Manny Pacquiao combined a sharp skill set with veteran guile and good old-fashioned gumption to take down previously undefeated welterweight Timothy Bradley on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
As The Sweet Science’s Michael Woods put it, Pac-Man’s performance was simply masterful:
No doubt about this one, as Manny Pacquiao, yes, still in possession of his aggression, showed Timothy Bradley that he's still master of the ring domain, still has stamina and energy and fire and reflexes..and way too much for Bradley, who had some moments, but generally looked not like the man who dazzled Juan Manuel Marquez last year.
Judges at ringside scored the bout 116-112, 116-112 and 118-110 for Pacquiao.
But this was not the vintage form of Pacquiao, the one you’ll want to tell your grandkids or great grandkids about someday, the one future fight fans will adore from afar.
Oh sure, flashes of that Manny were still there. His style was similar. His punches came fast and furious from his patented southpaw stance.
But this version of Pacquiao was more akin to the one that dominated Brandon Rios in Macau last November. He was more careful and cautious than the maniacal, wrecking ball version of Pacquiao that ran roughshod over the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto.
Norm Frauenheim of 15Rounds.com was spot on with his post-fight analysis, writing, "For Pacquiao, the victory was a step in growing older. Some of his quickness has vanished like grains of sand in an hourglass. But time has turned him into more of a thinking fighter."
That’s good news for Pac-Man, and one of the most important keys to his future. Pacquiao can no longer rely on otherworldly speed and power.
That’s not to say Pacquiao never had any skill. He did. No one achieves the status of all-time great, as Pacquiao did, without having world-class skill.
And it doesn’t mean Pacquiao no longer has great speed and power. Both Bradley and Rios, his last two opponents, attested to that each time their heads snapped back and forth like a jack-in-the-box.
But Pacquiao no longer connects with the force of a hurricane, and he no longer commits to his punches as if his life depended on each one. He no longer sends the other fighter’s will to win into oblivion by the sheer force of his punches.
Instead, Pacquiao uses his still-present speed to rack up points and still-good-enough power to keep his foes bewildered and wary while he does it.
According to Frauenheim, Bradley told the gathered post-fight media this new version of Pacquiao was different. "His punches were harder in the first fight than they were this time," Bradley said. "The difference this time was his experience."
But the older, wiser Pacquiao is smart. Instead of taking the Roy Jones route, the one that ignores signs of decline and still presses forward with a youthful strategy, Pacquiao seems ready and willing to make adjustments to his style in order to stay on top.
Maybe more importantly, the adjustments keep Pacquiao out of danger too.
Pacquiao learned much from his knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012. In that fight, Marquez’s newfound incredible power brought both the best and the worst out in Pacquiao.
Pacquiao unleashed a hellish fury on Marquez and appeared on his way to knocking Marquez out. He had bloodied the great Mexican fighter and was tearing him to pieces.
But then came the punch that knocked him out.
Pacquiao was too aggressive against Marquez, and he paid dearly for it. He learned in that moment what it was like to have intense will overcome with precise and violent skill.
Against both Rios and Bradley, though, Pacquiao was patient with his punches. Instead of throwing the kitchen sink at his opponents when they appeared open for punishment, he varied his speed and punching patterns to keep his opponent off balance.
Moreover, Pacquiao fought at all times ready to block and parry return fire. Unable to simply rely on no one being able to stand up to his incredible speed and power long enough for it to matter, Pacquiao now fights ready to at least partially block blows headed back toward him.
It’s made what might have been a fighter falling fast from the good graces of the fight game into a likely candidate to age well in a sport known to be unkind to unorthodox fighters who rely heavily on their superb physical gifts.
Pacquiao appears still good enough to be considered one of the top three or four fighters in the world. While clearly behind Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward, who are both undefeated, Pac-Man vies well for the No. 3 spot on any worthwhile pound-for-pound list.
In fact, Bleacher Report’s latest top-25 rankings place him at No. 3.
Beating a fighter as good as Bradley, a man who never felt he’d lost a fight and had the official record to prove it, showed Pacquiao’s future continues to be bright.
The Bradley win isn’t something to overlook. It adds to Pacquiao’s already impressive resume.
Pacquiao still has legacy-defining options ahead of him too. He’d be even money in a fifth fight with Marquez, a fight likely to occur should Marquez take care of business against Mike Alvarado in May.
And while he’d be an underdog in an unlikely bout against Mayweather, there are still some who contend Pacquiao would be his most interesting challenge.
But whatever happens next, the new version of Pacquiao, the one who augments his declining but still impressive physical skills with smart strategies and experience-driven adjustments, is in good position to remain successful.
Pacquiao will be one of the best fighters in the sport for a good long while.