The last 14 years, Manny Pacquiao has taken the road to Las Vegas countless times. During those trips, the road back was often triumphant, but on occasions, sad and lonely.
On Monday, Pacquiao made another trip to the place known as Sin City. It will no doubt be an extraordinary trip. It will be a trip that perhaps will be the defining moment of his storied career.
He may be the only boxer to have won titles in eight different divisions, but the fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. on May 2 will be of a different dimension.
The stakes are high, the rewards unbelievable.
Yet in 2001, Pacquiao was nothing but another struggling fighter waiting for the big payday and an opportunity.
It came when Pacquiao was named a last-minute replacement to take on Lehlo Ledwaba for the South African’s IBF super-bantamweight title.
Pacquiao knocked out Ledwaba, pocketed $40,000, and a star was born.
Fast forward to 2015 as Pacquiao gets ready to face Mayweather at the MGM Grand for a staggering $80 million purse. This amount is three times bigger than his previous-best of $25 million.
“I’ve definitely come a long way,” said Pacquiao as he recalled the day in June 2001 when he exploded into the US fight scene with a smashing sixth-round smackdown of Ledwaba at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, which, incidentally, will be the same arena where he will meet Mayweather.
Recalling the Ledwaba encounter, Pacquiao wasn’t even supposed to fight for the IBF 122-lb crown.
While Pacquiao was at the Wild Card Boxing Club under a new trainer in Freddie Roach, Murad Muhammad, then his promoter got a call asking if the unheralded Pacquiao would be willing to step up to the plate and challenge Ledwaba.
Ledwaba’s original foe, Mexican Enrique Sanchez, had gotten injured in training and a replacement was needed to save the fight. The promoter thought Pacquiao perfectly fit the bill of cannon fodder.
Pacquiao, though a terror in Asia, was completely unknown in the US, and he was up against a solid champion in Ledwaba.
But Pacquiao made a rousing introduction that paved the way for his intrusion into big-time boxing, battering Ledwawa and turning him into a rag doll before referee Joe Cortez intervened.
After Ledwaba, Pacquiao racked up a string of wins, encountered a minor setback in 2005, regained control with wins over Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton and ran into a wall anew in 2012 when Juan Manuel Marquez knocked him out cold.
Following the Marquez debacle, it seemed that an era had ended.
But Pacquiao fulfilled his promise of rising again. Going into this weekend’s blockbuster brawl, he has actually scored three straight.
“Mayweather’s time is up,” said Pacquiao, confident of putting a stop to Mayweather’s 47-fight winning streak.
“I have him (Mayweather) all figured out,” he said. For Pacquiao, Marquez was a tougher challenge.
On May 2, the day after the richest fight in history, Pacquiao will make that long trip once again to LA. Whether it’s boom or bust will remain unknown.
A win will mean he will ride the bus, while a loss, well, who knows what will be on Pacquiao’s mind.
Those who have assured seats on the bus would certainly want him to be on board as Pacquiao is expected to regale his audience how he did it.
His story surely will be something that will live forever in the minds of the people who will have the rare chance of riding the bus with the world’s greatest boxer on board.
Courtesy of Nick Giongco of the Manila Bulletin. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickSpeaks
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