Manny Pacquiao/ Conor McGregor (Creative Commons)
Let's be honest about a couple of facts right up front: Firstly, Manny Pacquiao is 42 years old and unless you're Bernard Hopkins, you really shouldn't still be Boxing at an elite level at 42 years of age. Secondly, Pacquiao is an undeniable, all-time talent and sure-fire first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. As such, he's long since paid his dues to the fickle Boxing public and earned his right to pick the fights he wants (and the paychecks that come with them). Lastly, Manny Pacquiao has never been quite the same since that brutal knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012. Remember that last fact for later.
Enter Conor McGregor. McGregor is one of the most polarizing figures in sports today. Beloved and loathed in equal measure by combat sports fans, reviled and revered in equal parts by casual fans looking for entertainment value, Conor is never boring. Bombastic personalities, and a willingness to do/say anything to promote a fight is a sure-fire recipe for financial success in the Boxing world.
Couple facts about McGregor worth remembering: He's only ever Boxed professionally once, against Mayweather, and he lost, badly. Secondly, he's not without talent. Losing to arguably the best technical fighter of all time is nothing to be ashamed of, but before it ended, Conor did show some talent in the ring. Assuming he's continued to train, it'd be fair to expect him to be better next time out. Lastly, he's not going to knock anyone out in a Boxing ring. Remember that last fact for later as well.
Last set of facts worth noting: The real fight everyone in Boxing wants at 147lbs is Terrance Crawford vs. Errol Spence. For myriad reasons, that fight isn't going to happen right now, leaving both of the best fighters at welterweight scrambling for other opponents, and paydays. Pacquiao has recently signaled he will not be fighting Spence, because "Spence is too slow". Last fact to remember, Spence is not, in fact, too slow... but he does hit like a mule.
All of these facts combine to bring us a story as old as time in Boxing. Aging vet looking for a final payday, politely side-stepping threatening up-and-comer who wants his name on his resume, and taking a fight with massive upside financial appeal, and very little risk. Frankly, Pacquiao has earned this one.
Accusing marquee fighters of ducking opponents or avoiding their biggest challengers is pretty common in Boxing, but you'd be hard-pressed to levy that charge against Pacquiao. At a time when Mexico's lightweight kings of Barrera, Morales, and Marquez looked invincible, Pacquiao climbed into the ring with them all and walked away the victor. He jumped multiple weight classes over and over to take on opponents who dwarfed him like De La Hoya and Margarito, and crushed them. This is not a man scared of a challenge. However, it might be a man who is now scared of damage.
The absolutely brutal all-time highlight-reel knockout he suffered at the hands of Marquez in 2012 took a lot of the killer out of Pacquiao. He hasn't had the same fire or ruthlessness we once saw from him in the years since, and who could blame him? Boxing is an unforgiving sport that leaves it's heroes brain-damaged and broke more often than not. Expecting him to take on arguably the best and most dangerous fighter in the division at this point in his career feels unfair. Spence is 12 years his junior, with an 80% knockout rate; in short, he's dangerous, and Pacquiao has had more than his fair share of danger in his career.
The Boxing community always wants its heroes to have one last big win in them or to "go out on their shield" if they don't. It's a dangerous and stupid belief that I, as a Boxing fan, would love to see disappear forever. These guys aren't robots or video game characters, they're just guys trying to make a living and support their families. They're not obligated to risk their lives or their minds in the ring for some perceived debt to greatness; most especially not someone like Manny Pacquiao.
Which is why, if Manny can cash up one last time in a fight with Conor McGregor, I say "sure, why not?". We let Floyd Mayweather Jr. do it, and with the number of people Pacquiao supports, he probably needs the money more.
Manny Pacquiao doesn't owe us anything, anymore. He's left plenty of blood in the ring, plenty of highlights, and amazing fights for us to look back on forever. He's earned a little easy spectacle and cash grab on his way out the door... I can think of almost nothing more classically Boxing, than that.