Manny Pacquiao's longevity in boxing a rare feat

Manny Pacquiao will have his first post-40 bout on Saturday when he faces Adrien Broner in Las Vegas. Mohd Samsul Mohd Said/Getty Images

Joe Brown sat on the edge of his bed at the Days Inn in Canastota, New York, the sunlight illuminating the normally unseen dust drifting through the ether like the sands of time.

He was known as "Old Bones" during his fighting days, and never was the nickname more appropriate than on that June morning in 1996. By then Brown was a wizened version of the man who held the lightweight championship for six years in the 1950s and early '60s, already dying of the cancer that would kill him the following year.

Although his body was weak, Brown's mind was as sharp as his punches had once been as he talked about his remarkable life. The next day he would be inducted into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame, more than a quarter century after the last of his 184 professional bouts, a final bask in the limelight for a virtually forgotten man.

For me there was a wistful twist to the occasion. When I was a schoolboy, Brown was one of my first boxing heroes, and there he was in front of me, just a few rounds short of the final bell -- a melancholy privilege I cherish.

Like a lot of fans, I've always had a soft spot for boxing's geriatric division, that rare breed that defies the odds and Father Time to compete successfully at an age when the vast majority of their contemporaries have packed it in.

Manny Pacquiao will have his first post-40 bout on Saturday when he faces Adrien Broner at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas (Showtime PPV). While the outcome is far from a foregone conclusion, should Pacquiao prevail he'll enter a new realm where an extra layer of prestige is achieved not solely by victory but also by the passage of time.

Archie Moore, George Foreman and Bernard Hopkins didn't start out figuring to become famous for things they did past their primes. Who does? But it worked out for the best in the end. Their remarkable late-career success took on a transcendent quality akin to hoodwinking mortality. And that's something to which we can all relate.

Granted, such age-defying feats are found in other spheres of excellence. Impressionist painter Claude Monet painted obsessively until a few months before he died at age 86, creating many of his masterpieces during his final years.

Of course, nobody was lobbing haymakers at Monet when he put brush to canvas. Boxers are in a special category in this respect; their medium is violence. Yet they push the boundaries of their art like no other.

Joe Brown was a month shy of his 45th birthday when he retired in 1970, eight years after losing the title. Moore was 39 when he became light heavyweight champion and Jersey Joe Walcott was 37 when he won the heavyweight championship. For decades they were the leading examples of the phenomenon, but what constitutes an "old" boxer has changed.

In recent decades more and more fighters, like athletes in other sports, have been campaigning successfully well into their 30s. It's not that big of a deal anymore. But when Foreman regained the heavyweight championship in 1994 at age 45, he established an astonishing new benchmark. It lasted until 2013, when Hopkins upped the ante by annexing a piece of the light heavyweight title at 48.

Winning a major title at an advanced age is the easy part. Hanging around long enough to give it a try is the grind. Adapt and survive is the way to go, but success is reserved for the very best and part of what makes them so.

A 50-year-old titleholder isn't impossible. Pacquiao won't stick around another 10 years, but still has an opportunity to add to an already enviable legacy if he gets by Broner in convincing style.

Pacquiao's knockout of Lucas Matthysse last July (his first KO win since 2009) did not indicate the return of the rampaging daredevil of the past. It was a clinical dismantling of an unambitious puncher, but eye-catching nonetheless. A bit of the old magic had made an appearance, and that's good for business.

As he enters the final stage of his career, Pacquiao's story remains the stuff that dreams are made of. When he turned pro as a mop-topped, spaghetti strand of junior flyweight in 1995, all Manny had going for him was feverish determination and a rattlesnake left that eventually make him a multimillionaire.

Pacman was a scary enough proposition as a raw slugger, but by the time he stopped Erik Morales in their second fight, trainer Freddie Roach had helped him morph into a world-class fighter.

At his best, Manny was an extraordinarily thrilling fighter, and perhaps that's why his metamorphosis has not been appreciated or understood as much as it should. Lots of people want nothing less than the guy who fought like a runaway chainsaw, an understandable but unrealistic expectation.

The last fight of Pacquiao's prime was the butchering of Antonio Margarito in November 2010. Like other successful graybeards, he became more circumspect in his approach and scaled back the pace of his attack.

Don't be fooled by the training-camp videos of Pacquiao's rapid-fire assaults on the pads and the heavy bag. Gone, for the most part, are the reckless sorties of the past, replaced by calculated raids, guerilla warfare instead of Kamikaze attacks.

Pacquiao fights on because he needs the money, not only to support his superstar lifestyle, but also his political ambition. Going back to peddling doughnuts and cigarettes on the streets of Manila isn't an option.

It is widely believed that Sen. Pacquiao's endgame is to become president of the Philippines. As implausible as that may seem, in the byzantine and treacherous world of Filipino politics damned near anything is conceivable. Joseph Estrada, president from 1998 to 2001, was a former actor who had appeared in more than a 100 films. Much like Pacquiao, he was a hero of the impoverished masses that make up much of the country's population.

Regardless of whether Pacquiao achieves his political goal, it's going to take a substantial fortune to try. He's in a race with his body clock as well as political adversaries, and if he's going to have a reasonable chance of moving into Malacanang Palace (the official residence of the president), Manny has to keep winning right up until election day.

Broner, a talented but trouble-prone underachiever, is 11 years younger and has quick hands and a big mouth. Despite his legal problems and often asinine behavior, he's a reasonably tough assignment -- a good puncher who retains his power in the late rounds and has never been stopped.

For Pacquiao there will be more at stake on Saturday than the size of his next paycheck. If he is defeated, he'll have to keep fighting anyway. His financial obligations are massive and his choices few. As hard as it is to imagine, he could end up like Joe Brown, fighting on for years after the title was gone, offering up his name to anybody who would pay him to fight.

Happy ending are as rare in Filipino politics as they are in boxing. In Pacquiao's case it's difficult to know which is the pan and which is the fire. But fighters don't dare think too far ahead, and as Pacman strides confidently into his sunset of his boxing career, we can only watch and wonder how long this unique boxer can fight off the inevitable.