In a dominant performance in which he won by unanimous decision over Timothy Bradley, superstar boxer Manny Pacquiao proved this past Saturday that he's continuing to evolve in the latter stages of his decorated career.
Even Bradley himself called into question Pacquiao's competitive fire and passion in the ring. Any doubts about Pac-Man's seriousness toward the sweet science had to be extinguished, though, after his exceptional display at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Beating Brandon Rios was an expected step for Pacquiao but a critical one nevertheless. A loss to Rios would have been his third straight, perhaps signaling the end to his days in the ring. Instead, Pac-Man went into his rematch with Bradley seeking to exact retribution—and that he did.
Bradley had defeated Pacquiao in a previous, hotly debated split decision, but after criticizing Pacquiao's lack of heart before the bout, he was singing quite a different tune in defeat, per ESPN.com's Dan Rafael:
I have no excuses. Stuff happens. I got nothing to say about it. You can't say nothing against Manny. I lost to one of the best fighters in the world. Manny fought his heart out. I tip my hat to his whole corner, Freddie Roach and his whole team.
[...] I tried, I really tried. I wanted that knockout. Manny is a great fighter, one of the best in the world. I lost to one of the greatest fighters in boxing. I kept trying to throw something over the top, that was the plan. I knew I had to do more in this fight than in the last fight.
The evolution that Pacquiao is experiencing isn't so much a change in tactics between the ropes as it is an exercise in longevity and preserving himself for epic 12-round matches. Mistaking his absence of knockout blows for a diminishing desire to box is inaccurate, as Pacquiao is continuing to establish himself as more of a wily fighter with outstanding endurance.
Pac-Man is so tough, and even when he does get hit hard, it is borderline impossible to knock him to the canvas for good. The compassion Pacquiao has seemingly displayed in his more recent fights, where he has not finished opponents with a knockout when he perhaps could have, will actually benefit him in the future.
Part of the KO dearth is due to Pacquiao's slightly diminished skill set. The speed, devastating jab and lightning-fast punch combinations are still there. That just comes with age and wear and tear, but Pacquiao is continuing to learn how to thrive even when he's not being the aggressor—something that couldn't really be said before.
Even with that slight change in strategy, Pacquiao still blinded Bradley with his quickness and staggering amount of punches, per CompuBox:
Key stat to Bradley loss: threw 212 fewer punches tonight. Looking to load up too much? #PacquiaoBradley2— CompuBox (@CompuBox) April 13, 2014
In summary, the evidence points to Pacquiao becoming a more complete fighter.
Brian Campbell of ESPN hinted at that in his analysis of Pacquiao's triumph:
All in all, the fact that Pacquiao is no longer PacMan of old & still outworked a top 5 P4P guys was impressive. Speaks to his greatness.— Brian Campbell (@BCampbellESPN) April 13, 2014
Steve Kim of MaxBoxing.com gave a similar take on the situation, praising Pacquiao—who is actually 35—for continuing to thrive with 63 bouts under his belt in taking back his WBO Welterweight title:
Who should Manny Pacquiao's next opponent be?
The last man to beat Pacquiao was his archrival in Juan Manuel Marquez, who has lost to the opponent many hope Pac-Man will one day face in Floyd Mayweather Jr. This would be the fight fight between Pacquiao and Marquez, but there is still intrigue to be had since Marquez knocked Pacquiao out last time around.
With the development he has shown in the two wins since—particularly versus Bradley—it's hard to imagine he would let the excellent counter-punching Dinamita get close enough to be abruptly defeated yet again.
But of course, debate will rage on about the Pacquiao-Mayweather dream matchup. Mayweather may be wary of taking on Pacquiao now after dismissing him previously following Pac-Man's two straight losses. If Pacquiao ever does get a shot at Mayweather, he is progressing and evolving in the best ways to be a true threat to denting Mayweather's perfect record.