Impressive win casts aside doubts about Manny Pacquiao's boxing future

In the last major fight Bob Arum promoted in the Far East, he walked out of a Philippines arena to a burning sun, mourning the destruction Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier delivered to each other in their third bout, the "Thrilla in Manila" in 1975.

Sunday, Arum looked outside to cloud coverage in Macao, China, and beamed with delight.

Arum's fighter, Manny Pacquiao, is back.

In Pacquiao's decisive victory over Brandon Rios on Saturday night Pacific time, the Filipino star buried thoughts of retirement, which his trainer, Freddie Roach, said he would have suggested had Pacquiao lost.

And Arum quickly chose April 12 for Pacquiao's next fight, probably in Las Vegas.

Pacquiao's relevance was revived after he out-punched the younger and bigger Rios, 281-138, and showed no damage from his knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez 11 months ago.

"Many Manny punches," Roach said. "Manny fought the perfect fight. Body shots killed Rios. Manny let him off the hook. I wanted the knockout. But overall, I was very pleased with his performance."

With Roach saying, "If it were up to me, I'd prefer a rematch with [unbeaten Timothy] Bradley or Marquez," Arum said, "We'll decide on an opponent in the next couple of weeks. I was thrilled that we saw the old Manny Pacquiao. Fast, lots of punching, quick hands."

The judges had Pacquiao winning 119-109, 120-108 and 118-110.

Pacquiao didn't score a knockdown and his reluctance to try to finish Rios was the most telling effect of the Marquez defeat.

But unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr., arguably the best boxer in the world, doesn't knock out people either. Despite the obstacles keeping Mayweather and Pacquiao from fighting, such a bout remains compelling after Pacquiao's Macao showing.

Robert Garcia, Rios' trainer, said that "Manny Pacquiao has many great fights left."

As for Rios, he was quite impressed.

"I got beat by the best fighter in the world," Rios told The Times. "I tried my [butt] off, but he was the better man. I couldn't handle his angles. I wouldn't say he hurt me, but his speed kills."

Rios (31-2-1) was paid $4 million to fight Pacquiao (55-5-2) and he'll resurface soon enough.

"I don't care, I'll fight anybody," Rios said.

Possibilities include Mike Alvarado, with whom Rios fought two grueling bouts within the last 13 months, Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov, Pacquiao's former sparring partner who watched the bout in Macao and who Arum said is on the short list of possible Pacquiao opponents in April even though Roach also trains him.

Another winner was Macao, Arum said, as China's gambling mecca served as a strong host, a sellout crowd of more than 13,000 filling the Venetian hotel's arena, allowing Arum to receive a site fee that included a guaranteed $8 million to cover any shortfall from pay-per-view sales in the U.S.

Arum said he'd be "very happy" if Pacquiao-Rios generated 700,000 in HBO pay-per-view buys.

"We're going to do a program with Manny now where he fights once a year in the U.S. and once in Macao or Singapore," Arum said. "Huge gate, huge activity, giving more money to us than Las Vegas. The best casino customers from all over the world come here. This couldn't have been any more successful."

Pacquiao told friends after the bout he was looking forward to rolling up his sleeves to help his countrymen recover from the devastating typhoon that recently swept through the Philippines.

"My victory is a symbol of my people's comeback from a natural disaster and national tragedy," he said.

Pacquiao also said he missed training at Hollywood's Wild Card Boxing Club and is pleased about the next fight being in the U.S.

"It was important for me that I could come back from my knockout loss and put on a good show," Pacquiao said. "That's what I wanted to prove to myself and everyone."

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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