LAS VEGAS – Manny Pacquiao took baby steps toward getting back to the form he displayed in 2008-09, when he might have been the most devastating fighter in boxing since Mike Tyson's prime.
The halcyon days of those two years may be gone forever for Pacquiao, but he will beat plenty of the world's best fighters if he continues to box as he did Saturday before 15,601 crazed fans at the MGM Grand Garden.
He thoroughly out-boxed Timothy Bradley, winning a unanimous decision to regain the WBO welterweight title he'd lost when judges took a fight from him in 2012 that most felt he'd won handily.
Pacquiao expertly used angles and made a mid-fight adjustment to counter an unexpected Bradley strategy. Bradley attacked Pacquiao, winging big punches, turning the fight into a slugfest.
In the fourth round, he cracked Pacquiao with a big overhand right and Pacquiao's knees buckled, but Pacquiao quickly recovered.
"I thought he did pretty well, but we didn't expect that style," Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said. "It threw us a bit, because we thought he'd box. We didn't think he'd be going for the home run all night."
Despite Roach's urging, Pacquiao failed to take a step back and then crack Bradley with the straight left hand that could have taken out Bradley.
Bradley said Pacquiao hit him very hard, but the results aren't what they once were for the sure-fire Hall of Famer.
"He did have that sharp snap in his punches," Bradley said, though he added Pacquiao hit him harder in their 2012 match.
But the results don't lie. Since the start of 2010, Pacquiao is 6-2 with zero knockouts.
Though Roach correctly said he thought, "Manny's killer instinct was still there," the impact of his punches isn't the same as it was.
Fighters aren't reacting the same way they once did to his shots.
"He's still a top fighter pound-for-pound, and it's pretty clear the legs are still there, but obviously, you have to wonder where the punching power has gone," Top Rank vice president Carl Moretti said.
What made Pacquiao one of the world's most popular fighters was that hard-to-believe pop he had when he was able to decimate much bigger men.
He was a highly accurate, highly aggressive puncher who could end a punch with one well-placed shot.
He's no longer that fighter, though he's still obviously among the elite.
"Pacquiao was the better man tonight and he showed what he's made of," said Bradley, who strained his right calf in the first round but later refused to speak about it. "The dude still has it. One of the reasons I love Pacquiao so much is he never ducks an opponent.
"He's always willing to face the best and he faced one of the best tonight. He came out on top and that's why he's so good."
The fight was even on two cards, with Pacquiao up 58-56 on the other, after six rounds. But Pacquiao roared down the stretch to claim the win.
He took the final seven rounds on Glenn Trowbridge's card. He took six of the last seven on the other two.
But there was no highlight reel moment from Pacquiao like there was in the past. He did his job and he did it well, but he did nothing to stir a neutral observer.
The Pacquiao diehards among the crowd of 15,601 roared whenever Pacquiao came close to landing a punch. But there was never that magnificence that came to define him en route to capture Fighter of the Decade honors.
He was wary of getting into trouble, particularly with Bradley fighting in a manner he didn't expect, and he did what he had to do to win but didn't do more.
"I didn't want to get careless," said Pacquiao, who made an error going for a knockout in a 2012 bout with Juan Manuel Marquez and got put to sleep with a perfectly placed counter right hand. "I picked up more steam in the second half. I made the adjustments Freddie gave me in the corner."
If you are one who likes to keep a pound-for-pound list, Pacquiao clearly belongs on it, though he's a distance behind his archrival, Floyd Mayweather.
The curtain has dropped, though, on Pacquiao as a mini-Tyson. He'll be within a month of his 36th birthday by the next time he fights and it will have been a full five years since he scored a knockout.
He'll do well and he'll sell a lot of tickets and a lot of pay-per-views. He'll continue to gain the undying love of his large fan base.
But Manny Pacquiao the destroyer is no more. That version of the fighter has been committed to the history books.