A 36-year-old active member of the Philippine House of Representatives will step into the ring on May 2 for one of the largest fights — both in pageantry and implication — in boxing’s lengthy history. Manny Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) is the most popular figure in the history of the Pacific nation, fighting in a sport that predates its independence.
The Kibawe buzzsaw ripped through Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley and Juan Manuel Marquez in succession. Saturday, he returns to Las Vegas, boxing’s Mecca, for a chance at the crowning jewel of his prolonged career. He’s 12-3-1 in Vegas fights, with two knockouts, three wins by unanimous decision and one loss by knockout. Each of his three losses in the city came at the MGM Grand, the location of his fight against the haughty Floyd “Money” Mayweather.
Pacquiao has won his last three fights — Brandon Rios, Timothy Bradley Jr., Chris Algieri — by unanimous decision, but each left the sport’s zealotry puzzled as to where the man that was named Fighter of the Decade went. His highlight reel is peppered with precision and speed, with quotidian early-round knockouts and wire-to-wire wins. But recently, the killer instinct hasn’t manifested itself in the ring; the Algieri fight was just the latest log to hit the pyre: A 12-round, one-sided affair that seemingly spoke more to Pacquiao’s ability to grant his opponent clemency than it did Algieri’s ability to stand upright following a flurry of knockdowns. Nine of his last 10 fights went to the 12th round, and he hasn’t knocked out an opponent in more than five years — which is startling when you consider that he knocked out eight straight opponents over a 13-month stretch in the late ’90s.
Pacquiao’s blitz-and-flurry, high-volume approach has landed an average of 163.2 power punches over his last five fights, according to ProBoxing-Fans.com. His footwork doesn’t cut off the ring in the way that Gennady Golovkin’s does, but his tandem of quickness and agility can make the ring seem smaller.
“Mayweather has never fought a lefty who moves in and out, side to side like Pacquiao,” De La Hoya recently told the Wall Street Journal.
Context is paramount in every sport, and each fight often presents entirely new strategies and styles; it isn’t uncommon for a fight to take a few rounds to loosen up, either. But over his last three fights, Pacquiao has thrown an abundance of punches in the fourth and ninth rounds, enough to the point where it’s clearly the portion of the fight where he reaches the apex of his attack.
The same holds true for power punching: Over that three-fight stretch, Pacquiao has thrown an average of 457 power punches per fight — nearly 25 percent of them have come in the fourth and ninth rounds.
As is more often the case, Pacquiao has connected on a higher percentage of total punches, jabs or power punches than his last three opponents. He threw a combined 448 punches more than Algieri and Rios, and his power shots hit their target 44.3 percent of the time, while his last three opponents connected on just 36.3 percent of their shots. Since January 2006, Pacquiao has out-punched every opponent except the oft-swinging Bradley, who threw more punches than Pacman in both fights. Over a three-fight stretch, Pacman threw 397 more punches than Mosley, and a combined 2,300 punches in his fights against Margarito and Clottey. For context, Mayweather, 38, has thrown a combined 2,345 punches over his last six fights.
Pacquiao’s loss to Juan Manuel Marquez — who, like Mayweather, has a notoriously strong chin and has never been knocked out — could be a worthy blueprint for Mayweather. Pacquiao chased Marquez around the ring in a cat-and-mouse fight that ultimately led to him being counter-punched into the canvas. Anyone who watches boxing can attest to the notion that it only takes one punch to swing a fight, and on that night, Pacquiao’s frenetic pace left him susceptible to the straight right that ended the fight.
Many have looked to Manny Pacquiao’s last fight, a cakewalk victory over Algieri, as a sign of what the Filipino fighter has become: someone who will land shots in volume and out-punch his opponent, but won’t bury the casket. Pacman has a chance to quell the rumors and earn the most important win of his career in an arena where he has felt the jubilation of victory and awoken to the smelling salts of defeat. He certainly won’t shy away from swinging.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.