After stopping Lucas Matthysse in the 7th round a triumphant Manny Pacquiao faced the press. The mood among the media, which like the crowd consisted mainly of Filipinos, was euphoric.
It was not just that Manny had won. It was the style of victory, Pacquiao rolled back the years to score a stoppage win for the first time since 2009, when he dropped Miguel Cotto in the early rounds and finished him in the 11th.
Here the 39 year old was facing a current world champion with 36 KOs on his record. Pacquiao was the betting favourite but no-one expected him to put in this type of performance.
When the referee waved off the contest with Matthysse on his knees there was an outpouring of emotion. The Filipino journalist sitting next to me started jumping around screaming ‘Manny’s back!’ while another man looked to the heavens in gratitude as tears poured from his cheeks.
I’ve been ringside for three of Pacquiao’s fights and he’s won every time. But I never witnessed scenes like this at the Cotai Arena in Macau after the one sided decision wins over Brandon Rios or Chris Algieri.
Perhaps it’s because these days every fight could be Pacquiao’s last, and another loss would definitely expedite the retirement process. Some Filipinos just love seeing him in the ring, while for others his boxing career represents a significant source of income.
So there was a huge outpouring of relief when he won. Afterwards the newly crowned WBA 147lbs champion made it absolutely clear that he plans to fight on,
“At 39 years old I’m still ok, I feel fine. When you saw me training for this fight I’m like 27 or 28 years old. If he (Mayweather) is going to come back to boxing then let’s do a second one or find another opponent. There’s a lot of good boxers there we can fight. Amir Khan is a potential opponent, there are a lot of potential opponents like Lomachenko.”
In fairness to Pacquiao he didn’t bring up Mayweather’s name. That doesn’t seem like an obvious matchup and when a journalist asked him about it the initial response was,
“Why are we disturbing him (Mayweather)? He’s not in boxing anymore.”
However Pacquiao did bring up Lomachenko’s name unprompted. These lofty ambitions emphasized that this was not merely a win which would allow him to drag his career on for a couple more pay days but a performance which suggested his best days as a boxer might not be behind him.
Suddenly the Filipinos in this rapidly pro Pacquiao crowd could dare to dream. This was not the sad sight of a boxer fighting on well past his prime but a revelation. If the 39 year old can make a reigning world champion like Matthyse look so completely outclassed what else might he still be capable of?
Of course Pacquiao still has to worry about his day job. Sitting next to him at the press conference was Senate President of the Philippines Tito Sotto who reminded the congressman that he had a pile of paperwork waiting for him in the Philippines.
It seems Sotto was serious, as Pacquiao later mentioned that he had a lot of documents to get through. Also in attendance was President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte and Pacquiao says this served as a source of motivation,
“The president is happy (and) I’m so excited because (his) presence is an honour. I’m so inspired to give my best in the ring because a lot of friends came here, I think half the audience was govt officials.”
This is probably an exaggeration but I would guess that around 90 per cent of the audience was Filipino. It seems Pacquiao can attract an audience anywhere with a big OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) population and he is already talking about future events at the Axiata Arena,
‘‘Axiata Arena I love it, I love the place. I’m hoping this is not the last MP Promotion (event) in Axiata. My plan is to promote boxing in Asia because Asia is behind the United States and Latin America. We are trying to promote professional boxing in Asia so the Asian people can watch live.”
As a politician and promoter Pacquiao plays several roles. He’s also seems to be the sole benefactor for a large entourage who filled the upmarket Le Meriden hotel in Kuala Lumpur, it was standing space only in the lobby all weekend.
However he remains firmly in love with the sport of boxing. Nothing enthuses Pacquiao more than talking about his boxing career and to roll the years back with such a strong performance was a cathartic moment for the congressman,
“Boxing is my passion. If boxing is not my passion I would not fight again. I enjoy serving the people, being a senator but I’m addicted to boxing. I really love to fight and bring honour to my country. That’s my heart’s desire.”
Matthysse looked out of his depth right from the opening round. Some questioned the Argentinian’s performance but it was testament to Pacquiao’s power and precision that a seasoned world champion should look so completely outclassed,
“I think he was hurt from my punches, I think he was scared of my punches and that’s what changed his style and he is surprised that I’m coming inside, not running around,” said Pacquiao.
Pacquiao said he sensed in the opening round that Matthysse was afraid of his power. But he was determined to stick the gameplan set out by his friend and trainer Buboy Fernandez,
“Matthysse is a fighter you cannot underestimate, he throws a lot of wild punches, he has power. Our strategy was to be patient, don’t be careless like we did before. Just focus on hard punches and counter punches. I tried to be a counter puncher, I knew I needed to take my time. He was a very good opponent.”
This was the first time Pacquiao had fought without the assistance of Freddie Roach since 2004. He confirmed afterwards that his childhood friend from General Santos City will continue to serve as his head coach for future fights,
“I’m not saying Fresdie Roach is not a good trainer but Buboy (below) handled this training camp and this fight well. I really appreciate it.”
Pacquiao pointed out afterwards that this was the first time he had ever won a WBA belt, and the 12th world title of his career. At 39 years old and with 68 pro fights to his name these things still seem to motivate him,
“I work hard and dedicate myself to the dream. I’m so passionate to get it, to become a champion again and what we did is work hard and I pushed myself like when I was young.”
There were a lot of doubts surrounding Pacquiao’s fighting future after his controversial split decision loss to Jeff Horn last year. This buildup to this event was also plagued by rumours of missed payments and empty sponsorship slots.
In the end the show ran smoothly and, while there were a few empty seats at the Axiata Arena, the venue looked at least three quarters full when Pacquiao entered the ring.
So it was a good morning for his boxing career and his bespoke promotion. Pacquiao was on good form after the fight and summarized his feelings as follows,
“I’m so happy. The event is successful and we won convincingly.”