There has been a good deal of discussion that Manny Pacquiao, the WBO welterweight champion and one of boxing's pound-for-pound kings, may no longer be at the top of his game and has shown signs of decline leading up to his fight tomorrow night against Timothy Bradley at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. While the 33-year old Filipino superstar may have lost a step as do all aging athletes, it may be too premature to declare him at risk of losing to the undefeated Bradley and removing him from one of the top two slots on pound-for-pound lists.
Many point to Pacquiao's (54-3-2, 38 KO's) last fight against Mexican nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez in November 2011 to support claims of his vulnerability. In this, their third clash, Marquez was a 38-year old fighter moving up almost two weight divisions to face Pacquiao at a catch-weight of 144 pounds. These factors attributed to the long odds Marquez was given at nearly 9 to 1, a rather astonishing betting line given how close their two previous fights had been.
Much like the first two fights, it was a closely contested bout with several back and forth rounds. Although Marquez's punches were better timed, he only threw single shot counters while Pacquiao pressed the action with more combinations. Pacquiao also demonstrated greater ring generalship and speed, often able to avoid incoming shots from the methodical Mexican.
Curiously, Marquez's trainer, Nacho Beristain, told his fighter in the closing rounds that he was winning the fight. Whether it was in response to this belief or simply his preferred style, Marquez let up in the final rounds and was content to counterpunch while staying out of range.
Pacquiao won a majority decision 116-112, 115-113, 114-114.
Although not an overwhelmingly consistent or glowing performance, Pacquiao was slightly more effective than Marquez, landing 43% of his power punches compared to 39% based on CompuBox figures. Pac Man has difficulty dealing with tactical boxers and counterpunchers, as evidenced in all three of his fights with Marquez.
This fight was no different than the previous two in that regard, making all of the controversy surrounding the majority decision somewhat curious. There was an expectation that Pacquiao would handily win based on the age, weight and performance factors coming into the fight (as reflected in the 9 to 1 odds). However, winning by such a close margin and in a somewhat lackluster fashion had many suddenly questioning whether this was the beginning of the end for Pacquiao.
Marquez is a highly skilled, experienced and intelligent boxing veteran. Having fought Pacquiao twice before, he was able to figure a few things out about his opponent and apply them to the third fight. All of the tapes and sparring in the world is not expected to prepare one as well as two closely contested fights in the ring on the big stage against said opponent.
While Bradley is younger, faster and better conditioned than Marquez, he lacks this critical and invaluable piece of experience.
It is suspected that had Marquez exerted greater effort in the final three rounds, the outcome of the fight might have been different. That is entirely plausible. However, it may have also sparked Pacquiao to be more aggressive and turn the fight into one that would have favored his style as opposed to the steady and methodical pace that better suits Marquez. We do not know either way for certain.
We do know that the gutsy Mexican was dropped a total of four times in the first two fights with Pacquiao as a featherweight and super featherweight. A heavier and stronger Pacquiao at welterweight may have been able to register another knockdown had Marquez been willing to engage in the latter stages of the third fight. Marquez's right eye was swelling shut and he might not have been able to see Pacquiao's left hand coming.
Pacquiao's last few performances have been criticized and he admits to having underestimated Marquez heading into the November bout, yet the post-fight wounds of his opponents tell a different story.
Marquez had a swelling right eye despite a fine display of defensive fighting and counterpunching. Shane Mosley's entire face was swollen even after running for almost a full 12 rounds in his May 2011 fight with Pacquiao. Antonio Margarito's right eye was permanently damaged after a savage 12-round massacre at the hands of the Filipino in November 2010. Both of Miguel Cotto's eyes were puffy and mouth swollen from a 12-round beating when he faced Pacquiao in November 2009 and the left eye of Oscar De La Hoya's boyish face was swelling shut after eight battering rounds with the southpaw in December 2008.
Aside from a few cuts and nicks over his eyes, Pacquiao's face has been relatively spared.
Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's trainer, believes his fighter has the three primary elements necessary to defeat a young, hungry, undefeated champion such as Bradley.
"Experience, speed and power. Speed is hard to deal with. Power will knock you out. Experience will make it a little easier for you", said Roach on a media conference call last week.
Yes, Pacquiao no longer has the same intensity and blinding speed he once possessed.
Yes, he suffered leg cramps in the Marquez III and Mosley fights that limited his effectiveness and is a sign of age (or basketball as reported by FightNews).
Yes, he is facing a number of issues external to the ring including politics, religion, marital difficulties and tax problems.
However, a declining and "distracted" Pacquiao is still better than most other fighters in the game today.
Bradley will discover this tomorrow night.
• Enter a daily or weekly fantasy sports league at Fan Duel for a chance to win fast and easy moneyTags: Antonio Margarito, Boxing, Freddie Roach, Juan Manuel Marquez, Manny Pacquiao, Miguel Cotto, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Timothy Bradley