In the lead-up to his April 12 rematch with Timothy Bradley on HBO pay-per-view, Manny Pacquiao is saying all the right things, as usual, and is being backed by trainer Freddie Roach's proclamations that Pacquiao will be his old destroyer self as he looks to settle a grudge with Bradley, as well as right the wrong of the 2012 robbery win that Bradley -- through no fault of his own -- holds over Manny.
But at 35, is Pacquiao really capable of simply turning on some switch and becoming the dual-wielding fury warrior of old? Or has a decline in his physical prowess and a lack of awe-inspiring performances come with the ravages of time and a long, hard-fighting career?
Let's look back over Pacquiao's 10 most recent fights -- during which he became one of the sport's two biggest stars.
Oscar De La Hoya (December 6, 2008)
Result: Pacquiao RTD-8
Weight: 147 lbs
When Floyd Mayweather pulled out of a scheduled welterweight rematch with De La Hoya in 2008 for one of his bogus retirements, the "Golden Boy" needed an opponent. Luckily, Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank were in one of their rare ceasefire stages, which meant Oscar could pick from the Top Rank pool as well as his own company's limited stable.
Pacquiao had just fought at lightweight for the first (and last) time, destroying David Diaz over nine rounds in Las Vegas. A fight with De La Hoya seemed outrageous, but it was made. The younger Pacquiao -- then just a few days shy of his 30th birthday -- was matched with the older, much larger De La Hoya, who would be coming back down to welterweight for the first time in seven years.
In the end, De La Hoya, working for the first (and last) time with trainer Nacho Beristain, overtrained badly, weighing in at a gaunt 145 pounds and looking truly dehydrated on fight night. Roach instructed Pacquiao to go at him, and the Filipino star did, strafing Oscar with lefts and rights that the part-time fighter couldn't react to quickly enough. Struggling, too, to pull the trigger, De La Hoya looked hopeless after a few rounds, as the tone of the fight had been set, and it was all Pacquiao.
With Beristain telling Oscar there was no point, boxing's biggest star of the era said not a word, and after the eighth round, simply rose from his stool to walk over and congratulate Pacquiao, retiring from the fight, and later, the sport.
It was the superstar-making performance from Pacquiao, making him the second-biggest draw in American boxing instantly, and ensuring that he'd be staying at 147 for the future, because there was just too much money in it. He did take one quick detour, though.
Ricky Hatton (May 2, 2009)
Result: Pacquiao KO-2
Weight: 140 lbs.
Pacquiao-Hatton was hyped as a war. If it was a war, it was the Anglo-Zanzibar War. Hatton was completely overwhelmed by the speed and angles of Pacquiao, who looked even more ferocious at 140 against Hatton than he had against De La Hoya at 147.
Hatton went down two times in the first round, and looked overmatched going back to his corner. Ricky did seem to settle down somewhat in the second frame, for whatever that's worth, but just before the end of the round, he opened himself up and was caught with a monstrous left hand from Pacquiao, flattening the popular Brit and resulting in one of the great knockouts in recent memory. Hatton, like De La Hoya, would not fight again, and retired from the sport, though Ricky returned for one ill-fated bout in 2012, a loss to Vyacheslav Senchenko.
Miguel Cotto (November 14, 2009)
Result: Pacquiao TKO-12
Weight: 145 lbs.
In what may have been a career-best performance, Pacquiao dominated Puerto Rican star Miguel Cotto in an exciting fight that started off looking competitive before the tide turned. In the third round, Cotto was knocked down when caught off balance by a right hand from Pacquiao, but wasn't hurt. The next round, as he got wild and looked to fight his way off the ropes, Pacquiao stunned Cotto with a left hand that put him back on the canvas. That time, he was hurt, and from there, Manny's speed ruled the day.
Though Cotto fought bravely, he was simply outgunned by a superior fighter on the night. By the later rounds, referee Kenny Bayless was taking a close look at the fight, as Cotto was marked up, bloodied, and taking a good amount of punishment, while Pacquiao darted in and out, smashing Cotto constantly and owning the ring. Early in the 12th, with Cotto on his bike and trying to make it the distance, Pacquiao ripped him again, and Bayless stopped the fight.
Joshua Clottey (March 13, 2010)
Result: Pacquiao UD-12
Weight: 147 lbs.
After three straight brilliant performances (four counting Diaz), Pacquiao's momentum was slowed a bit in his fight with Ghanaian Joshua Clottey, a fight that became famous for two things, mostly:
- It was boxing's inauspicious debut at Cowboys Stadium.
- Jim Lampley losing his mind trying to find something interesting to talk about, and going on his, "BANG! BANG! BANG!" ramble.
Pacquiao easily won the fight, as Clottey didn't do anything but try to slow down Pacquiao's offensive output, which he did in terms of slowing down Pacquiao's effective offensive output, keeping his guard high and eating a lot of shots on the gloves and forearms. Manny won with ease, but not with style, and the plateauing of his incredible rise up the ranks. Without question, he was still an elite fighter, one of the very best in the world, but the rise ended with this fight. From here on, he was at or slowly coming down the top of the hill.
Antonio Margarito (November 13, 2010)
Result: Pacquiao UD-12
Weight: 150 lbs.
Pacquiao moved up in weight for another fight at Cowboys Stadium in 2010, facing disgraced former welterweight titlist Antonio Margarito, who had had his license revoked by the California commission in 2009 after an incident prior to his loss to Shane Mosley, where elements of plaster were found in his glove wraps before the bout. It was a major scandal in the boxing world and all but tanked Margarito's career, but the following year, he was back in the ring to fight in Mexico, followed by a licensing in Texas for the Pacquiao fight.
Not wanting to fight at the full 154-pound limit, Pacquiao's team negotiated a fight at a 150 pound maximum with Margarito, giving the fighters the opportunity to win a paper title as junior middleweights. In a fight that all but ended Margarito's career, Pacquiao laid down a massive beating on the bigger man, who looked positively huge next to Pacquiao, far bigger than previous "bigger" opponents.
Along the way, the double tough Margarito did some damage to Manny, too, enough that Pacquiao stated clearly he had no interest in fighting over a 147-pound limit again. Margarito left the fight with a broken orbital bone that would never really heal enough to continue a boxing career, though he did fight again in 2011, losing a personal rivalry rematch with Miguel Cotto in New York.
As for Pacquiao, his status remained stable after this fight, as he had an opponent willing to take a beating, who damn sure took one. That Pacquiao couldn't stop Margarito was no knock on Manny -- another corner and/or referee/commission likely would have stepped in at some point in this fight to save the fighter from himself.
Shane Mosley (May 7, 2011)
Result: Pacquiao UD-12
Weight: 147 lbs.
In a fight that few had any desire to see, Pacquiao was Bob Arum's big chess piece in a spat with HBO, as he jumped to Showtime Sports for a one-off pay-per-view main event against Shane Mosley, who had gone 0-1-1 in his two previous fights, a one-sided loss to Floyd Mayweather and an ugly draw against Sergio Mora.
Showtime and CBS Sports hyped the fight heavily, as it was by stroke of luck and boxing's political landscape that they'd landed a rare major event. In the end, they'd been sold a bill of goods, as Mosley wasn't particularly keen to engage with Pacquiao, and CBS' James Brown, who had been drafted in to host the event on pay-per-view, all but apologized for his involvement in an event that turned out to be much ado about nothing. Pacquiao's "killer instinct" was called into question here for perhaps the first time, though in all fairness, there wasn't much he could do with Mosley, who didn't want much to do with Pacquiao once he got a taste of his speed and power.
Juan Manuel Marquez (November 12, 2011)
Result: Pacquiao MD-12
Weight: 144 lbs.
Seven years after their classic first encounter at featherweight and three and a half years after their excellent super featherweight rematch, Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez met again at a 144-pound catchweight in Las Vegas.
Going into the fight, Pacquiao was considered a heavy favorite, as Marquez was thought to be too small for the move up in weight, sort of silly to think about now, considering Manny had made the same move up, just sooner and more aggressively. As the heavy underdog against his great rival, Marquez had nothing to lose.
It didn't take long for everyone to realize that just like the first two times, the great warriors were evenly matched yet again, as Marquez gave Pacquiao trouble that Manny hadn't seen in years -- since their second fight, in fact. Marquez not only won rounds, but at times had Pacquiao looking befuddled.
Was it age? If it was, that was just a natural thing occurring. Marquez and Pacquiao have simply been tailor made for one another over their careers, both to put on great fights, and give each other the exact perfect style matchup for outstanding competition, clearly and truly the greatest rivals of their generation, and one of the great rivalries of all time.
A lot of viewers felt that Marquez deserved the win -- the same had happened the first two fights -- but Pacquiao walked out with a controversial majority decision victory. There was immediate call for a fourth fight, when not a week prior, the idea of a third fight had not interested so many of the same fight fans.
Timothy Bradley (June 9, 2012)
Result: Bradley SD-12
Weight: 147 lbs.
Instead of a fourth fight with Marquez, though, Timothy Bradley was drafted in to face Pacquiao. Bradley had signed with Top Rank not long before in order to eventually land a fight with Manny, as the 140-pound standout was looking to move up and secure the sort of big money fights that previous promoter Gary Shaw didn't have as easily available as Top Rank would.
Bradley suffered notable ankle injuries in the fight and was outboxed and out-fought in the eyes of the vast majority, but two ringside judges (Duane Ford and C.J. Ross) scored the fight 115-113 for Bradley, giving him the shocking upset victory, and starting a true media storm that called for investigations and a reform of boxing's officiating system, perhaps starting with the retirements of many veteran judges.
Nothing really came of it, and over time, and upon several re-watches, some have come around to seeing the fight closer than they did originally, when there were scores as wide as 11-1 or even a complete shutout for Pacquiao. That said, the fight is considered a robbery, which is why we're going to see it again two years later.
There did seem to be a lack of finish in Pacquiao's performance, if we can largely agree on one criticism. He seemed content to out-point Bradley, which in the end bit him, and caused his first loss since a 2005 defeat against Erik Morales.
Juan Manuel Marquez (December 8, 2012)
Result: Marquez KO-6
Weight: 147 lbs.
13 months after their third fight, Pacquiao-Marquez IV happened at the MGM Grand, with Team Pacquiao opting to pass on a Bradley rematch that they had the contractual right to force, feeling that nobody wanted to see the rematch of a fight that so many felt Pacquiao had clearly won, instead believing that boxing fans would rather see Pacquiao and Marquez settle their business.
Up 2-0-1 in the series at the time, Pacquiao looked strong and sharp, though he was dropped by a massive overhand right from Marquez in round three. By the end of the fifth, though, Manny looked in control, as he had returned the favor, putting Marquez down in the fifth round on a left hand shot.
After five rounds, Pacquiao led 47-46 on the scorecards, and the end was felt to be coming soon. Manny was too dialed in, too strong, and he was aiming to finish the rivalry in style.
Then, it happened. As Pacquiao pumped for a big shot near the end of the sixth round, Marquez countered with a complete bomb of a right hand that caught Pacquiao not just flush on the chin with his hands down, but basically diving into the shot, as well.
It was over. Marquez had knocked out Pacquiao.
Brandon Rios (November 24, 2013)
Result: Pacquiao UD-12
Weight: 147 lbs.
After 11 months out of the ring, Manny made his return in what was felt to be a safe sort of fight against exciting but limited Brandon Rios, who had just come off of two grueling fights with Mike Alvarado at 140 pounds, the latter a clear decision loss. Matching Pacquiao and Rios in Macao figured to guarantee two things: a win for Manny, and a fight that made him look ferocious once again.
The win came, the ferocity did not. Though Rios was, as always, there to be pummeled by speed and power, Pacquiao cruised over 12 rounds to a decision win in what was frankly a boring fight that didn't move the needle as much as Manny's bouts had in the past, a natural thing given the sort of fight it was, and the fact that Pacquiao's shine had lessened over the previous three years.
It's been a natural decline for Manny Pacquiao. The brilliance of his form in 2008-09 is not going to return, because he's 35 years old, and a lot of his gifts have diminished, as they do with pretty much all fighters. Roy Jones Jr got old. Floyd Mayweather is not quite the dazzler that he used to be, though he's still the best fighter in the world.
Mayweather, too, has not taken the amount of punishment Pacquiao has. Pacquiao has been a pro boxer since 1995. And while for the most part his bigger wins have been dominant, he's had wars with the likes of Marquez and Erik Morales that alone can take a lot out of someone by this time in their career, let alone the knocks he's suffered in some convincing wins, including that fight with Margarito.
It has not been an easy, breezy sort of career for Manny Pacquiao. His speed is not what it used to be. His power may not be what it used to be, which may be affected, too, by his motivation and hunger not being what they were before he was making $20 million or so every time he fought. There is no doubt that Manny Pacquiao is not the guy he was in 2008-09, or before that.
There is much more on Pacquiao's plate these days. He's a Congressman in the Philippines. He's more devoted to his family, by his own admission, than he was previously. He's achieved as much as one can, for all intents and purposes, in the sport of boxing. How is it even possible that the hunger of old would still be there? It's not.
If you're waiting for "The Old" Manny Pacquiao to return, you're going to be waiting forever. That time of his career is over. What he is now is all he can hope to be from this point forward, and that's not a bad thing. He's still an elite fighter, still a top 10 pound-for-pound guy in the sport. If he beats Tim Bradley, and potentially Marquez later this year, even if it's by decision instead of highlight reel knockout (which Freddie Roach probably should stop promising people), there will again be a perfectly reasonable argument that only Floyd Mayweather is better.
Not bad for being 35 and in decline, when you really shake it all down like that.