Macau, China (Reuters) - Manny Pacquiao dedicated his victory over American Brandon Rios on Sunday (November 24) to the Philippines and the people who have been affected by Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan).
The Filipino registered a decisive, unanimous decision win to clinch the vacant WBO International welterweight title. Pacquiao was dominant throughout, showing vastly greater hand speed than his opponent and landing blistering combinations that left Rios' right eye swollen and his left eye bleeding.
More than his victory, the fighter, also a congressman from Sarangani in the Philippines, wanted to shift focus on the hardships faced by his countrymen following Typhoon Yolanda, which slammed into the nation on November 8 and killed at least 4,000 people.
"To all my kababayan, this fight is for you," Pacquiao said in the post-fight news conference. "Especially for those people and families who are affected by the typhoon. And I'm very happy that God answered my prayer. Thank you so much and have a good day."
Pacquiao was unable to score any knockdowns but he frustrated his foe, who on several occasions swung at nothing but air as the Filipino moved out of the way and returned fire before Rios could cover up.
For Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KOs), the win was a welcome return to form after a controversial points loss to Timothy Bradley in June 2012 and a sixth-round knockout at the hands of Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez in December had prompted retirement talks.
The eight-weight world champion said he eased off in the final round as he did not want to punish Rios and had learned from his last fight against Marquez.
"In that corner, I know it's the last round and I didn't want to get careless so I backed up a little bit and give him chance to finish that. You know, I'm not doing that because, I'm not doing that because I'm tired or anything. I'm doing that because, you know, boxing is not about killing each other, boxing is about entertaining people and I think one to 12 rounds people are satisfied by my performance," Pacquiao said. "So why I'm trying to be careless like what happened on the last fight with Marquez. So, you know, that's my thinking also."
The tone of the fight was set early and remained the same for all twelve rounds. Rios (31-2-1, 22 KOs) put his gloves high in front of his face in an attempt to block Pacquiao's blows, but the eight-time world champion threw so many punches that quite a few broke through to leave their marks on the American's face.
Showing deft footwork, Pacquiao would jab, turn swiftly to one side, land another punch and turn again.
On several occasions, one straight left would be followed by another, and then, having pierced Rios' defence, Pacquiao would open up with a barrage of four or five punches, to the delight of the more than 13,000 in attendance at the Cotai Arena in the Venetian Macao.
Pacquiao's coach, Freddy Roach thought the Filipino could have finished off Rios and felt his compassion got in the way of delivering a knockout.
"Yeah Manny did take it easy in the last round. I feel he didn't step on the gas pedal," Roach said. "I think he could have finished Rios but the thing is, he told me there's no sense in beating him up anymore. He beat him in every round and he said there was no sense in trying to hurt the guy. So his compassion did get in the way a little bit but overall I think he boxed very well."
Roach added that had it not been for Rios' strong chin the American would have been knocked out earlier in the fight.
"Well Brandon Rios has a great chin like that and took a lot of shots," he said. "I don't think a lot of people would stand up under those, the amount of punches he took. He's just a tough, tough kid. And I'd like to see quicker knockouts, obviously but the thing is, the opponent was there and he's very tough and he took a beating like a man."
Pacquiao's victory has revived talks about him meeting American Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the ring in what is thought would be the highest grossing fight in history.
Roach agreed it is the fight everyone wants to see but suggested the world's best pound-for-pound fighter is not as quick as he once was.
"Mayweather in his last two fights was a little slow, he doesn't move as much with his legs," Roach said. "I think his legs are a little worn out, he doesn't move like he used to. I think Manny's speed would overwhelm him. I mean obviously that's a fight the whole world wants to see. If Bob (Arum) can make it, I'm sure he will."
Fight week had been marked by tension between the two fight camps, which culminated in Roach and members of the Rios team engaging in a scuffle on Wednesday morning but Rios was gracious in defeat.
"It was a great fight," Rios said. "I tried my hardest and I put my heart and soul into this fight. I bust my butt off in the gym. It's just, you know, Manny Pacquiao, he's quick. He's more quicker than I expected. I did train for quickness but the best Pacquiao showed up tonight and it was great.
"No disrespect to Manny Pacquiao and everything. His camp they done it very well, everything. I prepared myself very well. You know it just sucks because I really wanted to win. I really wanted to win so bad."
There were several hundred Filipino fans at the fight and they were naturally delighted with Pacquiao's victory.
"We're so very happy because Manny won the fight," said boxing fan Ray Garcia. "And the whole Philippines are very happy. Because we are number one. We are number one, the Philippines."
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Pia Hontiveros, Chief Correspondent and anchor of Solar Network News and News.Ph, presents the Solar News and Current Affairs year-ender special: On the Cusp of Change. A deafening silence, not out of a loss for words but a grief that cannot be spoken, for thousands lost to a super typhoon ... A muted pain from a powerful tremor that violently shook the heart of the nation ... An unspeakable anger over pork barrel that fueled a political maelstrom ... These and other stories from the extraordinary challenging year that was.