MACAU – The specter of Floyd Mayweather Jr. once again loomed large following a Manny Pacquiao fight, and it's been a while since that could be said.
Pacquiao used his blinding hand and foot speed to batter Brandon Rios into submission on Saturday at CotaiArena in his first fight in nearly a year after being knocked cold.
Following a lost year in 2012, which included losses to Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez and dropping his position as the best fighter in the world not named Mayweather to Andre Ward, Pacquiao seemed to regain his mojo fighting before an energized crowd of supporters.
The sellout crowd of 13,101 lustily roared at every Pacquiao combination that landed. Pacquiao went hard, early and often, to the body and easily won the unanimous decision.
Judge Michael Pernick saw it 120-108, a shutout, the same as Yahoo Sports. Lisa Giampa scored it 119-109, giving Rios the eighth. Manfred Kuechler scored the fight 118-110, judging the third and eighth rounds for Rios.
It was a masterful performance that was made harder because his attention was diverted from the fight when Typhoon Haiyan struck his native Philippines. Pacquiao, a congressman who represents the province of Sarangani, desperately wanted to leave to personally assist victims.
It was so close to the fight, however, that he could not leave camp. That weighed heavy on him.
"It was very difficult for me," Pacquiao said. "Such bad things happened to the people in that … area."
Pacquiao rose up and summoned his 2008-2010 peak, when he ran roughshod through fighters such as Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Shane Mosley and Antonio Margarito.
He was ripping shots to the body, blasting Rios repeatedly to the midsection.
"Going to the body a lot was a part of the game plan because we knew he likes to use that passive defense [with his hands high in front of his face] from that amateur career he has," Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said. "He likes to block the punches up [near the face] and that leaves the body wide open.
"I think the body [punches are] what killed him. Our plan was to break him down to the body and then go from there."
Rios said he was not hurt, but conceded he couldn't compete with Pacquiao's speed.
"He was faster than I thought," Rios said glumly.
It wasn't a perfect performance by any means, but it was enough to rekindle interest in a fight with Mayweather. After Pacquiao's dominating win over Miguel Cotto in late 2009, talks started to make a Mayweather-Pacquiao fight for 2010.
But the talk lost steam after Pacquiao lost a disputed decision to Bradley and then was knocked stone cold by Marquez in December.
Pacquiao, though, erased many of those bad memories with a brilliant performance in Macau.
He was late to the news conference because he had to give two urine samples – one to VADA, which did testing throughout, and one to the WBO, which supervised the fight – in addition to a blood sample for VADA.
The first time the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight was discussed, it fell apart over a dispute over drug testing. Pacquiao was tested multiple times by VADA during his camp, so that is no longer an issue.
Pacquiao has been asked about Mayweather so frequently in his career, he almost zones out when he hears his name. He was in a funny mood after the bout, very introspective in the brief time he met with the media, and didn't seem to want to talk much about Mayweather.
"My job is to fight, and I'll fight anybody who will fight me," Pacquiao said.
Asked what obstacles there are to making the bout, Pacquiao shrugged.
"You'll have to ask him," he said, referring to Mayweather.
His promoter, Bob Arum, said that he believes the fight can be made and cited the 2002 match between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson that was finalized after years of talks and obstacles.
But it was symbolic of the nearly 35-year-old Pacquiao's effort on Saturday that Mayweather even came up. Roach had said before the bout that he'd advise Pacquiao to retire if he lost to Rios.
Rios landed little of significance, though Pacquiao said Rios hurt him in the fifth.
"Manny looked pretty good, I think," Roach said in Pacquiao's crowded dressing room, grinning broadly. "That's more of the Manny that we remember."
Pacquiao could have stepped on the accelerator in the final round and perhaps stopped Rios, but he said he knew he was far ahead and didn't want to take a risk.
Roach was angry that Pacquiao didn't finish, and blamed Pacquiao's compassion. Pacquiao said it was more a case of the fact he'd won the fight and wanted to be careful.
"Boxing is not about killing each other," said Pacquiao, who has doled out a fearsome amount of punishment in his career. "It's about entertaining people. The people, from Rounds 1 through 12, were satisfied with my performance. I was trying to be careful because of what happened in my last fight with Marquez."
With Rios on the back burner, Pacquiao plans to return for the time being to his day job as a politician. He plans to visit the affected typhoon areas as soon as possible.
Roach donated the green mitts and chest protector he used for the Pacquiao training camp to an auction that will benefit the typhoon relief efforts. Both Pacquiao and Roach signed them.
He's not too interested in talking much boxing at this point, but for the first time in a long time, one can say Pacquiao and Mayweather in the same sentence and it at least makes sense.