Two versions of Manny Pacquiao showed up in the ring in Las Vegas on Sunday.
As a boxer, PacquIao turned in a scintillating performance, proving that at age 40, he could still beat a solid welterweight 11 years his junior.
As a politician, the Philippine senator was a gracious host, providing massive, in-your-face, pre-election media exposure for friends and relatives running in the May midterm elections.
Unlike his sophisticated ring savvy, the politicking was rather crude: a party-list group’s logo all over the ring, a senatorial wannabe carrying his championship belt and raising a triumphant Pacquiao on his shoulders.
It wasn’t all unexpected, given Pacquiao’s tendency to mix politics with boxing.
But on this cold January evening in Las Vegas, boxing fans will remember the man for what he has accomplished in the ring.
Pacquiao raised a significant question going into his fight with Broner, his 70th as a professional: how much did he still have left in a career that began 23 years ago?
Pacquiao, boxing’s only 8-division titlist, provided the answer in a masterful win over Broner.
One judge had it 117-111, while two both scored it 116-112 for the Filipino.
Broner, 29, was no pushover.
He’s a former champion in 4 different weight classes, showing significant promise early in his career, and often drawing comparisons with Floyd Mayweather Jr., who was at ringside.
While Pacquiao had trouble penetrating Mayweather’s Philly Shell defense in their underwhelming megabout in 2015, he had no issues against The Problem.
Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs) was landing his right hook — the vaunted “Manila Ice” developed during his trilogy with the great Erik Morales — all night against the tentative Broner (33-4-1, 24 KOs).
The Filipino pressed the action and dictated the pace early, thanks to a dazzling footwork that enabled him to control the distance and be in better punching position often.
To be sure, there were reckless moments typical of a Pacquiao fight, “openings” that his opponent clearly failed to capitalize on.
Broner, a natural counter-puncher, was never expected to outwork the volume-punching Pacquiao. His best chance was to catch Pacquiao rushing in and perhaps put him to sleep. But many have tried and only Juan Manuel Marquez succeeded.
While Broner occasionally landed counter left hooks and straight right hands, the defending champ pretty much figured him out early. He ducked low or darted out of range whenever Broner went for the counter.
Pacquiao, a southpaw, consistently beat his orthodox opponent for position, planting his right foot outside Broner’s left, following one of boxing’s most basic principles. This meant that Pacquiao put Broner in a rather awkward position and was usually in a more effective punching range.
It also didn’t help that Broner hardly let his hands go. Of course, good timing can neutralize speed and volume punching. But you had to punch at least.
Broner threw only 295 punches against Pacquiao’s 568 in 36 minutes of action. Pacquiao outlanded Broner, 112-50.
Credit that to Pacquiao’s defense predicated on footwork and upper body movement, and Broner’s tentativeness. Which, of course, had to do with Pacquiao’s unpredictability — and power.
As Mike Tyson once said: Everybody has a plan until he gets punched in the face.
Broner got a steady serving of right hooks and left straight from this Pacman of old, who was was punching from different angles, a difficult proposition even for the most disciplined defender.
The American probably realized this when he was caught by a straight left hand toward the end of the 9th round.
During the post-fight interview, focus turned to a possible next opponent for Pacquiao.
He was asked about the likehood of a rematch with Mayweather, a fight that has virtually zero demand among boxing fans.
If Pacquiao is looking for a challenge and further cementing his boxing legacy, the perfect match would be against WBO welterweight titlist Terence Crawford, or lightweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko (probably at a 138 catchweight).
Pacquiao will most likely lose to either man in what would be the perfect passing-of-the-torch fight.
But Pacquiao has transcended boxing.
Outside the ring is the bigger political arena where the young politician is looking to build his own legacy — and dynasty.