LAS VEGAS—Like any good entertainer, Manny Pacquiao was good enough against Timothy Bradley to leave his fans wanting a little more.
Whether they get it depends on how serious Pacquiao is about walking away from the sport he loves and the spotlight that will be hard to leave behind.
Even the fighter himself doesn’t seem totally convinced that this is the end.
“I can still give a good fight,” Pacquiao said. “I’m still OK.”
Bradley will certainly attest to that, after being dropped by Pacquiao and then dropping a unanimous 12-round decision Saturday night in their welterweight showdown at the MGM Grand arena. The third fight between the two men showed evidence that even at the age of 37, Pacquiao still resembles the fighter who thrilled so many with his romp to titles in eight different weight classes.
“He’s the best fighter I ever fought,” Bradley said. “I fought the best I could tonight. It just seemed like Manny was always in the right spot, always a step ahead of me.”
What Pacquiao says was likely his last fight wasn’t his best, though it had moments where he seemed to still be at his best. He put Bradley down twice, the second with a left hand in the ninth round that flashed some of the power that used to be a signature of his fights.
When the scores were totaled—all three judges had it 116-110—Pacquiao had a win in his first fight since he disappointed his fans with a lacklustre performance against Floyd Mayweather Jr. last May. If this was the end, it ended with his hand held high in a victory that took some of the sting out of his loss in boxing’s richest fight ever.
In a way, though, Pacquiao may have looked too good. Despite the urging of his family to retire, the lure of even more big money fights ahead might be too much to resist.
“When I see Manny Pacquiao like that, this is the best Manny Pacquiao,” trainer Freddie Roach said. “He hasn’t missed a beat. I would like to see him fight again.”
Before Pacquiao even begins to consider that, he has a different fight just ahead he is intent on winning. Already a congressman in the Philippines, he is running for Senate in next month’s elections, a position that would take far more of his time and energy.
He talks of helping people, spending time with his family, and serving his country. But boxing is the only thing he has known since first lacing up the gloves at the age of 12, and giving it up will be difficult.
That’s especially true after proving to everyone—including himself—that he can still fight at the highest level.
“He was strong, man,” Bradley said. “Strong and fast.”
Pacquiao said in the days leading up to the fight that he felt rejuvenated after getting his shoulder repaired and taking off nearly a year from the ring. He looked it against Bradley, shaking off some early ring rust to dominate the rubber match of the trilogy between the two fighters.
In a way, Pacquiao said, it seemed a lot like when he came to the United States to pair up with Roach and become one of the biggest—and most unlikely—pay-per-view attractions ever.
“What I felt tonight was I feel fresh,” he said. “I remember when I started boxing here in America in 2001. That was my feeling.”
If Pacquiao does return to the ring, he won’t have trouble finding opponents. Roach said he would like to see him fight unbeaten super lightweight champion Terence Crawford at 140 pounds, and there is always the possibility that Mayweather will end his own retirement if there is a lucrative rematch to be had.
For now, though, he says he’s focused on the upcoming election, and making sure his family is happy. There will be time for reflection later, he said, once he figures out just how he will spend his time away from the sport.
“Let me enjoy first a retired life,” Pacquiao said about his chances of fighting again. “If you ask me to come back I don’t know. I may be enjoying retired life. I’m not there yet so I just don’t know.”