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Pacquiao on the decline?

Brandon Rios has claimed that Manny Pacquiao has declined.

Speaking to ESPN’s First Take, Rios said, “Manny Pacquiao was the best but everybody gets aged at some point. It could be [because of] a lot of work. He’s been in a lot of wars and everything, he’s been in big fights but I don’t know. That’s just my opinion.”

Pacquiao said, “We picked Rios because we’re not thinking about getting a tune-up fight. My career in boxing is not done yet, I want to show that I’m still okay.”

“I want to fight the best out there. Everybody was asking ‘Why Rios?’ I want to fight the best fighter, because if I win the fight, it’s worth it.”

I’ve seen many a discussion between folk stating that Pacquiao is not the fighter he was in 2009 when he demolished the likes of Miguel Cotto. And I believe that to be true, but some of the ludicrous reasons that have been out there, such as Pacquiao no longer taking “the juice” are absurd. Why would Pacquiao stop taking PED’s because of some baseless accusations? He looked decidedly average when he fought Shane Mosley (he blamed muscle cramps for that one) and his performance against Juan Manuel Marquez in their third fight was such that it is very difficult to find anything of note worth highlighting. Let’s also not forget that many people thought he lost that one. He did reclaim some of that ‘spark’ against Tim Bradley but the judges decided to take it from him and award it to the American. Perhaps it was some added poetic justice after what happened to Marquez? Despite Pacquiao knocking down Marquez in their fourth fight and breaking his nose, he was floored himself before being caught with a humdinger of a right hand that probably instantly made him understand how Ricky Hatton felt when he was on the canvas for several minutes after being knocked nearly unconscious by Pacquiao three years earlier.

But what has caused Pacquiao’s decline? Is it because he no longer “takes steroids?” Or is it just possible that, like every other fighter, he has gained a lot of wear and tear on his body at this point? I believe that to be so. Pacquiao normally signs autographs at post fight press conferences but could not do so after he fought Antonio Margarito. He was caught with some humongous body shots in the sixth round that should have tore him in half but he managed to stay in there and use his fighting heart to not only capture a points decision, but fracture Margarito’s orbital bone, effectively ending his career in the process. Margarito had one more fight against Miguel Cotto in a rematch which was stopped in the 9th after his right eye had severe swelling. It really looked as if he had received a glass eye before the fight, such was his appearance, and there was a lot of controversy over whether he should have been allowed in the ring in the first place.

But back to Pacquiao, he has never been the same since his fight with the notorious Mexican. His speed was still apparent, but the “fire” has appeared to have died down as of late, and that is normally one of the signs of a boxer’s decline. He has not quite reached the level that Oscar De La Hoya did when he fought Pacquiao near the end of 2008 when he could barely lift his arms to even throw a single shot, but more fights at the top level will only serve to keep his decline.

And the signs may just become even more noticeable sooner than we think.