Filipino great Manny Pacquiao scored a decisive, unanimous decision victory against American Brandon Rios on Sunday to end a two-fight losing streak and win 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.
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.
More than his victory, the fighter, also a congressman from Sarangani Province in the Philippines, wanted to shift focus on the hardships faced by his countrymen following Typhoon Haiyan, which slammed into the nation on November 8 and killed at least 4,000 people.
"This isn't about my comeback," he insisted. "My victory is a symbol of my people's comeback from a natural disaster, a national tragedy. It's really important to bring honour to my country with this win."
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.
"All I can say is, many Manny punches," smiled Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach. "He fought the perfect fight. He let him off the hook. I wanted him to knock him out. But I was very happy with his performance."
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.
"I got beaten by one of the best fighters in the world," he said. "He came with a game plan and he executed it. He's very fast and he throws punches from a lot of different angles. He's hard to fight against."
Pacquiao returned the compliments.
"My opponent was very tough," he said. "He is a strong fighter, and a tough fighter. Rios was not an easy opponent. He was one of the toughest opponents I've ever faced."
Following Pacquiao's December knockout against Marquez, there were questions over whether he could still compete at an elite level. Roach had hinted that defeat against Rios would be a reason for his fighter to retire. Victory, however, prompted a different response.
"This is still my time," said Pacquiao. "My time is not over."
Rios' trainer Robert Garcia agreed.
"Pacquiao still has it," he said. "He has quickness and great speed. He'll be around for a long time."
Image: Manny Pacquiao
Photograph: Nicky Loh/Getty Images