THEY say experience is the best teacher. Well, in the case of the recent showdown between Manny 'Pacman' Pacquiao and Brandon 'Bam Bam' Rios, the teacher with the most experience - 18 years of pro experience to be precise - ended up teaching his adversary a neat boxing lesson.
Pacquiao brought out his doctorate degree in boxing and dissected Rios with surgeon-like precision. If there is one word that can be used to describe Pacquiao's performance, it is 'clinical.' The former eight-division champion went through Rios like a CSI team dissecting a corpse. That Rios offered the mobility of a corpse made the job easier for Pacquiao.
For 12 rounds, Pacquiao handled the wild bull that is Rios with the grace of a matador. He sidestepped Rios' wild lunges and retaliated with punches thrown at precise angles. Notable during the fight is the way Pacquiao planted his feet more on the canvas. Pacquiao has acquired the habit of punching off the balls of his feet in the past, but against Rios he made it a point to firmly plant his feet before throwing a punch. The adjustment was necessary because it was while trying to punch while bouncing off his feet that Pacquiao stepped on Juan Manuel Marquez's left foot, lost his balance and walked into a vicious counter right hand punch from the Mexican last December.
Rios' lack of mobility made it easier for Pacquiao to experiment with new tactics. Pacquiao's left straight was particularly fast and effective as it repeatedly penetrated Rios' guard and snapped his head back. By the sixth round, Rios was already cut on the left eye. When the smoke of battle cleared, he was marked on both eyes, bleeding on the nose and sported swollen cheeks. Post-fight statistics underlined Pacquiao's accuracy as he landed 36 percent of his punches (790 punches thrown, 281 landed) compared to Rios' 27% (502 punches thrown, 138 landed).
On several occasions, Rios tried to bully Pacquiao and turn the fight into a brawl, but the latter was just too slippery and wise to go toe-to-toe. Consequently, the fight followed a repetitive pattern, with Pacquiao befuddling and hurting a perpetually on-rushing Rios with blinding and well-timed combinations. Pacquiao pitched a shutout in the scorecards, with one judge giving all 12 rounds to the Filipino with a score of 120-108. The two remaining judges had it 119-109 and 118-110 for Pacquiao.
Pacquiao did everything but stop Rios. Then again, he admitted after the fight that he held back his offense because he did not want to commit the same mistake he did against Marquez. The cautious approach is understandable. Pacquiao suffered a chilling and concussive knockout at the hands of Marquez. Anyone who goes through such a traumatic accident is not advised to instantly jump back into the thick of the action. The Rios fight was about getting Pacquiao's rhythm back, soaking in some sweat to get the confidence back. It was about Pacquiao taking baby steps as he recovers from the setback to Marquez.
Pacquiao improved his record to 55-5 with 38 knockouts. He remains knockout-less, his last stoppage victory coming in 2009 against Miguel Angel Cotto. While it is so easy to say that Pacquiao's power has dipped, one must also take into account the way his style has evolved. Pacquiao can no longer turn back the clock, he can only adapt to his age (34 turning 35 on December 17). Pacquiao's transition in boxing has been from caveman to Einstein. Today, it's all about relying on ring guile which he developed in nearly two decades of boxing. For the statesman-cum-boxer Pacquiao, it's about quality and not quantity of punches. It's about working on the knockout instead of pressing for it to happen.
The younger, powerful Pacquiao offered the battle cry 'with great power comes great responsibility.' The older and heavier Pacquiao is likely to trumpet the adage 'with age comes wisdom.'