Manny Pacquiao: And STILL One Of The Greats


Time and again, those who watch the promos and recaps on HBO boxing have heard Jim Lampley’s enthusiastic praise of Manny Pacquiao, calling him a “a storm” and “blindingly fast.”  Lampley was describing an iteration of Pacquiao that rose through weight classes and rankings at such a pace fans and pundits had no choice but to consult their history books for apt comparisons. On Saturday night, the goal behind pitting Pacquiao against Brandon Rios—a tough-as-nails come-forward fighter with thick whiskers—was to find out whether any of that old Pacquiao still remained after his devastating knockout loss last year at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez. The world got its answer.

In the first round it was clear that even at 34 years old, Pacquiao has some of the fastest hands in the world. That fact was punctuated toward the end of the round when Pacquiao threw and landed a double left hand power punch that thudded loudly on the speakers of everyone watching at home. It’s not often that boxers throw that cross twice in a row, much less land it both times—other than Floyd Mayweather of course.

In that first round there were also inklings of what became Rios’ other big problem that night. No, it wasn’t the amazing lateral movement that Pacquiao used to befuddle Rios and prevent him from setting his feet. That didn’t really kick in until the second round. It was Rios’ lack of activity. He seemed gun shy, unable or unwilling to pull the trigger. As the night went on, especially in the latter rounds, there were clear spots where Rios could have thrown a barrage of punches as he has in many previous fights, but he held back, pawing at the air and feinting some offense without really creating any.

Earlier this year, Rios threw 823 punches (according to CompuBox) in his 12 round decision loss to Mike Alvarado. Against Pacquiao, Rios only threw 507 punches. That’s less than in his seven round KO win against Alvarado last year. Maybe the drought in punch output was due to the extra ten pounds Rios had to drag around the ring (unofficially Rios weigh 159 on fight night). Or maybe it was the harsh realization in round one that he’d never faced anyone with Pacquiao’s hand speed. Or maybe he simply couldn’t zone in on a target because he couldn’t manage to cut off the ring. Whatever the reason, the Rios that we saw on Saturday wasn’t what anyone expected.

The pundits expected a knockout. They figured Rios would be his usual self, come in hard with looping punches—a sure fire way to get put to sleep. But that didn’t happen. Rios never managed to make it ugly or keep the fight in close for very long. Rios wasn’t as aggressive or reckless as what some expected, making it more dangerous for Pacquiao to go hunting for the knockout. That does not  in any way diminish Pacquiao’s performance.

Many writers in the aftermath of the fight, and many on twitter during it, marked Pacquiao’s performance as proof that he’s still “pretty good” and “just okay” after his brutal knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez. Those backhanded comments are supremely frustrating. These writers complain that Pacquiao isn’t the same fighter he was from 2007-2011, and as a result label him a decent fighter, good but unspectacular. Writers like this are frustrating because they present an incomplete picture of a fighter and the fight game.

Could 2009-Pacquiao (the one that decimated Miguel Cotto) beat the Pacquiao that showed up to one-sidedly pummel Brandon Rios? Yes. But does that mean this current Pacquiao is just “pretty good”? HELL NO. Manny Pacquiao is still a storm; he is still great; he is better than 99% of other boxers out there. And above every other possibility, both the realistic and the extremely unlikely, there is no one I would rather see face Floyd Mayweather next May than Pacquiao. Yes, I said it. No, I’m not tired to asking for it. And if you’re a fan of boxing, history, or sports you shouldn’t be either.

Bob Arum recently said that the blue print for making this true fight-of-the-century happen lies in emulating the Lennox Lewis v.  Mike Tyson matchup. Back in 2002, Lewis was and HBO fighter, while Iron Mike fought on Showtime. Pacquiao fights for HBO and Mayweather for Showtime. If the money is there and the parties are true interested, maybe it can be done.

Despite the blueprint, and Arum’s alleged willingness to make the fight, the good bet is probably on the fight not happening. But that won’t stop me from asking for it, from believing that this dream fight deferred is better than any alternatives. Call me a sucker, a dreamer, an idealist for still hoping or this fight. I’m a boxing fan—I’ve been all those things in just this past month of the fight game.  To be a life long fight fan, you’ve got to accept that at some point you’re going be each of these things and that you’ll just have to fight through it. What were the chances that boy fighting on the streets of General Santos City, Philippines for pennies, just so he could eat would one day lace up gloves and become a boxing icon? To countless many, he was a sucker to put his body through the tournament of boxing, a silly dreamer to think he could become one of the greatest boxers of all time, an idealist for returning home thinking a fighter could be also be an effective politician. Pacquiao's life and boxing career are a reminder that only when we reach high and fight harder, does greatness come. On Saturday we saw glimpses of Pacquiao's all-time greatness in the ring, and while we still have him, we must enjoy the greatness he still has left.

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