Prior to the application of his current nickname “Pacman,” Manny Pacquiao was known as “The Destroyer.”  And appropriately so.  On his rise to superstardom, Pacquiao tore through his opponents with a viciousness and ferocity rarely seen, even in a sport as brutal as boxing.

In the fights leading up to Saturday night, though, something seemed to be missing.  Back to back decisions over Marco Antonio Barrera and Juan Manuel Marquez appeared to mark the rebirth of a new Manny Pacquiao.  The new Pacman was more measured, more cerebral than before.

The change was subtle, but very real.  Prior to the aforementioned decisions, 21 of Pacquiao’s previous 22 victories came by way of knockout, and this was in the face of increasingly elite opposition.  In his workman-like effort in the rematch with Barerra, Pacquiao won with very little suspense, competitive or otherwise.  Against Marquez, he won a very entertaining, if controversial, decision, but Pacquiao didn’t seem as trigger-happy as his former self.  It wasn’t that the fire had gone out; it just burned a little dimmer.

The general consensus was that this more methodical approach signified technical advances for Manny Pacquiao.  Maybe he understood that his wild ways would shorten his shelf life as a fighter, and this was a way to preserve himself.

These explanations did make sense.  It’s hard to criticize a guy for wanting to add new wrinkles to his game, especially if it will increase his longevity as a fighter.  And it wasn’t like the rematches against Barrera and Marquez were bad fights.  Manny still gave the fans their money’s worth, which is more than can be said for most elite fighters on the scene.

Still, I struggled with accepting these explanations.  Where was the Pacquiao who cut Lehlo Ledwaba to pieces?  What happened to the man who gave Marco Antonio Barrera the worst beating of his life in their first meeting?  Rationalizations didn’t cut it.  I’ll always be a fight fan before I’m a fight writer.  Selfishly, I wanted the old Manny back.

Then came Saturday night, and the return of The Destroyer.

Pacquiao’s brutalization of David Diaz was a startling reminder to the boxing world that his identity as a fighter remains the same.  The newest lightweight titlist demonstrated that, as much as we laud ring intelligence and craft, boxing is sanctioned violence, and violence is what we pay to see.  From a fan’s perspective, all the strategy in the world doesn’t compensate for a warrior’s heart.  This is why witnessing a Pacquiao fight is a totally different experience than watching a Winky Wright bout.  No disrespect to Winky or ring technicians like him, but passion can’t be calculated, and Manny Pacquiao’s passion is the definitive reason he is the most beloved fighter on the planet.

Along with reacquainting us with the old Manny, Saturday night’s victory over Diaz made crystal clear to fight fans who currently sits atop the sport.  Prior to pummeling Diaz, Pacquiao was at the top of many pound-for-pound lists by virtue of the retirement of the previous king, Floyd Mayweather.  In essence, Pacquiao was made number one by default, with many reluctant to proclaim him as such following the controversial win over Marquez.

But Saturday night’s display of speed, power, and, most importantly, skill almost certainly eased any troubled consciences who had any reservations about placing Manny at the top of their list.  The manner in which he won, along with the fact that he is in the process of conquering yet another weight class, exemplifies what pound-for-pound recognition is all about.

Pacquiao’s electrifying arrival at lightweight silenced all critics who questioned his northward migration, including me (see article entitled “Stay Put, Manny Pacquiao”).  He has reached the pinnacle of his career when questions should cease, and we should just appreciate the privilege of witnessing an all-time great fighter in action.

Manny’s breathtaking display left fans wanting more, and speculating what his next move will be.  There’s talk of a potentially epic war against 130-pound dynamo Edwin Valero.  Rumors swirl about a possible 140-pound showdown with Ricky Hatton.  Still, others dream big about the possibility of a meeting of boxing’s two biggest superstars:  Manny Pacquiao vs. Oscar De La Hoya.

I remember my reaction the first time I read about a Manny vs. Oscar matchup.  As I recall, I laughed out loud at the thought.

I’m not laughing anymore.  I’ve learned my lesson.  Now that The Destroyer is back, anything can happen.

Welcome back, Manny.  Welcome back.