By Edwin Espejo
Contributor, Mindanews .
GENERAL Santos City – A few months back, I wrote about the three great athletes that broke into the sporting world at about the same time.
That was in 1996.
Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods and Derek Jeter.
Soon thereafter, they became iconic figures in their respective pro sports disciplines.
Kobe would go on to win 5 NBA rings en route to a Hall of Fame bound career. Tiger Woods took pro golf by storm, winning 14 majors in record-breaking fashion. Jeter won five World Series crown and became the face of baseball of his generation.
But there is one who I missed but nevertheless deserves to be mentioned in the same breadth.
He is one of our own.
Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao turned pro in 1995 at a very tender age of 17, a year ahead of the pro debuts of Bryant, Woods and Jeter.
Unlike the Big Three who immediately made an impact in their respective sports discipline, it took Manny a while to become one of the best in his generation – all weight classes considered.
Derek Jeter was ahead of the pack, having won a World Series ring in 1996 in his first year as Major League player. Kobe would get his first NBA ring in 2000.
Tiger won his first of 14 majors at the Augusta Masters in 1998 – the same year Manny won the first of his eight division world boxing titles.
Manny’s first world boxing title came at the expense of Thai great Chatchai Saisakul. But he was largely a regional sports figure, wreaking havoc all over Asia.
It was not until 2001, when Manny stormed Mexican boxing great Marco Antonio Barrera into submission in the 11th round, that the Filipino had his coming out party of sorts.
From there, his pro career took a meteoric rise culminating into emphatic wins over celebrated fighters like Ricky Hatton, Oscar de la Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Margarito Antonio, Erik Morales (twice) and exciting encounters with nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez. On the side, he was disposing the likes of overmatched David Diaz, Shane Mosley, Joshua Clottey, Jorge Solis.
All of them came in different heights and sizes. Manny would stand tall against them.
Two decades after these sporting idols stamped their mark to become the best of their class, only two of them remain active.
Both Kobe and Derek would leave a remarkable exit in the same manner as they burst into the scene.
Kobe scored 60 points in his last game against the Utah Jazz and Derek hit a walk-off single in his final game, providing storybook endings and unbelievable drama to add to their illustrious careers.
Tiger Woods and Manny Pacquiao are undoubtedly heading towards the twilight of their careers as well.
But Tiger is making a suspenseful comeback after a six-year golf title drought that was punctuated by his extramarital affairs and back injuries. Once predicted to break the all-time 18 major titles won by the venerable Jack Nicklaus, Woods is trying to recapture the form that made him the toast of pro golf in the 1990s and the 2000s.
He may yet win another major or two or even equal and break Nicklaus’s record. You see, Woods is into the kind of sports discipline where longevity is never an issue. Many golfing greats won their majors in their 50s.
In boxing, however, only one boxer in the modern era won a world title when he was in his 50s – George Foreman but the competition was undoubtedly very thin by then.
Many believe Tiger will have his own way of exiting his sports with another major title.
Pacquiao will try to have his own grand exit but father nature may not be on his side.
The longer he stays, his chances dramatically diminish.
And the longer he boxes, the more he becomes vulnerable.
Once feared, many will be taking their chances with the feisty ring warrior in the hopes of taking that first step and their own journeys to greatness.
Pacquiao was fed with Timothy Bradleys and Jeff Horns – all protégées of his former promoter Bob Arum.
Pacuiao exacted revenge for the bum decision he got in the controversial loss to Bradley. It looks like he would not get one with the Australian Horn who, a year ago today bullied and showed no fear against him.
On Sunday, Pacquiao will attempt to reclaim a piece of the boxing titles in the welterweight division as he tries to dethrone Argentinian Lucas Mathysse.
Mathysse is hardly the marque fighter that Pacquiao used to blast in submission in lucrative pay-per-view fights.
In fact, this one will not be a PPV affair. It will be live-streamed in the US via ESPN.
But a win will be most welcomed. After all, Pacquiao is believed to be at least two or three fights away from finally hanging his gloves.
The signs are there.
Babo Arum is no longer his promoter.. For all his greatness as a trainer, Freddie Roach will no longer be in the corner of Pacquiao.
But among sporting greats, the lure of hanging on and hoping to give one great performance will always be a temptation very hard to resist.
Tiger and Manny are doing just that.