The article I posted after the recent Manny Pacquiao victory over Timothy Bradley has been my most popular in the few month history of this website. And when I say popular, I'm talking page views in the half century numbers, people of earth. It's the sort of fame or infamy that I could have only dreamed of when I signed up to Squarespace late last year.
From reading comments on my own article, and on the other boxing sites I frequent, the argument against a Pacquiao decline runs something along the lines of, and I paraphrase:
'Pacquiao's style has changed. He's throwing less because he is smarter / a better boxer / his opponent's styles made it so / you love Mayweather / you are a douchebag stop saying these nasty, nasty things.'
Let me make it clear: I am approaching this neither from the standpoint of a Pacquiao fanboy, nor of a Pacquiao hater. I merely try to look at things with an analytic eye, to see if the stats match up with the perceived decline in Pacquiao's abilities.
For the record, I've been to two boxing cards live in my life, one of which was the Pacquiao - Rios fight in Macau. You can read about it here. I don't live in Macau, or Hong Kong, but I went there as a fan who has hugely enjoyed Pacquiao's rise to the pinnacle of the sport.
So before I'm accused of being some Mayweather surrogate or Golden Boy employee, just know that I'm an average fan who likes to watch fights every weekend where possible, and to occasionally gamble on the outcome.
All stats used to make the graphs below are taken from Compubox numbers available freely online, starting with the break out performance against Oscar De La Hoya and concluding with the Bradley Rematch.
On the X Axis, 1 = De La Hoya, 2= Hatton, 3= Cotto and so on. This is an article for more of the hardcore boxing fans obviously, but if you struggle to remember any of the opponents and want to double check them, this is Pacquiao's BoxRec page.
Why didn't I go back further into Manny's career? Is it all some dastardly plan of mine to make Pacquiao look bad in front of the 50 or so unfortunates who happen to have stumbled upon my site? The simple answer is, there was only so much copying and pasting and googling I could stomach today. The sample size is the last 11 fights, roughly a 5 year period starting in December 2008.
As not all of these fights have gone the distance, firstly I decided to chart Pacquiao's punches thrown per round, allowing us to include some of his more explosive performances, unlike the rather crappy graph in my prior article on Pacquiao's decline.
So, here we go. Firstly, we have the numbers of punches thrown by Manny Pacquiao, per round.
So, on average Pacquiao's output is declining. It's no monstrous, or pronounced, but it is happening. People can pin this on individual performances, and the styles of those opponents, but the pure numbers show that slowly but surely that on average, Manny Pacquiao is throwing less punches.
"Big deal!" say the true believers, "That's all part of the plan." Manny is changing stylistically, he's a more accomplished fighter, he might be throwing less but hey, I bet he's landing more punches. Well...
Let's take a look. Here is the percentage of his punches that land in the sample.
On average, not only is Pacquiao throwing less punches, but he's also landing less with the punches that he does throw. That does not suggest to this writer that he is becoming a more efficient or craftier operator. If he was intentionally sacrificing volume in favor of accuracy, then the numbers just don't back up such an argument.
I'm sure there are still non-believers out there who will say, oh well this only takes into account the work that Manny Pacquiao is doing, so let's take a final look at a stat that takes into account the output of his opponents too.
If we take Pacquiao's punch output per round, and divide it by the opponents punch output per round, we can see the extent to which Manny is outworking his opponent. For want of a better term, let's call it Pacquiao's punching ratio. Basically, how many more times does Pacquiao throw a punch in comparison to his opponent.
Perhaps he has just faced more cagier, more technical fighters with improved movement, like Marquez and Bradley, so naturally he throws less, and lands less. So in the graph below, the number on the Y-axis represents how much more (or sometimes less) Pacquiao is throwing than his opponent. So for example, in the Clottey fight, the Pacman threw over 3 x as many punches as the Ghanaian. (3.12 times as many, to be exact).
Here's the final chart.
Again, a decline. He's throwing less, he's connecting less, and finally, he's throwing less when compared to his opponent's output.