Manny Pacquiao is back. After that horrifying knockout loss late last year, not a few boxing pundits had prematurely predicted the end of Manny’s career. Last Sunday morning, at Macao’s plush Cota Arena, Manny unveiled a virtuoso performance – bashing and dashing, and giving and going – to prove to one and all that he still belongs up there with the world’s boxing elite.
In totally dominating a game, yet obviously out-of-his-league Bambam Rios, Manny provided us 12 flawlessly-crafted rounds of boxing lessons. He was at times a professor before an untutored student, a matador facing a dangerous, yet utterly-bewildered bull, a cheetah stalking a hapless gazelle, and a butcher bludgeoning some choice meat to many small pieces. Manny unveiled to us a new, more mature facet of his game. This time, he was more deliberate, more patient, very intuitive and respectful of the talents and abilities of the warrior thrust in front of him.
Having suffered that traumatic knockout a year ago, Pacquiao has learned his lesson and no longer attacks with wild abandon. Gone are the times he’d leap forward to strike a picture-perfect blow on an overwhelmed opponent. Gone are those times he’d give his adversary a chance to hit him without fighting back. Gone too are those times when this boxing dynamo would treat us to round after round of non-stop boxing action.
Today, Manny knows how to pace himself better, so that he still has plenty of gas left in his tank should the going get tougher. He doesn’t take unnecessary risks, ever mindful of the lucky punch dealt on him by Juan Manuel Marquez in his last duel. These are the telltale signs of wisdom and maturity that augur well for his career’s longevity. Besides, at his age now, it is important that he protect himself at all times, for the sake of his family, and his constituents in Saranggani Province.
To be totally honest, I was slightly frustrated over the fact that Manny was not able to knock the daylights off Bambam Rios. I had earlier predicted that Manny would overwhelm Bambam, and dreamed of a stirring knockout that would herald the return of Manny before the millions of adoring boxing fans around the world. I had wanted him to punish Team Rios for Alex Ariza’s gutter behaviour in kicking a sick and older Freddie Roach. I had wanted Manny to gift our brothers and sisters in the disaster-stricken areas of Samar and Leyte with something to be proud of. I had wanted Manny to be a country unifier, and nothing short of a sensational knockout would be as inspiring.
But then I realized that the Manny we see now cannot be the same Manny we cheered for 4 to 5 years ago. That time, it was a hungry Manny, with a youthful demeanor, and who was ready to conquer the world. The Manny we see now is the grizzled world conqueror, who has had his share of great triumphs and painful frustrations collected along the way. Manny has been in the professional fight business since 1995, at a young age 16. And like it or not, his 18 years of boxing will have a toll on him. It is therefore imperative that he come up with new adjustments to make him remain a viable commodity in the boxing world.
To cite some examples, Michael Jordan became a great crowd-drawer early in his career with his gravity-defying drives and dunks. Toward the end of his career however, more of his shots would be fade-away jump-shots, to avoid contact and minimize the threat of injury. Besides, a fade-away will net the same 2 points anyway. Magic Johnson, on the other hand, states that every season break, he’d try to learn a new shot or a new move, just so he could be one step ahead of the competition. Pacquiao will remain as exciting and as sought-after in this pugilist world, as he learns to mix and match his old boom-boom barrages with his new ‘bash-and-dash’, and ‘give-and go’ approach.
A lot of people obviously wish to see the Pacquiao of old. But like it or not, things will change with time. The vintage Pacman will be partly subdued now. But the new Pacquiao will offer new excitement and new thrills. And I can’t ask for anything more.
(Photos courtesy of bleacherreport.com, boxingscene.com, sfgate.com, ph.sports.yahoo.com, balita.net, au.ibtimes.com, philnews.ph, demotix.com, foxsports.com, thetimes.co.uk)