By Joe Koizumi
Photo: Chris Cozzone
Boxing is a mysterious game. A hero abruptly falls to the ground of obscurity without a crown after a single defeat. This is not to argue the controversial verdict but to point out Manny Pacquiao’s technical problem and suggest his necessity to regain his previous assets as a marvelous superstar. This observer has kept watching Manny Pacquiao since he was an eighteen-year-old flyweight novice training at the LM gym in Manila, Philippines. When I was a manager of the WBC featherweight champ Luisito Espinosa, Manny the Menace, then the flyweight titlist of the OPBF (Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation), appeared on the undercard of Espinosa’s title defense, demolishing Panomdej Ohyuthanakorn in the first round in Koronadal City in December 1997. I carefully watched Manny’s improvement in every fight to see him grow up to be a sensational knockout artist.
Having viewed Pacquiao training under the supervision of the late handler Pablo Leonardo and American trainer Rick Stucki, I realized that the skinny kid had a special talent in exploding his power at a pinpoint though he looked still raw, wild and rough-and-tumble. He then had a bad habit of having the left guard wide-open in throwing a southpaw jab—with his elbow far away from the side of the body. Pacquiao also had his right guard open in extending his southpaw left hand to the full extent. The hard-punching kid looked like a butterfly with his wings open and close.
As Pacquiao failed to make the 112-pound limit, he forfeited his WBC flyweight belt on the scale and succumbed to Medgoen Singsurat via third-round knockout in Thailand in September 1999. There’s a strong rumor—whether true or not—that the scale had been manipulated though Pacquiao had already made the limit before leaving the hotel to the weigh-in. The once dejected youngster, still twenty, jumped up ten pounds to the 122-pound category, skipping the super-fly and bantam divisions. It must be a right move by considering his physical growth. Pacman, in a comeback bout, promptly seized the WBC international super-bantam belt by disposing of world-rated compatriot Reynante Jamili in two quick rounds in December that year. The 21-year-old Filipino became more awesome at 122 pounds without struggling to make the 112-pound limit any longer, scoring five defenses straight all within the distance.
Pacquiao left for the US mainland to try his fists in 2001, when he had a fortunate encounter with his future long-time mentor Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Gym. It was Roach that corrected Manny’s bad butterfly habit in hitting punches and also had him master tight guard along with his shifty footwork and body movement. Since his IBF 122-pound coronation by dispatching Lehlo Ledwaba in Las Vegas in June 2001, Manny kept improving technically and has become an international superstar.
This is my personal view through watching Manny for fifteen years. I think Pacquiao’s strength consists of (1) dazzling hand-speed, (2) pinpoint precision, (3) quick reflexes, (4) elusive and shifty footwork and (5) incredible stamina (or ability to maintain his remarkable speed on hand and foot until the end of the game). In his last fight with Timothy Bradley, however, Pacquiao, in comparison with his best form shown in his battles with David Diaz (fantastic right-hand lead) and Ricky Hatton (wonderful one-punch demolition), failed to show his assets against the man named Sand Storm. Pacquiao wasn’t as fast as usual, lacked his trademark precision, failed to show his quick reflexes, didn’t (or couldn’t) move well and was disappointingly fading in the last three rounds. He looked heavy and slow. Pacquiao was simply not what he used to be.
I was a commentator here in Japan to telecast it live on Sunday afternoon because of the time difference. My score was 116-112 in favor of Pacman, as I, due to the screen by receiving the signal from Las Vegas, didn’t give Bradley more than four rounds based on the scoring standard of effective aggressiveness. Bradley didn’t look effective, nor hurt Pacquiao as Pacquiao blocked his punches with his arms. But this is not to insist on my view that I saw Pacquiao the winner, since I didn’t watch it on site but only on the screen in the Far East.
I, as a Pacquiao watcher, felt sorry to see our Asian hero so apparently deteriorate technically in his last two bouts with Juan Manuel Marquez and Bradley. What’s happened? I deeply contemplated it after watching Bradley’s hand raised in surprise.
What’s wrong with Manny?
I have had several working hypotheses.
- Pacquiao might have lost his physical flexibility due to his rapid gain of weight and physique.
- Pacquiao might have become slower by moving up to the welterweight division.
- Pacquiao might have become less sharp in adjusting timing with his natural judgment of distance.
- Pacquiao might have to decrease his training quantity at the age of thirty-three. His less impressive performance in his last two bouts might have been partly caused by his overtraining.
- Pacquiao might have been thoroughly studied by trainers of his opponents since great many tapes since his Ledwaba fight in 2001 are easily available with YouTube. He must keep improving or innovating to gain some new weapon now that his magic might have been solved by his opposition.
I think it is ridiculous that both contestants, at the weigh-in, boast of his muscles on the shoulder, chest and abdomen. Boxing isn’t a Mister Universe contest. Remember the muscles of Sugar Ray Robinson, Ike Williams, Muhammad Ali, Jose Napoles, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello, etc. and you realize the historically great didn’t take an exercise of weight training so intensely as current boxers. The more grotesque muscles you have, the less sharp you are. Excessive weight training usually does boxers harm since it obviously hardens the fundamental muscles (musculi trunci) for boxers to refine.
Boxing is a very special game. It is not a pastime to enjoy leisure with your friends—playing football, playing baseball, playing golf, playing tennis, or playing with any other ball. Boxing is a game that requires special sense, which may be called timing, sharpness, reflexes, quickness, elusiveness, or mysterious domination of time and space. Most important in boxing training is to sharpen the Natural Timing.
Pacquiao previously had plenty of incredible “Natural Timing” thanks to his very unique career spanning from the flyweight division to the welterweight category. Why is Pacquiao so remarkable and marvelous? It is because he moved up in weight by carrying his flyweight speed and developing his welterweight power—greatly due to Freddie Roach’s patient cultivation for years. Pacquiao, however, had better review his latest performance against Marquez and Bradley. Something might have been lost in Pacquiao—which must be his potential “flexibility” that this reporter found in him fifteen years ago. It is his flexibility like a bamboo. It is the flexibility with stability, restoring force, or power of restitution. It is the physical fitness with the muscles quickly turning elastic from solid, or vice versa.
What feared Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley etc.? It was Pacquiao’s invisible hand-speed. If a boxer can see his opponent’s hand coming, he can react to avert his punches. Should his punch be too fast, he cannot afford to avert it and protect himself from the invisible attack. So, they were apparently afraid of Pacquiao’s quick hand. Also, Pacman could instantly move to his optimum position just prior to throwing his invisible punches, which made his attack very effective.
In his Bradley fight, Pacquiao sometimes scored good lefts to the face—amazingly with less effect—because of his less proper judgment of distance. He seldom displayed his trademark puma-like footwork, but a bigger muscle-bound lion (Pacquiao) attempted to eat a smaller elusive victim (Bradley), wasting too much energy in earlier rounds. Second-guessing as it may be, Manny should have saved his stamina badly wasted in the fourth session for the sake of the last three rounds. Now that we see his stamina isn’t inexhaustible, Pacman should pace himself next time.
This observer, one of Pacquiao followers, just murmured after our Asian hero’s upset defeat. I whole-heartedly hope he will impressively display his real power against Bradley in a rematch and then realize a greatly anticipated encounter with the fatal rival Floyd Mayweather. For that, Manny had better return to the fundamentals and regain his flash and flexibility.