Last December, in a fight no one wanted to see, the world was shocked when Juan Manuel Marquez landed the most significant punch of this era and knocked out Manny Pacquiao.
Over the last seven years Manny Pacquiao had earned himself a place in boxing royalty. He had become an eight-division world champion while stringing together 15 wins against the best in the world. Then, with just one punch, it seemed the king was dead. The man who we thought was invincible was left motionless, face down on the canvas.
Following his devastating knockout loss to Marquez, there were a lot of questions raised about what Manny would bring to the table in his comeback fight against Brandon Rios. Would we see the old Pacquiao or would we see a shell of what he once was? In my opinion, the answer is neither. What I saw was something new and exciting.
Over the past few years Pacquiao’s performance had faded. He had not looked impressive since his destruction of Antonio Margarito in 2011 and had not scored a knockout since his win over Miguel Cotto in 2009. The media suggested his lackluster performances were a direct result of his other commitments taking priority over boxing, which I agree with in some part.
As a fighter gets older and moves up in weight, they loose some of their physical abilities. They need to use their intelligence and adapt to suit their physical abilities. This something that Floyd Mayweather has done very well and until last night, something Pacquiao has not done very well.
Pacquiao has great foot and hand speed but the success of his aggressive style has greatly depended on the devastating power he once possessed. Over time he has gradually lost a bit of the pop in his punch and has not been able to hurt his opponents like he once could. Instead of trying to adapt his style, after each uninspiring performance he would promise to be more aggressive. If something doesn’t work, more of the same will only yield the same result and if you do the same thing for long enough it is only a matter of time until you come undone.
While clinging to his old self and trying to be more and more aggressive, he made mistakes and left himself open to a perfectly timed counterpunch from Marquez and ended up going to sleep.
After his performance against Rios last night, it would seem that perhaps we have a new Pacquiao. He was not trying to load up and relentlessly charge forward, he boxed smart. For twelve rounds he used blistering hand speed and crafty footwork to move in and out of range, cutting angles to land combinations. He seamlessly changed levels, landed four punch plus combinations and landed brilliant left hand leads and counters.
We all knew Pacquiao had the hand speed footwork to give Rios trouble so there was no surprise there. I did not think for one second that Pacquiao was going to stay in the pocket and trade punches with Rios but I did think we would see the old aggressive Pacquiao.
My prediction for the fight was Pacquiao by eighth round TKO. As much as this win is over someone who is less experienced and somewhat one dimensional, Rios is still a young, hungry fighter who posses knockout power in both hands. Pacquiao may very well of been able to stop him, had he applied more pressure. Personally I was more impressed with the fact that he let go of being ultra aggressive and executed a new game plan perfectly, than I would have been had he came out aggressive and scored a knockout.
Is this sharp and more defensive style is here to stay or was just a one off display of caution after being knocked out? For now that question remains unanswered. I think he looked the best he has in a long time, if it is here to stay and he continues to adapt I think we will see Pacquiao rise back to the upper echelon of boxing