Manny Pacquiao lands a right to the face of Brandon Rios during their WBO… (Vincent Yu / Associated…)
Manny Pacquiao heard Brandon Rios liked to get hit, so Pacquiao obliged Saturday in a thorough domination of the Oxnard fighter.
Pacquiao, fighting for the first time since he was stunningly knocked out in December by his bulked-up rival Juan Manuel Marquez, out-landed Rios 281 punches to 138 and cruised to a unanimous-decision victory at the Venetian hotel in Macao, China.
The judges' scores were 119-109 (Lisa Giampa), 120-108 (Michael Pernick) and 118-110 (Manfred Kuechler) for Pacquiao (55-5-2). Rios (31-2-1) remained upright throughout, but suffered his second straight loss.
"I tried to finish him, but my opponent did a great job," Pacquiao said. "It's a long round. I was waiting. But I didn't want to get careless."
That, more than anything, stood out as the residue of the Marquez loss for Pacquiao, who produced a sharp, sustained boxing performance but shied from the killer instinct that made him an international star.
For as vibrant as Pacquiao was in treating Rios — especially in the late rounds — as nothing more than a glorified sparring partner with a rhythmic performance of straight lefts, combination flurries and hard jabs, he didn't chase the memorable finish.
Of course, a devastating lesson had been learned. He went for the kill against a hurt Marquez late in the sixth round of their bout, and Pacquiao was caught, left briefly unconscious and face down on the canvas.
The Rios fight was about proving he wasn't finished, restoring credibility to the level where a possible fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. still has legs.
Knocking out a tough guy who weighed 159 pounds Saturday night and has been knocked down in only one other fight years ago would've just been icing.
If Pacquiao was looking for a quick knockout to declare he was back to full strength, Rios put up good early resistance. In the fourth round, the 27-year-old held and hit Pacquiao, who was frustrated, asking for help from referee Genaro Rodriguez that didn't come.
Pacquiao admitted that Rios' punches hurt him around that time and praised his opponent for taking "a lot of punches" and fighting back.
So he accelerated his strategy to outmove Rios, hitting him with more rapid lefts, ducking out of danger and closing the round with a hard, fast left.
The fifth was a continuation of Pacquiao relying on his punching speed advantage, pounding Rios on the right eye with a left, then launching repeated lefts to back up Rios. Two more Pacquiao combinations sealed the lopsided round.
"It is what it is.… He's quick," Rios said. "I fought one of the greatest boxers in the world. He's very fast, very awkward. His speed got me. I had fast sparring partners; he was faster than them."
A few years ago, Pacquiao might have finished Rios in the sixth after pounding him with two four-punch combinations that landed flush.
Now, a few weeks before he turns 35, Pacquiao's satisfaction came from the cut under Rios' left eye and the decisive 139-76 lead he held in punches landed, pleasing a sellout crowd of 13,100.
By the ninth round, Pacquiao answered criticism that he's been resting more frequently in rounds, as he did in his controversial 2012 split-decision loss to Timothy Bradley.
Pacquiao delivered straight lefts and another clean combination to further deflate the proud Rios, who grew frustrated enough to draw a warning by hitting Pacquiao in the back of the head.
After being beaten to the punch again in the 10th, Rios walked to his corner and raised his arms in a motion of exasperation.
"That's what I wanted to do," Pacquiao said. "My time is not over."
Pugmire reported from Los Angeles.