Boxing is the cruelest sport.
Think about it. Two individuals, armed with a boatload of courage, whose intention is to knock each other senseless. It often does not end well, even for the best of them.
Joe Louis, hero of a generation, wound up knocked half out of the ropes at Madison Square Garden by a young Rocky Marciano. Muhammad Ali, hero of another generation, was beaten up in a makeshift ring in the middle of an abandoned soccer field in the Bahamas by journeyman Trevor Berbick.
They were sad endings for storied careers.
Manny Pacquiao took that awful, final walk away from the ring a couple of weeks ago, ending a 26-year career of throwing punches and taking them. At age 42, it was time to leave this often ugly business once and for all.
Pacquiao was not just any old, used-up fighter. He was boxing royalty, winner of 12 major championships in a record eight weight classes. When it ended with a loss against Cuban welterweight Yordenis Uglas, Pacquiao was trying to become the first boxer in history to win a championship in four different decades.
He had been climbing into boxing rings since 1995, a long time for anyone to be trading punches thrown with bad intentions. He was equipped with the heart of a lion and he rode it to a career record of 62-8 with two draws, There were 39 knockouts.
Not bad for a man who grew up sleeping in the streets in his native Philippines, scrambling to survive, not always sure where he next meal was coming from. His beginnings were humble. His ending was heroic.
He is a hero in his homeland, where he holds a seat in the Philippine Senate and recently announced a run for the country’s presidency.
He walked away from this brutal business with his head held high, proud of his accomplishments as well he should be. He weaved his way through weight classes from 106 pounds to 147. He was a star in a business that often leaves its participants kicked to the curb.
His last win was perhaps his best. In 2019, he won a split decision over previously unbeaten Keith Thurman. Pacquiao was 40 at the time. Thurman was 30.
Two years later, he climbed into another ring for one more bout, One last bout as it turned out for a man who made history in the cruelest sport.