National symbols carry huge expectations, especially in times of crisis. Manny Pacquiao was fighting for his relevance among Boxing’s elite against Brandon Rios, but also for the spirit of his country after the Philippines was devastated Haiyan, leaving many looking for some sort of uplifting moment from their beloved champion, wearing a title belt across his waist once again after the unanimous decision win.
How well did it go? In a fight that was the first pay-per-view boxing card from China (Macau), Pacquiao won the 12 rounds 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110. It wasn’t even close, and the only thing saving the arrogant Rios from getting knocked out for the first time in his career was his iron chin.
It was the second straight loss for Rios, who lost his second fight against Mike Alvarado, and looked out of his depth at Welterweight against Pacquiao. Almost a year out of the ring meant a different Pacquiao in a way. A bit less explosive and powerful in his punches, but with plenty of speed and intent. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, even if Pacquiao toned down his offense a notch, learning from going a bit too far against Marquez in their previous fight, resulting a in a knockout that many thought meant the end of his career.
Pacquiao landed 36% of his punches compared to 27% coming from Rios, but landed more than twice the hits. He sent Rios to the canvas in the early going, although the judge rules it as a slip. Rios did make some sort of comeback in the third round, but that didn’t last very long. Pacquiao punished him every time he opened up his defense, leading to cuts beneath both his eyes being tended by the 7th round. Things didn’t get better for Rios as the rounds went by, looking like someone simply trying to avoid getting knocked out.
Point proven. Pacquiao is back, and still a great boxer. Maybe not the fighter he was three or four years ago, but among the best in the world, still and despite everything. More importantly? A chance for him to talk about the strength of his people. Of perseverance, of survival, of resurrection. Sport, boxing or anything else, isn’t the most important thing in the world when it comes to life and death and the devastating power of nature. All Pacquiao could do was embrace the victory, and hope he made many people happy after the tragedy they suffered from.
What’s next? A rematch with Bradley or a fight against Russian Ruslan Provodnikov are the most likely options. Juan Manuel Marquez isn’t an option right now, not to mention the questions around the legality of his performances, and his high asking price even though he lost to Bradley. Pacquiao suffered from terrible scoring against Bradley, something that clearly won’t happen again. The question is how much Floyd Mayweather is ready to make this fight happen. For the first time in over a year, thanks to Pacquaio’s dominant, the mega fight that never happened seems like something worth waiting for.