MACAU Manny Pacquiao defeated Brandon Rios by unanimous decision on Sunday in a victory the Philippine lawmaker dedicated to the victims and survivors of Typhoon Haiyan.
Back in the ring for the first time in almost a year, Pacquiao wore Rios down with his trademark combinations and won 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110 on the scorecards at The Venetian casino in Macau to grab the WBO international welterweight title.
It was an emotional victory for Pacquiao as his country struggles to recover from the devastating typhoon that killed thousands.
"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 natural tragedy."
Pacquiao got the better of the opening two rounds, sending Rios to the canvas in the opening frame, although the referee ruled it a slip rather than a knockdown.
The American asserted himself in the third, landing some crisp blows that raised hopes of a genuine contest. But Pacquiao — spurred on by a capacity crowd at the 13,000-seat Cotai Arena, including many Filipino fans — dominated the remainder of the contest.
Rios was game, continually walking forward to challenge Pacquiao, but was unable to land any significant blows.
After seven rounds, Rios was getting attention to cuts under both eyebrows, and with the scores going against him, needed something special.
Pacquiao was on guard throughout the closing rounds, mindful of getting knocked out in his previous fight when he walked into a savage right by Juan Manuel Marquez. He didn't have to worry. A tiring Rios offered little threat.
"Recovering from the knockout and giving a good show was what I wanted to prove to myself and everyone," Pacquiao said.
Rios had prepared for the bout with the quickest sparring partners his camp could find, but even that could not prepare him for the fusillade of Pacquiao punches from all angles.
"What got me was just the speed and his awkwardness," Rios said.
"He never hurt me at all, and I never got stunned at all, but the quickness just caught me off guard."
Pacquiao's failure to knock out Rios meant he still has not stopped an opponent since his 2009 fight against Miguel Cotto, and while trainer Freddie Roach was frustrated by that, he was encouraged by his fighter's performance.
"Manny looked great tonight," Roach said. "There was no signs of him slowing down whatsoever.
"Manny let him off the hook, I wanted the knockout and it was there, but I was very happy with the way he performed."
Promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank said the tentative date for Pacquiao's next bout is April 12, likely in the United States.
A rematch with Timothy Bradley, who beat Pacquiao in a contentious points decision before the Filipino lost to Marquez, looms as a likely opponent due to Marquez's high price on a rematch, and Arum held out some hope that a fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. could yet happen.
"I know it's a fight that should happen and where there is a will there is a way," Arum said, expressing his frustration that the conflicting network affiliations of the two fighters was a continuing impediment. "If all sides cut out the crap, it can be done."
Rios, who has lost his past two bouts after having previously being undefeated, had come up two weight classes in three fights, but said he would now stay at welterweight and perhaps even move up to super welterweight.