McNally’s Monday Column: Pacquiao – declining or finally maturing?

Credit: Chris Farina / Top Rank Inc.

I’m back! Much like a Floyd Mayweather retirement, my hiatus from was short lived, lasting just over a year however, I am giving my fans (both of them) what they demand… the return of Joe ‘the scally’ McNally’s Monday column!

Anyway, enough about Instant Boxing’s pound-for-pound champion, let’s address Manny Pacquiao winning his 787th world title on Saturday just gone. In what was a fairly decent fight to watch, Pacquiao once again reconfirmed that his place at the top of the welterweight tree is well and truly justified (for as long as Floyd Mayweather’s retirement lasts). Some fans of the new dawn of welterweights (Thurman, Garcia, Spence et al) will likely be cursing me right now for saying the above however, we will come back to that*.

Starting brightly, Pacquiao, as has been common place in recent fights, took a far more measured approach. He fired in southpaw backhands, lead and counter right-hooks, moved his feet and cut angles which were too much for the now former WBO welterweight champion, Jesse Vargas. However, Vargas did have small pockets of success through the middle rounds as Pacquiao refused to force the pace, even after a left hand had landed Vargas on the seat of his pants.

This, I believe, is where the criticism (post-fight) seems to have flowed from… comments such as: ‘he’s lost his killer instinct’… ‘he’s too old’… ‘he’s not as fast as he used to be’ etc. have all been banded about by media outlets since Saturdays UD. And I do agree to an extent that the Manny we witnessed on Saturday is not the same fighter we were lucky enough to watch six or seven years ago… but name me a fighter that can sustain that explosiveness at the very top level for such a period of time.

Since Pacquiao v Bradley 3 earlier in 2016, where, similarly to the Vargas fight, Pacquiao had his opponent hurt yet couldn’t finish the fight within the distance, the questions about Pacquiao fading have been rife. However, murmurs about the tenacity of the Pac-Man have been circuiting for a few years pre the aforementioned bouts, with disappointing points wins (and losses) to the likes of Tim Bradley 1 & 2, Chris Algeri and Brandon Rios added to his resume.

Whilst others are quick to claim that Pacquiao’s powers are diminished, the question I ask is: is Pacquiao really fading as badly as people say or is he just finally maturing?

We have all witnessed the exciting but absolutely reckless version of Manny Pacquiao steamroll HOF fighters like: De La Hoya, Hatton and Cotto back in the 2000’s. But in doing so he showed massive vulnerabilities that were disguised by frightening speed and power which only the most astute technical boxers have been able to expose and capitalise on. It is that same recklessness which ended up with him face planting the canvas courtesy of Juan Manuel Marquez.

Therefore, at almost 38 years of age, is the Filipino star finally starting to mature as a fighter? Has he done away with the reckless all out attacking style to avoid shattering counter-right-hands or is he simply too old to force the pace like he once did, to hunt down a hurt opponent and force a stoppage?

IMO it’s a culmination of both – I believe he acknowledges that his speed and engine are diminishing so he is becoming more reliant on his skills and experience. Fighting in bursts, ensuring he wins rounds. Knowing when to force the pace and when to take a round off. And what’s more, with Freddie Roachs deteriorating health I think he is doing a lot of this maturing alone. As the saying goes, we can’t have our cake and eat it. Do we really want to see the reckless version of Pacquiao from the 2000’s with the skill set of the present day? Do we really want to see someone of his stature go out on a KO loss to a lesser opponent because we demanded he fight more ‘exciting’? I wouldn’t.

From a personal perspective, I would like to see the winner of Thurman v Garcia (I don’t see a way Garcia beats Thurman FYI) face Pacquiao. I believe even the current version of Pacquiao would beat either of them and he should then leave the sport at the top, on the back of a win, unifying the welterweight division and the talk of fighting Canelo should be shelved for his own wellbeing.

*With that being said, I return to my earlier point that I still see Pacquiao as the number one fighter in the welterweight division. Having just captured a version of the world title from a decent and experienced fighter along with a routine points win over Tim Bradley in the bag since he dropped a UD to Floyd Mayweather, I believe he has done more than enough to solidify his place as number one. Spence is still to have a defining fight and Thurman has showed vulnerabilities whilst albeit looking impressive, whilst Garcia hasn’t set my world alight since he beat Lucas Mattysse over three years ago and I can’t see Kell Brook fighting at welterweight again.

With all of the above questions still swirling in the wake of a world title win we can summarise that: even though he is now (again) a welterweight champion, there is still a massive amount of uncertainty surrounding Manny Pacquiao and his remaining attributes. However, debate goes hand in hand with the Pac-Man… the Mayweather v Pacquiao debate lasted for six years!

Other notable mentions from the weekend go to Jessie Magdelano who outpointed a very flat looking and potentially faded Nonito Donaire to claim the WBO junior featherweight title and Oscar Valdez who continued his KO streak by stopping Hiroshige Osawa in impressive fashion to retain his WBO featherweight title.

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