For Pacquiao, Restoring the Ferocity and Passion Will Be Tall Order

Pacquiao opens camp 121029 006a

Getting his first stoppage win since 2009 will be no small feat for Pacquiao against such a defensive wizard as Marquez. (Chris Farina–Top Rank)

What Manny Pacquiao will we see on Dec. 8? The Manny of old? Or the older Manny, the guy we've seen the last couple of fights, still an ace, but not the ace of a few fights back, still fast, and sharp, but not as fast and as sharp as we'd become accustomed to?

Juan Manuel Marquez is hoping that the Pacquiao who drew boos several times during his dreary dance with Shane Mosley, the Pacquiao who wasn't as much the master of the dart and destroy strategy in his third fight with JMM, the Pacquiao whose volume and killer instinct weren't in top form against Tim Bradley in June is in the ring facing off with him at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Trainer Freddie Roach and Team Pacquiao and the Pacmaniacal fans the world over and the Congressman himself hope that the guy who masterfully got angles on his opponents and then tattooed them is back, that the almost 34 year old Filipino can arrest the slide into superb rather than spectacular mode.

Conventional wisdom, if we allow it to seep through, if we don't allow our fondness for the once whirling dervish to overwhelm our powers of reasoning, if we don't over-listen to the part of our brains that most wants what is best for boxing here and now–a re-born Pacquiao– tells us it is a tall order. Maybe an impossible one, in fact…

Back in September, we heard trainer Freddie Roach say that he put out an APB for the “old” Pacquiao, the destruct and destroy version, who retired Oscar De La Hoya, sent Ricky Hatton to the hammock, broke down Miguel Cotto and dissected Antonio Margarito. “Manny has shown Marquez too much respect in the past two fights,” Dedham Freddie said. “Manny told me he knows he needs a knockout. He's never said that before. My job is to reignite the killer instinct Manny has lacked in (his) fights with Marquez.” Pacquiao echoed that mindset. “I need to be more aggressive in this fight,” Pacquiao said. “I want a win that isn't close like the last three. It has to be a decisive victory. I want to erase the last fight and any doubts in No. 4. I will focus this time. I have to study and train using new techniques and strategy, and apply techniques never used in my previous fights. I will fight and train like the old Manny, the 25-year-old Manny.”

And I have no doubt he has the best of intentions, that he believes that he can rekindle the 2009 fire. But what the brain and the heart believe, and what the body can handle, can be two different deals.

Trainer Roach spoke about Manny's born-again status before the Bradley fight. He said that the focus on Godstuff wouldn't keep Manny from being a killer in the ring. “I worried at first,” Roach told me, when I asked if the all-in religious Manny wouldn't be a softy. “I wanted to see his work ethic. He still beats the s–t out of me. He says “sorry,” and hits me again. I was a little worried about that, not wanting to hurt people, but it's the oldest sport in the world. Maybe God was into boxing too. I'm not worried at all about him being soft, he's the same fighter, just no more distractions and vices… except for Bible, and that's a pretty good vice in my book.”

Roach told me a little bit ago that Manny has lost some killer instinct, a large part because of his heavier immersion into Christianity, and a bit because of age. It will be interesting to see if on Dec. 8, we see post 2009 Manny, or indeed Roach can scrub some of the lovey-dovey out of Manny, and inject some devilishness into him, some ruthlessness. I'm inclined to say that what some see as a lessening of ferociousness in recent fights is in fact less of a mental issue, to be blamed on the faith-flurry, and is more of an aging issue. Pacquiao used to be able to put combos together in rapid fire, get angles, go rat-a-tat, and then slide out. Now, the reflexes and stamina have diminished some; it's not that he doesn't want to take the other guys' block off, it's that he can't. Or can he? I asked Teddy Atlas, the ESPN analyst and sometimes trainer, well known for his ability to motivate fighters, to lead them to a particular mental state that best serves them on fightnight, if Pacquiao's “ferociousness quotient” can be tweaked for this fourth Marquez fight. Can Manny muster more meanness, Teddy?

“No,” he said, succinctly. “He got to where he is in life, and he's in a comfortable place. The urgency to take the other guys' head off, to fight with that mindset, those things don't seem to be there anymore. He's made millions, he's an icon. Being successful can comfort you, and it's good in most places, but not the ring. You become too content.”

So Atlas believes that once you have climbed the mountain, once, twice, the desire to get to the peak again is reduced, and you don't grab for those footholds with the same tenacity. “The little things, the extra things, they're no longer as important,” Atlas said. “That urgency, that mandate, is not there. When you're younger, you're not on the map.”

So, can a trainer re-instill the fury? “Roach has had a bad patch with Pacquiao,” Atlas said. “He's fighting a guy who counterpunches. He has to plan for that. Get Manny emotionally and spiritually ready. His part is in reminding him of his legacy. That's what I'd do. No matter how good his conditioning is, how much effort he gives in the ring, unless he fights with passion, drive and desire….”

A problem could be that perhaps Pacquiao is already secure in his legacy. I think his place in the game is pretty well set. All those titles, all those weight classes. If he can't turn back the clock, physically, or mentally, and he loses to Marquez, and, perish the thought but it must be considered, hangs up the gloves on or around his 34th birthday, on Dec. 17, Manny's Hall of Fame plaque will be ready for him in 2017. He is on the map, and has to know his foothold for the ages is deep.

Readers, I confess, I'd be surprised if Manny was able to much more against Marquez on Dec. 8 than he did in their previous two bouts. Age and some inevitable softening that comes from not having as burning a desire to climb the mountain conspire against him. What say you…Can Pacquiao get back to being a badass, or will Marquez finally snag that victory that he believes has been unfairly denied him? Weigh in, in our Forum.