MACAU -- The celestial boxing career of Manny Pacquiao rumbled out of a lull Sunday morning.
Some 350 days after going face-down in a shocking knockout to Juan Manuel Marquez at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Pacquiao returned to the ring to render a foe overmatched.
From the get-go inside the wildly pro-Pacquiao Cotai Arena at the Venetian Resort in this Chinese protectorate, Pacquiao looked the superior athlete on the way to a doubtless 12-round unanimous decision against the Mexican-American Brandon Rios.
It stemmed the two-fight slide of 2012 that had people wondering about Pacquiao's immediate future, and it dealt Rios his second straight defeat in his pay-per-view debut.
"This is not about my comeback," Pacquiao, a congressman from the typhoon-ravaged Philippines, said. "My victory is a symbol of my people's comeback from a natural disaster and a natural tragedy."
While Pacquiao might not have resembled the force of late last decade, he did show abundant flurries of his compelling speed, both in landing punches on Rios' durable chin and often in eluding Rios when Rios came hunting.
As Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach lampooned Rios' shape in pre-fight, calling him "lazy" and "chubby," he would not find controverting evidence here given Rios' glaring relative slowness. As Rios exhausted his bag of ideas, twice referee Genaro Rodriguez warned him about hitting Pacquiao in the temples while the boxers interlocked. The midday bout did not produce the knockout Roach forecasted, but neither did it deepen any doubts about Pacquiao.
"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."
A crowd of 13,101 adored the mismatch, chanting "Manny! Manny!" frequently, producing near-silence during Rios flourishes and roaring whenever Pacquiao connected. The only roar that matched those for Pacquiao came for global citizen David Beckham, a Pacquiao fan who greeted the Filipino congressman backstage before the bout.
Rios had protested that he would not become a mere tune-up fight toward the rest of Pacquiao's glittering career, but that's often how it looked. After two minutes of the first round, Rios already had lost his balance briefly, and Pacquiao went driving into him after that, using the last minute of that opener to showcase the speed that still awes the eye at age almost-35.
Through all the first few rounds, the decisiveness persisted until getting graphic in the fifth, when Pacquiao landed a crushing left to the face at 2:18 and then sent a frightening flurry toward Rios' head some 25 seconds to the bell.
When Pacquiao gave Rios' chin another test early in the sixth round, Rios resorted to a default mode he used several times during the match, wherein he shook his head and smiled as if indicating his capacity to sustain. From there, the rest of the fight felt like filler, save for the close of the eighth round when Pacquiao landed a quick punch a split-second after the bell, irking Rios.
Pacquaio did give Rios a battering in the first half of the 12th, just to thrill the crowd more.
Well before then, the WBO welterweight belt at stake already seemed bound for the collection of a Filipino inspiration who dedicated this fight to typhoon victims. More importantly boxing-wise, though, the exercise, after a long training camp in General Santos, Philippines, restored Pacquiao's career to a positive arc after a single Marquez punch 16 time zones away sent it into question.