Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao entered Saturday's fight against Brandon "Bam Bam" Rios in Macau, China with the weight of the world on his shoulders. The Filipino star rose to the occasion with a dominant victory over Rios, however, and restored much of the luster to his legacy that had been dulled in previous bouts.
The result was never in question, with Pacquiao winning every round en route to a unanimous decision victory.
Rios looked overmatched by Pacquiao's hand speed, and the overall punch counts showed as much.
Absolutely dominant showing by Manny Pacquiao. Lands nearly TWICE as many punches, cruises in unanimous decision over Brandon Rios. #PacRios— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 24, 2013
It was a valiant effort by Rios to even last the entire fight, but he was outclassed by a version of Pacquiao that stuck to trainer Nick Roach's game plan and was in complete control. Pacquiao looked like the boxer we are used to seeing—the one who caught our attention with his blistering speed and vicious punches.
It wasn't long ago that many boxing observers considered Pacquiao to be the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, even ahead of Floyd Mayweather. His reputation took a slight hit in June 2012 when he dropped a controversial split decision to Timothy Bradley, but the consensus was that Pacman got robbed.
Did Pacquiao save his legacy by beating Rios?
Boxing experts were still bullish on Pacquiao ahead of his fourth career meeting with Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012, but things changed significantly on that night. Pacquiao had nearly avoided losing to Dinamita on a few occasions previously, but he wasn't so lucky that time. Marquez caught Pacquiao flush, resulting in just the third knockout loss of his career.
Pacquiao was riding a 15-fight winning streak against a high level of competition before losing to Bradley, and he hadn't shown any signs of slowing down. Pacquiao simply wasn't the same fighter against Marquez, though, and it was unclear if he would ever return to the form that fans had grown accustomed to.
What ensued was the longest break of Pacquiao's career as he went nearly a year between fights, but that respite clearly helped. Pacman showed flashes of vintage form against Rios, and there was no doubt that he earned the victory. Although beating Rios won't go down as one of the greatest accomplishments of his career by any means, it was certainly much needed.
Had Pacquiao lost a third consecutive fight, boxing analysts and fans would have left his career for dead. Even if he would have continued to fight after a loss, it wouldn't have felt the same. It's likely that Pacquiao would have been accused of hanging on for too long and tarnishing his legacy. A loss to Rios simply would have furthered the negativity that was surrounding Pacquiao ahead of the fight.
In addition to that, Pacquiao said prior to the Rios fight that he didn't plan on retiring in the event of a loss, according to Sky Sports, so he could have easily become a joke in the eyes of boxing fans:
Manny Pacquiao insists he will not hang up his gloves even if he loses his third straight fight later this month. http://t.co/wfJjrrkdTI— Sky Sports (@SkySports) November 6, 2013
Now that Pacquiao finally has a win under his belt, though, the feeling is much different. Rather than dwelling on the loss to Marquez and wondering if it was the end of the line, perhaps it will now be viewed as a momentary roadblock in what has been a fantastic career.
Pacquiao should be defined based on his wins over the likes of Marquez, Erik Morales, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley and a host of other all-time greats. Fans had lost sight of those great victories, but the Pacquiao of old showed up on Sunday, and the fans were reminded of just how good he has been over the years.
A common dilemma that athletes in all sports often face is whether they should continue to compete past their prime or call it quits before their skills deteriorate. There is certainly an argument to be made for both sides, but few things are sadder than watching a once-great athlete struggle to do the things that once came easily to him.
What is the current state of Pacquiao's legacy after losing to Rios?
Had Pacquiao lost to Rios, it's entirely possible that he would have become a legend that tried to hold on for too long. Instead, Pacman proved against Rios that he still has the "it factor" that has made him such a big star over the years.
Pacquiao may be on the downside of his career, and he may never again reach the levels he once occupied, but at least beating Rios prevents him from going out with a whimper.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.