned in an age-defying performance, this one a full ten years after the one I’ve just described. His opponent, Keith Thurman, wasn’t a past-his-prime legend like De la Hoya, and he wasn’t an overexcited tyrannosaurus like Ricky Hatton. He is, and fought like, a well-rounded welterweight champion. Thurman is known for his moniker One-Time because he has had so much success knocking his opponents out with a single punch. Granted, it’s been a while since that name applied. It’s been at least four years since Thurman stopped anybody, with one punch or otherwise. Still, Thurman has been one of the big four welters for years.
The tension has been building as he, Errol Spence, Terence Crawford and Shawn Porter established themselves as legitimate champions and satisfied their mandatories. Now, Pacquiao steps back into the mix and Mayweather initiates another back-and-forth via Twitter. This, after Mayweather suggested in a tweet last year that he was already negotiating a rematch with Pacquiao.
Against Thurman, Pacquiao showed superior speed and power, but mostly speed. Fans would have expected the speed advantage, but he looked stronger, too, from the first round when he knocked Thurman down with a flurry. The biggest red flag, though, may have been his stamina, which by all accounts should be the first asset to go as a fighter ages. In rounds 11 and 12 Thurman ignored his corner’s demands and fought conservatively, but Pacquiao seemed to be at his peak output, putting together combinations and footwork without ever really letting off the gas. The split decision should have been unanimous, and I’m not sure I have much interest in seeing Thurman face any of the champions, anymore. He should have a more gradual decline than Ricky Hatton, but he’s already past the summit.
It’s all starting to sound terribly familiar and far-fetched. So, is Pac back on the ‘roids? Was he ever? HGH? We may never really have irrefutable evidence one way or the other. It’s a pretty safe bet, though, that banned substances at some point contributed to the meteoric rise and fall and rise of Manny Pacquiao. We’ve seen what it looks like when it’s done naturally in Bernard Hopkins, and B-Hop’s physique never transformed as dramatically or as late in his life as Pacquiao’s. I’m sure part of the mystery is just an overhyped Keith Thurman overlooking a still-dangerous smaller man, but I have a feeling another part might be boxing fans’ second peek behind the Pacquiao curtain.