SEA Games

Rappler special: Is the old Pacquiao killer instinct back?

Ryan Songalia
World champion boxer Manny Pacquiao hasn't scored a knockout since 2009, but camp insiders say his old killer instinct is back. Boxing writer Ryan Songalia investigates.

THE OLD PACQUIAO. Critics say Manny Pacquiao has declined over the years but camp insiders say the old Manny Pacquiao and his killer instinct are back. File photo by AFP.

LAS VEGAS, United States – As Manny Pacquiao’s star has risen both at home and abroad, the Filipino boxing star has evolved as a person.

In the world of politics, where Pacquiao has achieved the distinction as the first reigning world champion to hold public office after winning a congressional seat in the Sarangani province, cultivating a gentlemanly persona goes a long way in terms of winning over hearts and minds.

But in the cut-throat world of professional boxing, where Pacquiao has won world titles in a record-setting eight divisions during a 16-year career, a merciful mindset could potentially inhibit your ability to do your job efficiently.

Too comfortable

Freddie Roach, who has trained Pacquiao through all of his notable fights in America, admits that he has seen Pacquiao’s vaunted killer instinct wane in recent years, and has worked to reverse that trend heading into their fourth meeting with arch rival Juan Manuel Marquez this Saturday night, December 8 (Sunday morning in the Philippines) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“He’s getting to be a little more comfortable, more confident and maybe a little too nice,” admitted Roach, who has won the Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year award five times. “That hurt us in some other fights. He lost his killer instinct but I think we got it back.”

Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38 knockouts) of General Santos City, Philippines is coming off of a controversial split-decision loss to American Timothy Bradley in his most recent bout in June.

In an informal poll after the fight, 50 of 53 members of the media polled believed that Pacquiao, 33, was deserving of the decision. Prior to that, many thought Pacquiao was lucky to escape with a majority decision victory over Marquez in their third meeting last November.

The 39-year-old Marquez (54-6-1, 39 KOs) of Mexico City, Mexico registered a unanimous decision victory over Ukrainian Serhiy Fedchenko in April in his only action since the last Pacquiao clash.

Their first meeting took place in 2004 in the featherweight division, with Marquez overcoming three knockdowns in the first round to salvage a draw. They met again in 2008 with Pacquiao earning a split-decision verdict on the basis of an extra point earned via a third round knockdown.

The old Pacquiao

The decrease in Pacquiao’s aggressive manner is best highlighted by the fact that he hasn’t scored a knockout win since 2009’s twelfth-round technical knockout victory over Miguel Cotto.

In an attempt to rekindle Pacquiao’s killer instinct, Roach offered Pacquiao a $1,000 incentive for each knockdown scored in sparring during training camp. Roach says that Pacquiao scored four knockdowns during training, which was the first time Pacquiao had dropped a sparring partner since the Cotto fight.

Pacquiao reportedly refused to accept the $4,000 reward.

Pacquiao worked out briefly on Thursday afternoon, December 6 at the Top Rank Boxing Gym, jumping rope, doing some light shadowboxing and ab work before ending the session with his customary prayer.

Perhaps most telling was Pacquiao’s nature; just two days away from a major fight, Pacquiao was light-hearted, joking with conditioning coach Alex Ariza about how many crunches he had left in his set and inspecting a photographer’s camera to admire pictures of his own abs.

“His motivation, his desire,” responded Roach, when asked what he thought was different about Pacquiao from the last few performances.

BETTER MOOD. "He's having fun with it," trainer Freddie Roach said of his prized fighter Manny Pacquiao on training for his fourth bout against Juan Manuel Marquez. File photo by AFP.

“He’s having fun with it. He ran the track the other day, he raced the Nike guy [Brian Livingston]. He raced his track coach and lost by a little bit, but he’s having fun out there. When Manny Pacquiao’s having fun and in a good mood and everything’s going well and there are no distractions, Manny is a great fighter.”

Pacquiao himself was confident, if vague in discussing the fight after his gym session.

“This fight is going to be different to the last three fights that we had,” said Pacquiao. “I did a lot of things in training so it’s going to be a good fight. I’m more focused now and there are no distractions, and it’s all set.”

Knockout needed

Roach told Rappler that Pacquiao was two pounds underneath the welterweight limit of 147 pounds prior to beginning his workout.

Throughout the media, there have been whispers suggesting that Pacquiao would need a knockout to win the fourth contest in light of the protests that emerged from the decision of their last encounter. Some feel that Marquez may be due for a “makeup call” in this fight, which has emboldened some to pick the underdog Marquez to win a decision.

“I think they already punished us with the Bradley fight,” said Roach. “The thing is, we got three good judges and a good referee, I think we’ll get a good shake.”

Alex Ariza, Pacquiao’s conditioning coach who has worked with him since his drubbing of underdog David Diaz in 2008, differs in opinion.

“It’s no secret, we have to go in there and knock this guy out,” said Ariza. “The rumors are out there about not giving us the decision. Obviously it’s showing on the betting boards, Marquez is the favorite for a decision.”

The three judges for the fight will be Adalaide Byrd, Steve Weisfeld and John Keane, with Kenny Bayless serving as referee.

Bayless has earned a reputation as an emerging favorite referee due to his diligence and mobility. Byrd recently came under fire for her scorecard last weekend when she scored WBA junior middleweight titleholder Austin Trout the winner over Miguel Cotto by the too-wide score of 119-109, which didn’t reflect the competitive nature of the fight.

‘Do your stuff’

Perhaps no one is more curious about who the judges are than Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain, the trainer of Marquez. Beristain, who like Roach is an inductee in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, says that despite the official verdicts of their past clashes, there is still much to be settled.

“I think we want to still show him that we’re a better fighter, a more complete fighter,” Beristain said in Spanish. “If the fight comes out the same way it has all these other times, I hope [the judges] do finally give us the decision.”

When asked how Pacquiao has changed in the last 8 years since they first fought him, Beristain noted that Pacquiao’s technique has improved. He also doesn’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

“What we see of him now is a more disciplined fighter who knows what he’s doing in the ring,” said Beristain. “He’s become a better fighter and Freddie has done a great job with him, but it also helped us. He’s no longer wild, we don’t know where he’s coming from before in the first fight. He’s still very explosive, but now we see where the punches are coming from because he throws them better. I think that the fact that he’s getting better is better for us.”

Perhaps Roach has noticed that as well.

When asked if the game plan will be similar to ones they’ve employed in the past, Roach was adamant that it wouldn’t be.

“I threw the game plans out the window and told him, ‘Manny, do your stuff.'”

The question is, will it be enough? – Rappler.com

Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and is a columnist for The Ring magazine. He can be reached at ryan@ryansongalia.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.