No days off? Manny Pacquiao taking opposite approach to training in his 40s

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

LAS VEGAS — Manny Pacquiao’s so-called “revival” could be nothing more than facing the right opponents at the right time.

The Filipino senator knocked out Lucas Matthysse on July 15, 2018, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, ending a streak of eight years, eight months, over 13 bouts in which he failed to register a knockout.

Matthysse was listless and seemed disinterested in fighting that night. He certainly reminded no one of anything close to a significant threat. But that knockout was hailed as a sign that the old Pacquiao was back.

After he knocked out Miguel Cotto in Las Vegas on Nov. 14, 2009, Pacquiao’s record was 50-3-2 and he had a knockout percentage of 76 percent in his wins. Now, as he heads into Saturday’s pay-per-view bout with unbeaten Keith Thurman at the MGM Grand Garden, Pacquiao is 61-7-2 with a knockout percentage of 64 percent.

Though he didn’t stop Adrien Broner in January, he showed flashes of his former ways and did enough to convince fans that vintage Pacquiao was back.

The reason, though, for Pacquiao’s improved performances is probably a lot simpler than many of the theories which have made the media rounds the last few years:

He’s taking days off.

Manny Pacquiao attends a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center on Jan. 21, 2019 in Los Angeles. (Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)

From his earliest days, Pacquiao’s been a notoriously hard worker. It was exhausting just watching him train, let alone trying to do a fraction of what he was doing.

He became a combination of speed, power and intensity that has rarely been matched in boxing history.

Despite the fact he’s been all but deified by many of his most devoted fans, he’s human and he’s suffered the effects of aging just like the rest of us. But he’s minimized them by being willing to take a break.

It wasn’t that long ago that he trained with the fervor of a religious zealot. And make no mistake, when he’s working, he’s pushing himself to his limits. He’s giving himself time to recover and he’s thus put himself into position to fight better than he’d done in the recent past.

“If he wakes up and his body doesn’t feel right or he just doesn’t think he has it that day, he just takes the day off,” trainer Freddie Roach said. “He never wanted to do that before. But he understands now that a day off here and there is actually more beneficial to him than just grinding, grinding and grinding some more is.”

After losing to Floyd Mayweather in their 2015 fight, Pacquiao won unanimous decisions over Tim Bradley and Jessie Vargas and lost a controversial decision to Jeff Horn.

The Vargas and Horn performances could best be described as, if not lethargic, at best Pacquiao Lite.

But he’s had a bit more vigor against Matthysse and Broner, getting more by doing less.

“I think it’s an adjustment in training,” Pacquiao said.

Eight-division world champion boxer Manny Pacquiao spars with coach Freddy Roach in Hollywood, California on July 10, 2019. (Getty Images)

He’s not doing new things and he still pummels Roach and co-trainer Buboy Fernandez on a regular basis. “He’s hit me so hard sometimes it’s like he’s 25 again,” Roach said with a grin.

Pacquiao recognized he couldn’t go on as he was, so he did what any wise athlete does and he made adjustments. It’s gotten him several more big fights with the promise of others if he wins on Saturday.

“Boxing is about hard work,” Pacquiao said. “When you talk about hard work, you punish yourself all the time at the gym. It’s hard work but also about studying your body and understanding how it recovers overnight. What I discovered is, when I was young, I did 33 rounds, 30 rounds every day but overnight, I’d recover and be ready the next day. But at this age, I can say that when I push myself, doing 30 rounds, 33 rounds in a workout, sometimes just overnight is not enough for my body to recover.

“The body’s telling me, ‘Oh, I need more time to recover.’ Starting in the Matthysse fight, Broner and now, that’s what I’ve discovered is [to listen to my body].”

He was loose and engaged and seemed not to have a care in the world. When it was suggested he’ll go for the kill should he hurt Thurman, he grinned devilishly and arched his eyebrows.

He’s been well aware of Thurman’s trash talk and said he was particularly incensed when Thurman said he’d crucify him.

“Like I said, it’s been a long time since I’ve been motivated like this,” Pacquiao said.

He looks more engaged now than he has at this point of fight week in years. He said he could make 135 or 140 if there was a fight there that interested him, but plans to weigh in close to the welterweight limit of 147 on Friday.

A win over Thurman on Saturday would be his most meaningful victory probably since he defeated Juan Manuel Marquez in 2011. He said he’d look to fight the winner of the upcoming Errol Spence-Shawn Porter bout if he gets past Thurman.

He’s a guy who loves what he does and seems to have found a way to extend his time at the top.

Now, all he has to do is go out and perform against one of the most talented opponents he’s ever faced. It’s no easy task, but it wasn’t an easy task to win titles in eight weight classes.

It’s wise to remember that plenty of people lost plenty of money by doubting Manny Pacquiao in the past.

More Pacquiao-Thurman coverage from Yahoo Sports: