Manny Pacquiao is getting up there in age at 35, but the veteran boxer has made some changes to his game to ensure that he gets in a few more fights before he finally hangs up his gloves.
In his early days, Pacquiao won the hearts of millions with his aggressive style that produced some big knockouts over the years.
Since then, however, he’s chosen to focus more on technique and patience, which has radically changed the way he fights.
His caution is a double-edged sword, though. While it may be able to preserve his career going forward, it could also get him into trouble in some unforeseen ways.
Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that Pacquiao will continue to fight with patience—a style that has both pros and cons.
Timothy Bradley came out swinging at the start of his rematch with Pacquiao on Saturday.
According to CompuBox (h/t ESPN.com), Bradley threw 627 total punches—far more than Pacquiao’s 563—and it seems clear that he was gunning for the knockout quickly.
If Pacquiao had gotten sloppy, that approach could’ve put him in big trouble. Instead, he picked his spots and nailed Bradley only when the opportunity presented itself.
“He threw a lot of punches and I didn't want to be careless,” Pacquiao told Reuters (h/t the Chicago Tribune). “In the second half of the fight, I listened to my corner and they told me to work on the timing of my punches.”
He fought using a similar style in his warm-up match against Brandon Rios. According to CompuBox (h/t ESPN.com), he landed 36 percent of his punches—nearly identical to the 35 percent he managed in his rematch against Bradley—and generally stayed patient as the younger fighter challenged him.
Pacquiao may own 38 total knockouts in his career, but he’s shown that he’s learned how to win by waiting out his opponents, and it’s a style with a lot of promise.
If Pacquiao does indeed go on to face Floyd Mayweather, however unlikely such a fight may be, then he’ll be well-served by this patience.
It will be truly tough to match Mayweather’s technique and elusiveness, but if Pacquiao can continue to depend on his own patience instead of going for broke, he’ll have a much better shot at winning.
After the Bradley fight, Pacquiao himself admitted that he doesn’t have much time left, but that he’ll certainly be sticking around for a little while.
"I think I can fight for two more years," he told reporters.
He should be in good standing to withstand even the hardest hitters if he can continue picking his spots and being patient.
However, this isn’t a style without its drawbacks.
Pacquiao’s patience might extend his career, but it could cost him his star power.
His name still carries a lot of weight, but after failing to earn a knockout in his last three matches, fans that were drawn to him for his big KOs might lose interest.
Pacquiao’s most recent fight with Bradley surely drew a lot of interest—when speaking with the Daily Telegraph, promoter Bob Arum said he expects it to generate 1.2 million pay-per-view purchases—but interest might still be waning.
While the rematch with Bradley after the duo’s first controversial fight undoubtedly generated a lot of interest, the draw for Pacquiao against a lesser-known challenger seems to be diminishing.
The numbers from the Rios fight offer a good indication. After the disheartening loss to Bradley, Yahoo! Sports' Kevin Iole reported that just 475,000 people bought in to see him defeat Rios.
That’s still a big number, but Iole explains that it should be concerning for him going forward:
It's attributable almost completely to Pacquiao's change in performance. He's no longer the dynamic, aggressive fighter who stormed up from flyweight to capture a super welterweight title.
He's become cautious and tentative, unwilling against Rios to step on the accelerator to try to finish a man he'd had on the ropes.
Pacquiao was far quicker than Rios and that advantage allowed Pacquiao to blast off shots and then step out of harm's way of Rios' thudding shots.
When Floyd Mayweather Jr. puts on a boxing clinic like that, he's universally praised for it, but it's comparing different things. Mayweather is one of the greatest technical boxers ever; Pacquiao's popularity was built upon his aggressiveness and power.
If Pacquiao continues to fight patiently, he likely won’t suffer some sort of surprise upset before any hypothetical Mayweather matchup.
This style will extend his career, but it also might anger the masses.
Pacquiao is unquestionably in a tough place. If he loses again before getting to see Mayweather, then the draw for the fight would be greatly diminished.
That’s forced him to use more patience, and while it will likely keep him upright, it could also alienate his fanbase.