WHERE HAS PACQUIAO'S EXPLOSIVE POWER GONE?
By Rob Soucy
What has been lost in the aftermath of Tim Bradley’s shocking decision win over Manny Pacquiao is that even if you believe Pacquiao was robbed by the judges, it is clear that the explosive power Pacquiao once possessed has abandoned him. The straight left hands and right hooks that were short-circuiting opponents at one time are just not doing the same significant damage.
The argument that is gaining momentum is that Pacquiao has stopped taking performance enhancers. I agree with that theory, although I must note that there is no concrete evidence that Pacquiao ever took anything illegal. At what point Pacquiao may have begun using PED’s is not clear, but my guess is that it was before his career-changing victory over Oscar De La Hoya in December 2008. It is also my belief that he stopped using them sometime after his demolition of Miguel Cotto in November 2009, possibly after busting up Antonio Margarito's face in late 2010.
With age a fighter becomes slower, loses his reflexes, and may not be able to take a punch like he once could. However, punching power normally does not abandon a boxer, even as he ages. A perfect example would be Randall Bailey, who is still arguably the hardest pound-for-pound puncher in the sport at age 37! And of course, George Foreman was knocking people out well into his 40s.
Pacquiao allegedly agreed to Olympic Style drug testing should a fight with Floyd Mayweather take place, but why wouldn’t he? The opinion here is that Pacquiao is now clean and whatever he may have been taking is out of his system. In the early stages of the Mayweather-Pacquiao negotiations, Pacquiao's promoter Bob Arum, his trainer Freddie Roach, and even Manny himself made every excuse in the book for avoiding random blood and urine testing. Remember how Manny was supposedly afraid of needles?
Let’s look at Pacquiao’s career once he moved north of the lightweight division after beating David Diaz in June 2008. Six months after fighting at 135, he weighed 142 for his dominant stoppage of De La Hoya. Pacquiao’s speed was much more of a problem for De La Hoya than his power, but the damage that the much smaller fighter did to De La Hoya’s face cannot be ignored. But then again, it was Pacquiao’s speed that was responsible for most of it and Oscar has always had a very good chin.
Pacquiao’s next fight, against Ricky Hatton in May 2009, raised a high level of suspicion in my mind. Immediately, I felt that there was something about that looping left hand that ended Hatton's career. The devastating result those punches had in knocking Hatton unconscious in the second round just did not seem “natural.” I’ve watched the replay dozens of times and in slow motion. The impact of that left hand was not only scary, but in my opinion, “unnatural.” In the first round, Pacquiao hit Hatton with a right hook that didn’t seem like it landed flush but still had Hatton badly hurt.
Pacquiao continued to fight bigger men, including Cotto in November 2009. Cotto was 16 months removed from a bad beating by Margarito. Though not proven, based on Margarito getting caught with loaded wraps soon afterwards, most boxing insiders believe Margarito’s gloves were loaded with plaster during his win over Cotto. What’s interesting to me is that despite Margarito’s likely advantage, he was still not able to hurt Cotto with one shot. Admittedly, Cotto took a severe beating that night due to an accumulation of punishment, but was never badly hurt from a single punch. Pacquiao on the other hand, was able to do what Margarito couldn’t, put Cotto on “queer street” with one punch.
Pacquiao’s next fight came in March 2010 against Joshua Clottey, who looked like a middleweight on fight night. Clottey was content to go the distance and refused to get hit with anything significant.
In November of 2010, Pacquiao fought the much bigger Margarito, and despite not being able to score a knockdown, Pacquiao did significant damage. He was outweighed by 15-20 pounds in the ring but Pacquiao was still able to break Margarito’s orbital bone in dishing out a comprehensive beatdown.
Next up was Shane Mosley who was also content to go the distance in May 2011. However, in the third round of their fight, Pacquiao hit Mosley with a short left hand that did not look very significant. The punch landed on the side of Mosley’s head and dropped him. Mosley was hurt by the shot bad enough to make him say that he had never been hit as hard and never felt power like Pacquiao’s! Really?
In his next two fights, Pacquiao seemed to have lost the power that Mosley was referring to. A third fight with Juan Manuel Marquez took place in November of 2011. During the six months between fights, Pacquiao would have had enough time to get clean and rid his body 100% of whatever he may have been taking.
If that was indeed the case, it showed. Pacquiao was able to land clean punches against Marquez but the result of those clean shots wasn’t expected. Remember, Marquez started as a featherweight and is much, much smaller than Margarito, Clottey and Cotto. While Marquez was hurt, dropped, and wobbled in their previous two fights, in 2011, Marquez took every Pacquiao left hand and right hook well. He was never noticeably hurt and didn’t even appear to slow down in the later stages of the fight. It was a big difference from earlier fights.
Bradley was chosen as Pacquiao’s next opponent despite having only fought once at welterweight. If the Marquez fight hadn’t made fans suspicious, Pacquiao’s failure to significantly hurt Bradley should have. Sure Pacquiao wobbled Bradley slightly a couple of times but the fight went the distance with no knockdowns and it seems like Pacquiao's explosive power is inexplicably gone. The dangerous left hand that frightened opponents has become nothing more than a good weapon.
Roger Mayweather was once quoted as saying “As long as Floyd can avoid getting hit with Pacquiao’s left hand he’ll win easily.” Neither Marquez nor Bradley were able to avoid his left hand but Pacquiao did very little damage when he landed it. Not only did he hit Bradley with his straight left hand repeatedly but he landed it flush on “Desert Storm’s” chin. Pacquiao’s punches that were once ending fights abruptly and/or doing heavy damage have lately been producing different results.
Pacquiao and those closest to him are the only ones that can shed light on what may be a dark secret. Conspiracy theorists can point to Pacquiao's reluctance to dismiss controversial and bothersome strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza, despite Freddie Roach's request that Pacquiao do so, as a sign that Ariza may know "too much."
Maybe Pacquiao's recent power shortage is just because he isn't sitting down on his punches like he once did. To me, the notion of Pacquiao's possible use of PED's is as interesting as the Pacquiao-Mayweather debate itself. Unfortunately boxing fans seem unlikely to get either question answered.
In conclusion, I want all readers to understand that I have no evidence that Pacquiao ever used steroids, human growth hormone, or any other illegal substance... nor do I need any such evidence to write a column containing my opinions. I also have no connection with the Pacquiao Camp or to Top Rank. It is certainly possible that Manny Pacquiao has never used anything illegal in his entire career-- and I do point out that he has been tested often and passed every time that we know about.
However, it is my opinion that he has taken shortcuts. Unfortunately for the Mayweathers, they didn’t use the same approach I am using now. They accused Pacquiao of cheating as if it were a fact, and now they have a lawsuit to deal with. I still hope that in May 2013 we will see Mayweather-Pacquiao but I believe that three months in solitary confinement will, and probably should end Floyd’s career!
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