Malaysia — Filipino ring icon and boxing’s only eight-division world champion, Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KO’s) of the Philippines, scored a scintillating 7th round knockout of Lucas “La Maquina” Matthysse (39-5, 36 KO’s) of Argentina at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, to capture the WBA Welterweight Title — and already it has throngs of the Filipino’s fans claiming that the once powerful legend is back in full force.
But is he really?
The answer isn’t as simple as it appears to be, despite the now 39-year-old Pacquiao scoring a surprise knockout of his Argentinian foe — his first since a 2009 TKO victory over Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto.
Indeed, the Pinoy fistic sensation sizzled over the duration of a contest that was filled with explosive action, but it was as one-sided as it could be with Matthysse looking like a shell of his true self.
Pacquiao looked absolutely brilliant, with some claiming this is the best they have seen him in years.
Still, a combination of factors was responsible for Sunday morning’s performance, not the least of which is Pacquiao’s renewed interest in the sport that made him a global phenomenon.
Absent from his corner this time around was long-time trainer Freddie Roach, replaced at the helm by childhood best friend and confidant Buboy Fernandez.
Fernandez did an admirable job, all things considered, and Pacquiao did appear to have a noticeable bounce in his step that was non-existent in his most recent outings. The Filipino firecracker was aggressive and in attack mode from the sound of the opening bell, offering Matthysse a slew of unorthodox angles that he couldn’t cope with.
Furthermore, Pacquiao’s power was still very much at play, despite him being at the tail-end of a career spanning over two decades. Though he is no doubt a step slower now in this continuous physical decline, the power it seems at the very least, has been the last to go.
But the biggest factor in Pacquiao’s rousing performance in Malaysia isn’t what Pacquiao fans would expect it to be.
It had more to do with Matthysse’s reluctance to engage the southpaw slugger, which was highly uncharacteristic of the Argentinian. Combined with Pacquiao’s unusual reinvention of his boxing style over the last five years, and what we have is a knockout that came as a surprise to many — even to the most ardent of Pacquiao supporters.
Gone is the Manny Pacquiao of old however, the one that flattened Ricky Hatton with a single left hook, the one that demolished Puerto Rican warrior Miguel Cotto, and made legend Oscar Dela Hoya quit on his stool. There is no getting that Pacquiao back.
But there is hope for a new Pacquiao, one that could still at the very least, be a veteran to give the top welterweights a stiff test.
Boxing has been cruel to athletes fighting way past their prime, and Pacquiao is no different. His best bet is to leave the sport on a high note and ride off into the sunset giving his fans what they have craved for the past nine years. If he continues to pursue the big fights, he is at serious risk of injury given his age.
Yes, Bernard Hopkins did it at 40, and even way past that. But Hopkins didn’t have the high-risk style that Pacquiao has, and he didn’t get hit as hard and as often. Granted, Matthysse rarely hit Pacquiao at all, but that’s beside the point.
The answer to whether or not Pacquiao is truly back cannot be derived from his performance against Matthysse, unfortunately.
The answer to this question will come in Pacquiao’s next outing, which should be against an opponent who could do no worse than the Argentinian who apparently didn’t come to fight.