Slightly over a year ago Philippine sensation Manny Pacquiao 54-5-2 (38) was in a dog fight with Floyd Mayweather 44-0 (26) as to who was boxing's biggest star and most relevant fighter. There was a good case for both fighters as to who stood at the top of the mountain and the fact that they couldn't agree to a purse split in order to make what was once a dream-fight a reality was sad but plausible concerning the egomaniacs involved.
Then in June of 2012 Pacquiao lost his WBO welterweight title via a dubious decision to Timothy Bradley 30-0 (12). And even though most boxing observers saw Manny as deserving of the decision that went against him, it was very apparent that Pacquiao's former ring tenacity was waning. Despite the loss on paper Pacquiao wasn't, at least at that time, seen as a fighter who should be an overwhelming underdog to Mayweather had the fight been put together after the Bradley debacle. So Pacquiao, being sure that he got the better of Bradley and having nothing to prove, accepted a fourth fight with his career nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez 55-6-1 (40), the only fighter he's ever met who he hasn't defeated conclusively. After getting the slight advantage of Marquez in the first two rounds, Pacquiao was dropped by a single right hand in the third. Manny came back and had two of the best rounds he ever fought against Marquez in rounds four and five. In the fifth, he dropped Marquez. In round six Pacquiao was dominating again and looked to have the fight under control when he was nailed with a counter-right hand with one second remaining in the round that must have been heard around the world. Manny went down face first and wouldn't have beat a count of 60. Fight over and some believe perhaps so is Pacquiao's career as the most exciting fighter in boxing.
As of this writing Pacquiao's star quotient as the supernova of professional boxing is greatly diminished based on the outcome of his last two fights versus Bradley and Marquez ( pictured above, in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo at weigh-in before last bout). It wasn't too long ago that the odds and consensus was split on who'd win between Pacquiao and Mayweather. However, at the end of the day the fight was never made when it was a legitimate Superfight circa 2009/2010. And despite what most think I still wouldn't bet against it happening even though beating Pacquiao now wouldn't carry nearly the significance for Mayweather as he would have if they came to terms back in 2009/2010. In addition to that, I believe that Mayweather warrants most of the blame as to why the fight between he and Manny was never realized. This is sad, because I don't think there's been a single day since they've been pros that Mayweather wouldn't have defeated Pacquiao by an overwhelming decision and controlled the action most of the way.
So here we are five months out from Pacquiao's upcoming fight with Brandon Rios 31-1-1 (23) and most fans and observers see Manny as being on a severe decline and vulnerable to being handily defeated. And maybe he is, but here's what I believe is being overlooked and is the main reason I won't write Manny off yet. No, I don't think he would win more than three rounds against Mayweather if they ever meet, then again I've always felt that way even when Manny was perceived to be at his best. But the the question of the moment is regarding how far gone Pacquiao is as a fighter.
Sure, he's 0-2 in his last two fights but a closer observation makes thing a little less clear. For starters, Pacquiao beat Bradley and should've had his hand raised when the fighter was over. I don't care if you're Bradley's mother, Timothy adjusted during the fight and enhanced his stature as a result but when all is said and done he didn't do quite enough to garner the decision or leave the ring with Manny's title. As stated earlier, Pacquiao didn't look that terrific but he also was not defeated in the ring physically. As for the Marquez defeat, remember, after getting knocked down, Pacquiao was up quickly and was knocking Marquez all over the ring in the subsequent rounds before he pulled the trigger on the best punch he ever launched in a long distinguished career. In fact had time stopped 10 seconds before Marquez drilled Pacquiao and knocked him out, you would've bet a lot on the belief that Pacquiao was on his way to stopping Marquez instead of the opposite.
During the rounds before he was stopped, Pacquiao manhandled Marquez more than he had in three previous fights. He looked so purposeful and sure of himself and appeared to perhaps finally solve Marquez's counter-punching / wait and react style. Actually, in the prior two rounds before he stopped Pacquiao, Marquez looked desperate and as if he thought defeat was inevitable. Then lightning struck and Pacquiao's world was turned upside down. But what mustn't be forgotten in all the hysteria is that Manny just got caught. Lennox Lewis was caught twice and knocked out by one punch, yet came back to score the biggest victories of his stellar career. Fighters get hit and sometimes they get nailed with one they don't see and the last thing they see is the white flash and then they're out. That is what happened to Pacquiao the last time out against Juan Manuel Marquez. No fighter is bullet proof.
Before he was knocked out by Antonio Tarver in the second round of their rematch, Roy Jones looked better in the first round than he did in the previous 12 of their first fight. Roy was glove-shy for the rest of his career and never recovered from being stopped by Tarver. On the other hand, Tommy Morrison and John Ruiz suffered two of the most devastating knockouts in boxing history to Ray Mercer and David Tua, and both came back and fought without trepidation for the remainder of their career.
I'm confident that Manny is more likely to emulate Morrison and Ruiz than Jones. I believe Manny will go right at Rios as if the last Marquez fight never happened. He may be damaged goods but he looked so good against Marquez before he got caught that I'm not yet willing to write him off and declare that he's finished. If it turns out Pacquiao has lost anything it'll most likely show up against Rios, who will be bringing it every round. If Manny is sharp, Rios will be walking into punches all night. The thing that will make Manny look great if he's still got it is exactly the same thing that will show whether he's slipped. Because Rios will be presenting him with openings and opportunities as long as the fight last.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com