Anatomy of a fade-out: Pacquiao, Penn, Rua, Swick and Father Time

USA TODAY Sports

Manny Pacquiao's shocking knockout loss last night is a bold reminder that fighters -- and fights -- are unable to stand the test of time indefinitely. It's not exclusive to boxing, either. Father Time showed his hand in three bouts last night on the UFC on FOX 5 main card with different themes resonating. For the players involved, each was a meditation on how much fighters give to the sport in different ways with the opportunities presented them.

If you fight long enough, one day you'll be on the short end of the stick in a way you could never have imagined. That's the bitch of making your living in combat sports, and with injuries and mileage accrued during a long career, I can only say this:

Make the most of what you can while you can, and strike when the iron is hot.

That's the reason Manny Pacquiao's shocking knockout defeat (watch it here) Saturday night (Dec. 8, 2012) only further reinforced how much boxing has missed the bus toward its biggest opportunities.

Starched in the sixth round of a completely pointless bout with Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao's face-plant -- his second loss in the row -- pretty much scuttled the long-anticipated potential of a megabucks superfight with Floyd Mayweather. Pacquiao's previous loss -- a ripoff decision that only the judges think he lost against Timothy Bradley -- was the flip side of boxing's dysfunctional coin that did its part in the scuttling of that mega match.

Pacquiao and Mayweather had at least two full years of massive fan anticipation to make the megafight happen. Instead, they quibbled over stupid details, and now the Golden Goose has fled the coop.

That was a good reminder of how important match ups and mega bouts are to the health and fan base of any combat sport. Now that boxing has become, well, boxing, and mixed martial arts (MMA) has the opportunity to fill much of that vacuum, the time to strike while the iron is hot is still an applicable concept. There are plenty of fighters who miss out on what they might perhaps have achieved, but missing out on great matches is an entirely different kind of tragedy.

Father Time showed his hand in three bouts last night, with different themes resonating. For the players involved, each was a meditation on how much fighters give to the sport in different ways with the opportunities presented them.

B.J. Penn
They don't come any more game-bred than Penn, who showcased his fantastic chin and fighting spirit in extending Rory MacDonald to a one-sided decision loss. Penn's been a world-class competitor for a full decade, and his moniker of "The Prodigy" is as bittersweet a nickname as the sport has seen. It's at once a reminder of the brilliant flashes of potential he showed, and a confirmation of the impressive title reign he made with three dominant defenses. Yet he seemed disinterested in two defeats against Frankie Edgar, sleepwalking while "The Answer" outhustled him. At his core, Penn needs to feel threatened to really turn it up, which is the reason he always comes out scrapping against welterweights, win or lose.

This was a tough loss for Penn, who's obviously going to have to consider cutting to 155 pounds where he truly belongs. But, sadly enough, the same paradox arises. I can see him losing decisions there. Not because he lacks the talent, but because he doesn't fight with the fire of feeling his safety is on the line. If the B.J. Penn who takes on bigger guys at 170 pounds competed at lightweight, he could be a champion again.

But, after another tough pounding and added mileage, that is more likely a pipe dream at this point.

One thing you can say about Penn: While the debate on whether or not he fulfilled his potential is open to discussion, he fought virtually everyone in two weight classes. Throw in a completely badassed attempt at taking on Lyoto Machida, which saw Penn outsized to a decision loss, and Penn is pretty much the all-time king of fighting anyone, anywhere, at any weight.

At least in the modern era of MMA.

Mauricio Rua
It was rough to see Rua struggle with Alexander Gustafsson, a nice, presentable, somewhat talented fighter who is now a title contender by default, namely because Jon Jones has stomped everyone else and the UFC is salivating at the prospect -- by any means necessary -- of building a foreign attraction.

It's obvious they are looking to turn him into a Swedish Michael Bisping.

Rua's prime in Pride FC culminated in a devastating 2005, where his destructive run include knockout of Quinton Jackson, Alistair Overeem (yes, "The Reem" really did weigh 205 pounds once), the eminently durable Ricardo Arona and a balls-out brawling decision win over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Since moving to the UFC and multiple injuries to recover from, he's gone from a guy toting a machine gun to a dude with a break-action shotgun.

And it seems to take a while to reload.

He's still tough as nails, but can no longer sustain the offensive work rate that made him a force of nature. Seeing him struggle with Gustafsson, and his previous battle with Brandon Vera, clearly indicate he is one of those guys who is going to have to be carried out on his shield to really be convinced he should retire. That's what made him great in his prime. It's also what makes him an asset that the UFC will have to properly amortize, much as they did Tito Ortiz, as his market value plummets with each outing.

The good news is that Rua fought the best of his day, and got to lock horns with most of the top guys who were in his path (a notable exception -- then-teammate Wanderlei Silva, who reigned as Pride FC light heavyweight champ, while Rua was decimating the ranks).

Mike Swick
Father Time hit Swick in a different way. He never got the chance to fight for a major title, but a long career marked by a rough series of health issues and injuries has taken its toll. Consistency in the fight game is a feat in itself; Swick's outstanding striking against DaMarques Johnson suggested he'd finally captured the sharpness that made him a promising middleweight.

Yet against Matt Brown he looked underwater and out of sorts. The coup de grace, a numbing knockout loss in a split-second, was an underwhelming way to go for a guy who once tore through a better class of competition -- at 185 pounds no less -- not too long ago.

Swick is in the tough position of being a veteran with some name value who has never quite risen to the level of elite contender. As such, look for him to be pitted against other guys to help them build their names. A veteran on the downslope can also flip the script with an inspiring performance -- see Jamie Varner's knockout of Edson Barboza -- so it will be interesting to see what Swick can do now that his back's been pushed against the wall.

Jason Probst can be reached at twitter.com/jasonprobst

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