Manny Pacquiao arrived at Los Angeles International Airport late Monday, and in one regard, nothing had changed. A small army of photographers and reporters greeted him and fans squealed with delight when they caught sight of him.
But it was a much different Pacquiao who arrived for a Tuesday news conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel to formally announce an April 12 rematch at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on HBO Pay-Per-View with Timothy Bradley.
Pacquiao hasn't scored a finish in more than four years, since he stopped Miguel Cotto on Nov. 14, 2009. He hasn't come close since he routed Antonio Margarito on Nov. 13, 2010.
He's a vastly different fighter, and it's telling in his pay-per-view performance. His bout against Brandon Rios on Nov. 23 in Macau, China, sold approximately 475,000 pay-per-view units, less than half of what he sold in his heyday.
Unquestionably, sales were hurt by the fight's location in Asia. For some reason, pay-per-view shows being sold to a U.S. audience are hurt by 25 percent, or a bit more, when the fight is held outside the country.
That's been true for years, yet it doesn't fully explain Pacquiao's demise as a pay-per-view superstar.
Adding the extra 25 percent would have brought the show to 594,000, still a very high number by most standards but a stunningly low figure for a Pacquiao fight.
It's attributable almost completely to Pacquiao's change in performance. He's no longer the dynamic, aggressive fighter who stormed up from flyweight to capture a super welterweight title.
He's become cautious and tentative, unwilling against Rios to step on the accelerator to try to finish a man he'd had on the ropes.
Pacquiao was far quicker than Rios and that advantage allowed Pacquiao to blast off shots and then step out of harm's way of Rios' thudding shots.
When Floyd Mayweather Jr. puts on a boxing clinic like that, he's universally praised for it, but it's comparing different things. Mayweather is one of the greatest technical boxers ever; Pacquiao's popularity was built upon his aggressiveness and power.
The bout with Bradley is a rematch of a 2012 bout that most, myself included, believe Pacquiao won handily.
Bradley injured both of his feet in that bout, however, and couldn't move like he wanted and Pacquiao still couldn't stop him, or even come close.
Pacquiao has long held the opinion that Bradley ran, which is part of the rationale why they didn't fight again later in 2012, and he made the same point on Monday.
"I had a feeling in training camp that he would run from me once he felt my power, and he did … after the third or fourth round," Pacquiao said.
Bradley didn't run, and honestly could not do so with his two injured feet.
For anyone who would suggest that Bradley was afraid the first time or will be somehow fearful the second time, pop in the DVD of Bradley's fight last year with Ruslan Provodnikov.
That was the 2013 Fight of the Year and featured Bradley standing toe-to-toe slugging it out with one of the sport's hardest punchers.
Pacquiao's words are hollow because he's the guy who, time and again, has failed to take advantage of openings. His trainer, Freddie Roach, said he's too compassionate and doesn't want to hurt his opponents.
Perhaps that's true, and Roach is among the closest friends Pacquiao has, but his compassion didn't stop him in his previous matches.
Bradley has seen it firsthand and witnessed when he watched the Rios pay-per-view.
"Manny didn't look the same against Rios," Bradley said. "He didn't have his usual killer instinct. That's the first thing I noticed. I don't think he has the hunger anymore and it's never coming back. He no longer has his killer instinct.
"That's the first thing I noticed in the Rios fight. Every time he backed Rios into a corner, Manny stepped back instead of going for it. He didn't even try to put Rios away. That spoke volumes to me."
Pacquiao's fans are noticing, as well. Top Rank has guaranteed Pacquiao $20 million plus upside for this pay-per-view and it's reasonable to expect more for that kind of money than for a guy to try to play it safe and win on points.
That, though, is the fighter that Manny Pacquiao has become.
The reason the world became so enamored with a fight against Mayweather in the first place was because it would pit Mayweather sublime boxing ability and defensive genius against Pacquiao's blazingly fast hands and his vicious assault.
Pacquiao needs to become that fighter again, or his days as a pay-per-view megastar are soon to be over.
- Sports & Recreation
- Manny Pacquiao
- Brandon Rios