The Last Great Champion?

If you squint just enough, photos of Manny Pacquiao feel as if they were shot in another era altogether, maybe the late 1970s or early ‘80s, when the marquees of the Strip were lit with names such as Ali, Leonard, Hagler and Duran. Today, boxing in the U.S. is suffering through a long twilight, victim of its own avarice (read: pay-per-view) and organizational chaos (read: IBF, WBO, XYZ, WTF). Mixed martial arts has become the choice of a new generation, and the generation after it.

But on May 7, before a sold-out crowd of 16,400 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Pacquiao brought back, if only for a moment, the glory days of the Vegas ring. He defended his welterweight world title with a unanimous decision over Shane Mosley, and did it in his inimitable gentleman-warrior style. Pacquiao has won 10 world championships in eight weight divisions. In doing so, he has become not only a national hero—and a member of Congress—in his native Philippines, but a global figure who transcends his sport.

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It doesn’t matter if your football team has a Hall of Fame left tackle, a 1,000-yard rusher, a 6-foot-7-inch receiver blessed with sprinter’s speed and magnetic hands, and a defense that’s stingier than Tiger Woods come tip time. If it doesn’t have a competent quarterback, it’s likely not going very far. In basketball, a team may put the quickest, most athletic team on the floor night after night, but if the point guard treats the ball like a hand grenade in late-game situations and doesn’t have a big man to protect the rim, it can kiss its championship hopes goodbye.



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