MACAU >> Say this for Brandon Rios: He hardly ever backed away.
Manny Pacquiao kept coming at him. He kept striking Rios with left hands to the chin, the nose, the right and left side of his body and both eyes. By the later rounds, Rios’ face was swollen, bruised and bloodied, and Pacquiao, as the sport of boxing knew him before his knockout loss last December, had returned to devastating form.
Plenty will be said as to how Pacquiao’s chosen opposition figured into this resurgence. But those who, like Rios, insisted this bout would be defined by calls for Pacquiao’s retirement, were sorely mistaken — Rios most sorely of all.
To say Pacquiao (55-5-2) won this WBO international welterweight bout by unanimous decision is to undersell just how one-sided the contest was. He seemed to win every round, and if those rounds were split in half, or into quarters, it still could have been a shutout.
The three judges gifted Rios (31-2-1) three rounds total on their cards. Pacquiao’s entourage lifted him off his feet in the center of the ring. Someone draped a championship belt over his shoulder and he threw both arms skyward. It felt like 2009 or 2010.
“I just got beat by one of the best fighters in the world,” Rios said.
He then added, with more than a dash of understatement: “He’s very fast. He has a lot of different angles. He’s difficult to box against.”
The bout had seemed like a line of demarcation for Pacquiao. Either he would overwhelm a slower Rios with the speed that marked his career ascension, or he would look like a boxer impacted by his last fight, a knockout at the right hand of Juan Manuel Marquez.
The crowd booed Rios as he entered, and it remained behind Pacquiao throughout.
If there was any question as to how he would respond, Pacquiao answered the doubts early — with a flurry of exchanges. He came out aggressive, and he landed left hands to the stomach and the face.
Rios did most of his early work in close. He tried to turn the bout into a brawl. He wrapped Pacquiao and punched at both sides of his body.
In the fourth round, Pacquiao looked like 2009 Pacquiao: vintage, relentless, strong. He slung left hands and slipped away from Rios, landed and dipped away. It seemed at once savage and balletic. In the fifth, one straight left landed square on Rios’ chin. It appeared to wobble him, but again he shook his head.
“I was winning the whole fight,” Pacquiao said. “That’s what mattered. This is still my time.”
As Pacquiao’s comeback here ended, the capacity crowd rose to its feet and screamed and whistled. Rios looked stunned. There would be no retirement party in 2013.
“Pacquiao still has it,” Robert Garcia, Rios’ trainer, said.