(AP) — Manny Pacquiao reversed the decline in his boxing career and provided some desperately needed inspiration to the disaster-stricken Philippines with an authoritative victory over Brandon Rios on Sunday.
Pacquiao entered the fight coming off successive defeats, having spent a year out of the ring and with his own trainer publicly declaring he should retire unless he convincingly beat Rios.
In addition, Pacquiao carried the burden of being the favorite son of the Philippines and the man the nation looked to as a source of joy and hope in the wake of deadly Typhoon Haiyan.
Thousands of fans watched the fight on screens set up in the plaza of Tacloban, the Philippine city hit worst by the Nov. 9 disaster that killed more than 5,000 people and left huge numbers of the population homeless.
If Pacquiao felt pressure, he didn’t show it in the ring at The Venetian casino in Macau, putting on a vintage display of his trademark combinations to wear down a gallant Rios and take a unanimous decision, claiming the WBO international welterweight title.
The judges scored it 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110. The Associated Press scored it 119-109.
“This is not about my comeback,” Pacquiao said in the ring. “My victory is a symbol of my people’s comeback from a natural disaster and a national tragedy.
“My journey will continue. I said we will rise again, and that’s what happened.”
Pacquiao’s points loss to Timothy Bradley last year was widely regarded as a judging error, but when that was followed by a severe knockout at the hands of veteran Juan Manuel Marquez, many doubted the Filipino lawmaker could get back to the kind of form that had made him the world’s pound-for-pound champion.
Once again he failed to stop his opponent — he has not done so since 2009 — but everything else about Pacquiao’s performance suggested he could revive his career, even with his 35th birthday looming next month.
Problems still exist in setting up a much-discussed bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr., but Pacquiao remains eager for it to happen.