PACQUIAO WATCH: When hunger is no longer there

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/04 January) — In just two fights last year, reigning world welterweight king Manny Pacquiao made more money than the combined annual budget of General Santos City and his adopted province Sarangani.

His 2011 gross income is undoubtedly the most he has ever made in a single year since turning professional at the age when most young guys should be in college.

Pacquiao, now a member of Philippine Congress, is no longer the hungry kid who turned to boxing as a way of living 16 years ago.

He no longer lives in a shack but now owns several mansions including one he bought in Forbes Park, exclusive enclave of the very rich and elite in the country.  He owns a fleet of luxury cars enough to fill a yard, and just christened his newly purchased P25-million (US$570,000) yacht ‘Sarangani’s Pride’.

He travels business class when not on chartered flights and private planes.

He has masseurs wherever he goes and loves to be called ‘Ninong’, an obvious throwback to Francis Ford Coppola’s epic gangster movie, The Godfather trilogy.

He gives away cars during his birthdays and wads of money as if they are going out of style.  He basks in the adulation he gets and now dreams of becoming a president one day or at least ten years from now when he reaches the age of qualification.

He can quit boxing tomorrow and probably will not end up a pauper like former idol and fellow General Santos City-raised Rolando Navarette, who like him was once a world boxing champion.

Pacquiao however says he is still a long way from retirement and will continue to box for as long as he can absorb the punches as well as he can dish out punishments.

But 2011 was also a down year for him as far as the signature victories he has been notching since breaking out in the American boxing scene with a spectacular knockout of South African Lehlo Ledwaba to win his second world boxing crown.  His career defining win against heavy favorite Marco Antonio Barrera in 2003 installed him as one of the most exciting boxers at that time and positioned himself as a future Hall of Fame fighter which he capped with the one-sided beating he administered on Oscar de la Hoya.  That victory cemented his legacy as one of the all-time greats of the sports.

Despite receiving record earnings in two fights last year, Pacquiao’s 2011 performance was a big letdown.  He failed to finish off Shane Mosley in his first fight of the year, which without the third round knockdown would have been voted the most boring marquee match last year.  Then he eked out another closely contested victory against arch nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez, which many thought should have gone the Mexican’s way.

Two lackluster fights do not make Pacquiao a washed up fighter.

But maybe, maybe, the hunger is no longer there.  Maybe, his outside-of-the-ring commitments are finally taking their toll on his focus and dedication.  Maybe the lack of competition is turning him lazy.

Maybe success has gotten into his head that he now believes he is indestructible.  Maybe he is finally ripe for the picking and, as the prestigious Sports Illustrated predicts, Pacquiao will finally lose a fight this year against — of all fighters — Juan Manuel Marquez, in a fourth fight that will have Top Rank’s Bob Arum salivating.

What drive fighters to excel are their hunger and desire to reach the top.  Once there, they need to continue to be hungry to maintain their competitive levels.

Once the hunger is lost, the way down could be as quick as a free fall. (Edwin G. Espejo writes for