New Year… New Manny Pacquiao? Or Will The Same Manny Come Out and Play?

Throughout Manny Pacquiao’s (54-5-2) incredible run in the United States, where he went from unknown Filipino junior featherweight contender to pound for pound and pay-per-view king of boxing, much attention has been paid to how the Filipino superstar has dealt with outside of the ring distractions. It began following his 2005 unanimous decision defeat to Erik Morales when Pacquiao and his people blamed the loss on everything from the negotiations over the type of gloves worn in the fight to Pacquiao’s battles to be free from his former promoter Murad Muhammed.

As the fights went on and Pacquiao’s stardom grew, the stories of various outside the ring distractions multiplied. Pacquiao would sign with Golden Boy Promotions after receiving a suitcase full of cash from Oscar De La Hoya and then sign with rival Top Rank Promotions starting boxing’s “Cold War” and more than one lawsuit. Pacquiao and his family members would run for various political offices in the Philippines. You can add his family, friends and various Filipinos attempting to get close to Pacquiao in order to get some of the charity he does out.

Throw in relationship problems with his wife, Jinkee, caused by Pacquiao’s womanizing, drinking, smoking, nightclubbing and gambling (including a highly publicized affair with a television co-star). He also had a paternity lawsuit in the Philippines. Toss in rumors about performance enhancing drug use and the sheer volume of music, television and film moonlighting he does besides being a boxer. Depending on whether he won or lost, the story would be that Pacquiao needs the distractions in order to perform well or that the distractions prevented him from training as he needed to train in order to win.

Although Pacquiao certainly has some distractions to deal with as his bout with Brandon Rios (31-1-1) Saturday night approaches, namely the devastating effects of Super Typhoon Haiyan on the Philippines, that is not the story here. Rather, it is Pacquiao’s past two performances in the ring and his response to them that will have the biggest impact on the fight with Rios.

2012 was nothing if not a disastrous year for the Filipino icon. First, in June, he suffered his first (official) defeat in seven years when he lost a split-decision to Timothy Bradley. Then in December, he was knocked-out in the sixth round by long-time rival Juan Manuel Marquez in their fourth fight. When Pacquiao steps into the ring on Saturday night (or Sunday morning), he will not have won a fight since November 12, 2011 when he scored a majority decision over Marquez in their third fight (it should probably be noted that many observers, though not this author, thought Marquez deserved that decision).

Certainly, a two-fight losing streak is a significant psychological hurdle for fighters to overcome. Thoughts may creep for the fighter which cause them to think they are past their prime and they have gone from championship contender to “gatekeeper” or, even worse, “journeyman.” The fighter also may even start to think about retirement and the old saying goes that if a fighter is thinking or talking retirement, he is basically retired. In this case, Pacquiao is saying all the right things and appears to still have the confidence of a championship fighter. However, Pacquiao’s trainer, Freddie Roach, has said if the Filipino does not look good in this fight, he will recommend retirement for the southpaw superstar. Dealing with these thoughts are going to be a challenge that Pacquiao must deal with. If he does not deal with them, he will be fighting Rios and his own mind in Macau.

Perhaps even more of a challenge than the two-fight losing streak is that Pacquiao is coming off a knockout loss. Not only was Pacquiao knocked-out, he was crashed face first and unconscious for a substantial period of time. There are multitudes of fighters who are never the same after experiencing such a defeat. Indeed, fighters will often change their styles and become “safety-first” boxers in order to avoid such a painful defeat in the future. If that is the case here, Pacquiao could be in trouble. While he is an excellent boxer, his aggressiveness, speed and punching power have always been his best attributes. Not using those traits could allow Rios to simply run over the Congressman from the Sarangani Province of the Philippines.

Two things work in favor of Pacquiao being able to come back from the knockout loss at the hands of Marquez. First, Pacquiao has actually been knocked-out twice before: once in 1996 by Rustico Torrecampo and again in 1999 by Medgoen Singsurat. Pacquiao supporters often shake off those losses by noting that he was an emaciated 17 and 20 year old at the time of those fights. Whatever the case, the “Pac Man” came back from those losses to rise to unthinkable heights in the boxing game. Stated otherwise, he has done it before.

The second factor working in Pacquiao’s favor, and this may be the most important thought Pacquiao should keep in mind, the knockout, and the “loss” to Bradley, need to be put in perspective. While two of the three official judges believed Bradley defeated Pacquiao, no one else on the planet believes that. 47 of 48 boxing media scored the fight for the Filipino and some very respected journalists such as HBO’s Harold Lederman, ESPN’s Dan Rafael, Maxboxing’s Gabriel Montoya, ESPN’s Nigel Collins, and Ring Magazine’s Mike Coppinger could only find one or two rounds to give to Bradley. In fact, most observers felt that Pacquiao performed better than he had in a long time and had put poor performances against Marquez and Shane Mosley behind him. Then, in November’s bout with Marquez, Pacquiao came alive after a third round knock down. He won the fourth round before dropping his longtime rival in the fifth round and then dominating the sixth round before the fatal shot. Indeed, most observers believed Pacquiao was well on his way to finally stopping Marquez before the counter-right hand heard around the world.

If Pacquiao keeps that in mind and keeps the distractions at bay, he should be able to return to form. That should mean that Pacquiao will use his movement while also being aggressive and punching from all angles. That is a fighter that Rios will have all kinds of trouble dealing with. If not, Rios’ pressure could rule the day. Pacquiao’s mindset will make all the difference in Macau.

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