Manny Pacquiao continues to defy Father Time as he enters another title bout against Yordenis Ugas

It was just over six years ago that defending welterweight champions Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao met in boxing’s biggest fight to date for the title of best fighter of their collective era.  

Although the superfight came roughly five years too late following an extended soap opera of delays, it was still a matchup of the two best fighters, pound for pound at the time, on the planet. And given their respective ages — the unbeaten Mayweather was 38, Pacquiao was 36 — there was a historic element at play to the fight offering each the final chance to permanently define their legacies with a win.  

Pacquiao, who partially blamed an injured shoulder, would go on to lose the fight by convincing decision and Mayweather, as expected, would retire for good four months later from the “traditional” portion of his fight career (despite a trio of comebacks best described as quasi, if not full-on, exhibitions). Pacquiao, however, never stopped fighting.  

The interesting part about Pacquiao’s exceptional legacy is that even though he lost to Mayweather in a fight that for most would be the defining one of their career, the Filipino icon had already cemented his legacy, or so it seemed, back in 2010 when he became boxing’s only eight-division champion.  

Few could’ve guessed Pacquiao would keep fighting at an elite level after 2015 given his age and style as a smaller fighter so reliant upon speed and explosiveness against bigger opponents. Even less could’ve predicted he would still be fighting today, headlining what was originally expected to be the biggest pay-per-view of the calendar year this weekend in Las Vegas.  

Yet here we are, just days out from Pacquiao, at age 42, entering as the clear betting favorite following a two-year layoff when he challenges WBA welterweight titleholder Yordenis Ugas in Saturday’s main event (PBC on Fox PPV, 9 p.m. ET), after Ugas was a late replacement for unified 147-pound champion Errol Spence Jr., who withdrew with a torn retina just 11 days out.  

Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs) was just 16 in 1995 when he made his pro debut at 106 pounds. An astonishing 26 years later, at an age when his contemporaries, if they are active at all, are typically cashing out by boxing MMA fighters and YouTube influencers, Pacquiao clearly isn’t done adding to his legacy.  

While his immediate post-Mayweather victories over Timothy Bradley Jr. (in their trilogy) and Jessie Vargas were impressive, they did nothing to suggest what would come after. In a 12-month stretch beginning in July 2018, Pacquiao authored a trio of victories over Lucas Matthysse, Adrien Broner and then-unbeaten Keith Thurman. The surprising resurgence nearly won him fighter of the year honors at 40 and re-established him among the P4P best in the game.  

So how did we get here, with Pacquiao having seemingly found the proverbial fountain of youth? Is it as simple as a living legend, who consistently matched himself as difficult as possible in an era where it’s not the norm, being the last of his breed as a veritable freak of nature?

“Yeah, a little bit,” trainer Freddie Roach told “Morning Kombat” last month. “His speed, his power and his work ethic are still great. He trains really hard every day and he has great footwork.” 

Roach, the Hall of Fame mentor who has served as a father figure for Pacquiao since the fighter walked off the street into his Los Angeles gym a little more than 20 years ago, ultimately settled upon PacMan’s passion for the sport — which has yet to be extinguished despite his fame and success — as the secret to his longevity.  

Pacquiao agreed, telling CBS Sports last week, “My secret is training and, of course, discipline. [But] I’m happy doing this for three decades and I’m still enjoying what I’m doing right now.”

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Yet when it comes to the reputation he has developed as a fighter who is constantly looking to give back to his fans by not only fighting the best, but seeking out opponents with exciting styles to match his own, Pacquiao referred back to his love of what he does and the opportunity it gives him to inspire others as his main source of motivation. That’s why he sought out Spence in the first place and why he was equally willing to accept Ugas as a replacement on such short notice.  

“I think that’s the evidence of being passionate for this sport because this is my passion,” Pacquiao said. “Not only is it to fight and making money, but giving inspiration to the boxing fans and giving encouragement to young fighters to work hard and have the determination for their dreams.” 

Although Pacquiao has long been disciplined and a noted gym rat, Roach admitted his fighter got a wakeup call from his disputed 2017 loss to Jeff Horn when Pacquiao, who appeared to get old overnight in a damaging fight, arrived in Australia jet-lagged and somewhat undertrained while juggling duties as a senator in his native Philippines throughout a distracted training camp.  

Pacquiao has made sure to do a better job balancing his civic duties since then although it can be argued his current ring return is politically motivated because of how much Pacquiao, whose history as a senator on human rights has often been criticized, might use the positive press of an emphatic victory at his age as a national hero to springboard a rumored run for president in 2022.  

How Pacquiao’s political hopes might impact his fighting future remains uncertain. Roach believes Pacquiao’s final in-ring goal is to win the election and then win one more boxing match as the reigning Filipino president. Pacquiao was far more noncommittal when asked and insisted he remains on a fight-by-fight basis based upon how he performs and feels. 

Either way, Pacquiao’s ageless ways and his charitable reputation have come full circle in the buildup to his boxing return as he has partnered with Takeover Industries to be the face of their NXT LVL Hydrogen Water campaign with Pacquiao’s image currently adorned to collectors series’ cans of the gas-infused spring water used for training and recovery.  

Pacquiao has rarely been seen on camera in the pre-fight build without the product in his hand or the logo plastered on the gear of his team. And while it’s expected to be a financially rich partnership for both sides — Takeover CEO Toby McBride said the drink has done over $1 million in the first 120 days online before entering retail — Pacquiao has been much more focused on how he could use it to give back.  

After initially being sent samples of the drink while training, Pacquiao loved its benefits so much he reached out to the company to offer a partnership in launching the product throughout southeast Asia. That led to an agreement in which the fighter’s charity, the Manny Pacquiao Foundation, signed on to receive a percentage of all NXT LVL sales to help the less fortunate.  

“We are helping so many all over the world giving shelter and, of course, medical attention to so many,” Pacquiao said. “We have been building houses in Uganda [for example] and it’s good. It’s my heart and desire from the beginning that I want to help people, not only for my countrymen, but all over the world. I want to be an inspiration for everyone, as much as possible.” 

McBride, who has a history in launching successful beverage brands like SoBe, Arizona Iced Tea and Xyience, said aligning the health and anti-aging benefits of his product with a reputation for longevity that Pacquiao possesses was a no-brainer.  

“I have loved the guy since he started fighting. The fact that we can help his charity out kind of sealed it for me,” McBride said. “We can sell as much as we can and that will be great but if we can save lives and help people, I’ve done my job. He’s just an amazing man and that’s why I did the deal. Age is a number now. It’s how you feel and how you run your days and how you should run your life. That’s what our product is there for.”  

Pacquiao’s history of defying Father Time makes for a great pre-fight narrative, but inevitably, rare is the boxer who isn’t the last to know they have lingered on for too long. How much of a role will the two-year layoff play in that potentially happening to Pacquiao against Ugas (26-4), a 35-year-old technician and decorated former Cuban amateur star who is big and durable for the weight class?

“In my situation, [the layoff] is good for me because I have been in boxing for almost 30 years,” Pacquiao said. “That’s non-stop so it’s better for me to have rest for two years. My body didn’t have time to rest [previously]. When I got back to training camp and fight mode, I’m so excited and happy. What I’m doing now, I feel like I’m young again. I’m always inspired to work hard like when I was young.”

Asked about the danger his opponent — originally Spence, and now Ugas — brings to the ring against him at this age, Pacquiao was quick to remind that at the elite level, the only danger is not being fully prepared — either spiritually or in the form of physical conditioning — which he promised would not be an issue.  

Pacquiao is at an age where a deep retrospective of where he came from and what he has accomplished is natural. Could he have ever imagined as a poor child who once sold doughnuts and cigarettes on the streets of Manila to survive that he might one day be a candidate for president and a surefire Hall of Fame boxer who is still going strong at an age when most have walked away for good?

The answer was an easy one.

“Where I came from, I can’t imagine from the beginning that I would have accomplished all these things,” Pacquiao said. “I always believed I have been brought from nothing into something to help people and be an inspiration to everyone.

“As long as God give me the strength and good health and always protect me, I can still fight. But right now it’s one at a time. I can’t talk about what’s next until I focus on this one first. After that, discuss and talk about the future.”

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