The Pac Man - Some Ground Rules!
Emmanual Dapridan Pacquiao AKA Manny Pacquiao AKA Pac Man has been pretty much the biggest thing in boxing for the first decade of the millennium. Pacquiao was born in Bukidnon in the Philippines on 17th December 1978. He had an amateur career of 64 contests and he won all but 4.
As with all of the fighter analysis articles on this site, I'm not going to go into any great detail regarding the Pac Man's extra-curricular activities. He has interests including acting, singing, religion and politics. All of this is very interesting to know, but I am more concerned with what he does in the ring. For this reason, the couple of sentences that you have just read regarding the background of Pacquiao are all you are going to get! Everything else in this article will focus purely on Pacquiao's boxing style, skills and tactics...I hope that this suits your requirements. If it doesn't, I suppose there's always Wikipedia.
We are going to look at videos of 5 Pacquiao fights, spanning 11 years, 9 weight divisions and about 35 lbs; these are some amazing statistics when you actually think about them! I think that the range of fights we are looking at will give us enough variety (in terms of type of opponent) to allow us to draw some reasonable conclusions about Pacquiao's technical development.
In The Beginning...
The first fight that we are going to check out is one of Pacquiao's early encounters at Flyweight against Japan's Shin Terao. This was the 24th of Pacquiao's fights and took place in 1998 in Terao's homeland. A couple of general points about the video. Firstly, you might want to switch off the volume (mainly to preserve your ears and sanity!) Secondly the fight itself starts at 4.35 so you might want to jump right ahead to that point.
As the first round starts, there are a couple of things that strike me about how Pacquiao fights. Firstly, he is a southpaw that generally moves to his left; this is very, very unusual for a southpaw. This is something that I want you to notice now, mainly because we see how this develops through his subsequent fights, but lets move on to the second thing that I notice. The Pac Man's upper body is in perfect alignment with his feet, that is, he is very much side on to his opponent as opposed to square on. I cover this in the article on the boxing stance, but it is a fundamental part of Pacquiao's style, particularly as he develops through later fights. This stance and body shape was likely formed in his amateur days as it's a bit of a 'classic' form for a top amateur.
Another thing to notice is that Pac is very direct. As already mentioned Pacquiao mainly moves to his left, but he is side-stepping here and does seem to be taking more shots than is necessary, particularly right hand shots. This is generally why as a southpaw it is advisable to move to your right so that you are moving away from the orthodox opponent's right cross. He is slightly 'blood and thunder' even though he is clearly technically adept. Pacquiao in this fight is all about pressure. At about 6.09 he lands a big left that hurts Terao. At 6.16 a full-blooded left hook dumps Terao on the canvas. So, Pac has the opponent hurt...badly. But, what is remarkable is that between 6.33 and 6.36, he takes 3 right hands to the head in quick succession, again demonstrating his rawness at this early stage of his career. From about 7.00 onwards, Pac is just wild, choosing to run through his opponent's punches to land the fight-ending right uppercut at 7.34. Straightforward and direct pressure is a big part of Pac's early career, but the basis of his brilliant fighting style is very much there, of this there can be no doubt.
Into the Arms of Roach
Let's move forward 3 years now, with Pacquiao taking on Lehlohonolo Ledwaba for the IBF Super Bantamweight title and interestingly Freddie Roach is now guiding the Philippino dynamo. The fight starts at 2.15 and the main points around this performance that I notice are:
- Manny shows many more feints than in the previous bout with Terao. His hands are high and he uses long range shots right from the outset.
- I mentioned earlier that Pac drifts to his left and that this is pretty unconventional for a southpaw. Notice though as he moves left, he very subtly moves at a slight diagonal retreat. This, for me is a little piece of tactical genius. We can see this at about 3.38. It's hardly noticeable, but it is very effective because the orthodox opponent considers Pac to be in range of his right hand (the standard orthodox shot against a southpaw), but it's an optical illusion as Pac stays just beyond range thanks to the diagonal movement.
- From about 4.56 onwards, Pacquiao unleashes a series of double attacks. A double attack in this case consists of simple two shot combinations thrown in machine gun-like bursts and separated by swift steps out and back in (although Pac uses a wider variety of double attacks in later fights.) This continues for the next 20 seconds until the end of the round. That's a tough opener for Ledwaba!
- At the start of the 2nd round 6.25, notice how Pacquiao sets everything off the southpaw jab. Even though he spends most of his time moving to his left, the majority of his attacks are launched down his own right channel. This again is wonderful tactical awareness that must really undermine an orthodox opponent. The orthodox is thinking "I can land my right", yet all the time he's taking incoming along his left. Highly unsettling and the ultimate in diversionary tactics.
- At 7.00, Pacquiao takes his first jab...after a full 4 minutes of boxing! This is a defensive awakening and is in part due to his mastery of long range boxing and increased use of feinting and upper body movement.
- Whilst we're unable to really see the knock down (a couple of seconds after he takes the jab), the follow up assault is outstanding. Pacquiao loves to operate at long range and we see how important his feet are. He uses small, calculated movements to keep his opponent in the 'strike zone.' Check out the pivot at about 7.26, maintaining the stance and enabling a concentrated attack on Ledwaba.
- To his great credit, the South African comes back strong during the 3rd round, landing 3 solid jabs on Pacquiao, but it isn't long before normal service is resumed. At about 9.00, Pacquiao lands the slickest of combos, a lead right uppercut followed by a solid straight left.
- The fight ends in a 6th round TKO for the Pac Man, a solid performance and a launch pad for bigger and better things...speaking of which, enter Marco Antonio Barrera!
It's one thing overcoming the likes of Terao and Ledwaba, it's a whole other ball game stepping in the ring with a fighter of the capability and pedigree of Marco Antonio Barrera, one of Mexico's all-time greats. Does Pacquiao let us down, like hell he does! This fight takes place in 2003 and it's another step up in weight as well as class for Pac, moving into the featherweight category.
It's an interesting start to this fight. Pacquiao does his usual drift to his left, holding his right hand really high in defence against the Barrera jab. The Mexican uses a very effective double arm block from the centre of the ring and puts Pac on his back foot. This is going to be a tough assignment! Some stuff I spotted here:
- At 1.49, we can see Pac's initial attempts to get around the tight defence of Barrera (who happens to be quite conservative and cagey in terms of attacking Manny.) Pacquiao, whilst at long range, rolls, slips and feints in order to draw the lead from the Mexican so he can then make his greater hand speed count during counter-attacks. This speed comes in the form of mid and long range hooks to the body of the tough Mexican; see 1.55, 2.03. 2.28...and so it goes on.
- Jumping forward a bit now, we see a patient Pacquiao in this fight (probably because he is aware of how dangerous Barrera is) Throughout the 2nd round, Manny constantly feints and we can see that he is developing into a consummate counter puncher. He probes and teases on the edge of range (you guessed it, moving to his left and attacking down his right!); check out 5.39 up until about 5.52. Pac is developing the patience of a hunter.
- At about 6.00, Barrera shows his class, landing solid shots on the Philippine Marvel. Pac's response is instant and chilling. He fires long range shots in ferocious bursts whilst maintaining superb balance. His footwork is perfect, he commits fully to the attack without over-committing and he simply never overbalances. His double attacks were formed in his amateur days, and he has honed these perfectly for the pro game.
- Pac overcomes Barrera in the 11th by way of a TKO (Barrera was saved by his corner.) Manny Pacquiao has most definitely arrived on the world boxing scene, and in some style.
The Ultimate Tactical Challenge
The first round in this fight is one of the most one-sided you'll see that doesn't end in a stoppage. The fight took place in 2004 and involved the talented and tough Mexican (are there any other type?) Juan Manual Marquez. Pacquiao dumps Juan Manual Marquez on the seat of his pants 3 times in the opening round, all with crashing simple two punch combinations and you guessed it, from long range.
I have included the round here more for entertainment than anything else. What was more interesting for me though was the tactical master class that unfolded between these guys following the shellacking of the first round, and that is covered in the next video below this one.
OK, onto the main body of the Marquez fight analysis.
We see early in round 2 a very familiar approach from Pacquiao, although the movement that he makes to his left is more of a side-step than a diagonal retreat; he seems to want to apply a constant level of pressure to Marquez. Again, Manny very rarely leads with his own left hand, and as usual he moves left and attacks down his right using a mixture of supreme footwork and blinding speed. Here's the video, and below is the narrative:
- Check out the jab - lay back- back hand at 2.25; simple, economical, fast, accurate...perfectly executed. Credit to Marquez, he fights a smart round here and regains a foot hold in the fight after what was a disastrous opener. He boxes conservatively, employing a sensible 'fighting retreat' i.e. not chasing down Pac (not really that surprising) but still providing a level of threat that at least restricts Pac's forward march.
- In relation to the previous fights, we've talked about the double attacks used by Pacquiao. A double attack is the process by which a fighter can launch shots which are separated by a defensive action (such as a lay back or move out and back in.) The double attack is a superb method of counter punching, and a central reason for Pacquiao's success. Whilst there are any number of style characteristics that can be learnt from Pacquiao, the double attack has to be up there!
- At about 4.14, Marquez uses his lead hand block and and lead hand parry to really good effect, nullifying the Pacquiao jab. Now Pacquiao is very quick to spot Marquez's defensive tactics here, and at 4.25 he feints a jab and turns it into a lead hand (long) right hook. The shot is not intended to hurt the opponent, but the important thing is that it lands. It's not a power shot, it's a pressure shot, designed purely to show Marquez that there is no one single method that he can use that will consistently work. Versatility is an absolute must for any opponent of Pacquiao if they realistically expect to walk away with a victory.
- From 5.00, we begin to see a classic southpaw versus orthodox encounter. Watch Marquez's lead hand block and counter right hand, a classic tactic to use against a southpaw. Tactics become more and more important. Marquez is 'managing' his left hand side with the lead hand defensive work, but also firing hurtful right hand shots at the incoming Pacquiao to take advantage of Pac's 'drift' left (see 6.28.) Marquez may have identified a vulnerability here in that when Pacquiao gets his movement left wrong, a price can be exacted!
- Moving into Round 4, Pac knows that he is involved in fight with a smart boxer. He constantly slips inside and outside, seeking to draw the lead from Marquez (see 7.48), but Marquez being the clever boxer that he is continues to cause Pacquiao problems. The fight uiltimately ends in a draw, but I think that we may have seen here Pac's style count against him (albeit it against a high quality opponent.) Marquez has found a way to counter the Pacquaio tactic of drifting left and attacking (swiftly) with his lead right, an extremely effective (and pretty unique) tactic in Pac's locker. The question is can this response to a single aspect of Pacquiao's style win the fight? In short, no. However it will certainly provide a key element of any 'anti-Pac' strategy!
In With The Big Boys!
In November 2009, Manny Pacquiao stepped up again to take on the always dangerous Puerto Rican Miguel Angel Cotto, a man who by and large KO'd opponents as soon as look at them! It's a WBO Welterweight contest and the fight starts at 2.25 of the video. The observations are below:
- As described in the analysis of the Terao fight earlier in the article, Pacquiao's upper body position is key for me i.e. the right shoulder at 1 o'clock and the left shoulder at 7 o'clock. His upper bodty is aligned pretty much perfectly with his legs. For my money, this body shape is one of the key reasons why Pac is so fast with his double attacks and why he can do so much damage with his long range shots, particularly the straight left.
- Go to 4.02 of the video and pause it. There is a real contrast of stances here. Cotto, whilst holding a tight guard, is hunched forward with his weight over his front leg. When Pacquiao fights, he hardly ever leans forward (if at all) and this ensures that he is pretty much in perfect balance at all times. By employing this 'hunching' stance, Cotto cuts down his own height and makes it more challenging for him to defend effectively against Pac's long range work (i.e. a swift step backwards is pretty much ruled out.)
- Pacquiao uses the double arm block to great effect (as at 4.50.) Cotto is super strong, so Pac is happy to 'tease' at long range, but he knows he can't just back away. He needs to provide a 'clear and present danger' to the bigger, stronger oppponent. At 5.10 we see the consummate Pacquiao fight strategy to deal with strong, dangerous opponents. Cotto launches an attack and in response Pacquiao retreats and instantly springs back to fire in the old faithful one-two. This is the classic double-attack, a favourite of Manny's.
- At the start of the 2nd round (6.49), there are some real eye-catching exchanges of single and double shots at long range. Cotto is very proficient and Pac is using the old faithful double arm block to deal with the incoming power shots from Cotto. At 7.50 we see Pacquiao at his deadly best with a jab - long left uppercut - long right uppercut out of the double arm block. These shots spear through Cotto's tight guard. From that point and for the next 20 seconds, Pacquiao's long range work is simply brilliant, using singles and doubles combined with great footwork.
What this fight proves (aside from the fact that Pacquiao is a highly intelligent boxer) is that as the level of threat and danger increases with the opponent faced, so Pacquiao's tactics and execution increase in their effectiveness.
Manny Pacquiao, quite rightly, is considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world today. Taking this a step further, many consider him worthy of a high ranking in a list of the best fighters of all time. The way in which he has developed as a fighter, and at the same time laid waste to many top boxers as he has steam-rolled his way up through the divisions of boxing, is an amazing acheivement that deserves high praise indeed.
Pacquiao is fast, smart, hard punching, tactically minded, super fit, tenacious and aggressive all in equal measure. He is indeed an all round fighter who has adapted to and overcome anything that's been put in front of him in recent years. For those who are seeking to learn from a boxing master like Pacquiao, be sure to identify the simple things that he does brilliantly:
- His boxing stance and body form are perfectly balanced, enabling him to take advantage of his natural speed.
- Excellent at long range, mastering the 'simple' skills of long range boxing.
- Goes against convention, albeit exercising caution when doing so.
- He has continued to develop as a fighter, both defensively and offensively.
- He is able to box in a range of styles, being as versatile as he needs to be in response to a particular opponent.
To beat Manny Pacquiao, it's going to take a really intelligent fighter who is able to concentrate 100% for the entire fight and be able to set and maintain a high pace. Any takers?
Oh yes indeed, the Pac Man Cometh!