Manny Pacquiao returns from retirement Saturday night.
No one is exactly sure why.
For one thing, he didn’t stay retired long enough to make this a meaningful comeback. His last fight, a third snoozer with Timothy Bradley, was seven months ago. For a top-tier fighter, following up an April bout with another one in November is a normal year.
Pacquiao, though, was trying to impress Filipino voters by announcing that he was leaving the sport to focus on his political career. He won election to the Senate in June, and immediately starting getting ready for his next fight.
The “retirement” appears to have been nothing but a campaign stunt, and the fight itself doesn’t make much sense. Pacquiao is fighting a talented opponent in WBO welterweight champion Jessie Vargas in a bout that will do nothing for his legacy. If he beats Vargas, no one will care, and if he loses, it will just be the latest in a long line of old fighters ending their careers with bad performances.
Pacquiao, of course, doesn’t want to get in the ring with a big puncher at this point. The last time he did that, back in 2012, Juan Manuel Marquez turned him into an Internet meme with a savage knockout. The picture of Pacquiao lying on his face was a universal symbol of defeat before the Crying Jordan face took off.
That likely won’t be a problem with Vargas, who has only knocked out 10 opponents in his 28-fight career. He did stop Sadam Ali in the ninth round of his last fight, but that is his only knockout in the last five years. Vargas won 10 straight fights by decision from 2011-14, then lost a unanimous decision to Bradley in his only 2015 fight.
Pacquiao was once a big puncher — his 2009 knockout of Ricky Hatton left the Brit twitching in the center of the ring — but he hasn’t stopped anyone in this decade.
Barring something unexpected, the fight will go 12 rounds on Saturday, and there’s not likely to be much action. Pacquiao will probably win, but what happens after that?
“I want to prove that I am still one of the best pound-for-pound fighters,” the 37-year-old said this week. “I feel I still have a lot to prove. I am not done with boxing. I will continue to keep fighting as long as I love boxing and boxing still loves me.
“I do not feel old. I feel like I am still 27.”
What Pacquiao wants is hardly a secret. He won’t consider his career complete until he gets another shot at Floyd Mayweather Jr. — a chance to avenge the lopsided defeat he suffered in May 2015. He was dealing with a shoulder injury and believes that he would win a rematch if he was healthy.
The issue, of course, is that Mayweather doesn’t appear to be interested. He’s 14 months into his own retirement and seems perfectly content to live the life of a global playboy. He’s never going to run out of gambling money, and he has stayed away from his chronic domestic-violence issues.
There are several top fighters in the welterweight division, but it is hard to see Pacquiao getting into the ring with Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia or Shawn Porter. They are all in their 20s, and have big paydays ahead of them at 147 and 154 pounds. Even if Pacquiao could beat them, which is debatable at this point, he’s unlikely to get the chance.
That means, even if he beats Vargas this weekend, he won’t have a massive fight on the horizon. He has already done things that no boxer has ever done — he has won titles from flyweight to welterweight and will go into the Boxing Hall of Fame on the first ballot — and there’s no reason for him to keep going.
He was probably right this spring, even if he didn’t mean it. It is time for him to focus on being a Filipino Senator, not a boxer.