Everyone says he’s back…but was he ever really gone?

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Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KO’s) returned to the ring for the first time in over a year.

His opponent was Lucas Matthysse (39-5, 36 KO’s) a tough customer with a deep skill set.

Manny’s last fight was a rip-off loss to Jeff Horn.

Pacquiao is a southpaw, and Horn (orthodox) has the aggressive sensibilities of a mountain goat. This was a head-clash waiting to happen.

Manny didn’t get a single scratch that was caused by contact to leather. He did, however, sustain gashes over both eyes from head-butts.

Pacman beat Horn so badly in the 9th, the referee almost stopped the fight.

But it went the distance.

Pacquiao had landed twice as many punches, at two times the connect rate.

I had him up, 117-110.

Going to the scorecards, it was unbelievable that two judges had it 115-113, in favor of Horn.

Those two shouldn’t be trusted near sharp objects or an open flame.

Judge Waleska Roldan gave it to Horn, 117-111…she should not be trusted near an open cash register.

Pacquiao was robbed.

Matthysse has always fought top-talent and his losses have come against the most notable, including an “L” to John Molina in a bout that turned out to be the “Fight of the Year” for 2014.

After suffering a knockout loss to undefeated Viktor Postol in 2015, Lucas took a break from boxing (19 months) to be with his family.

In his two fights since he returned, he picked up a pair of lesser Welterweight belts and a WBA World Welterweight title.

That belt was on the line last weekend, in Kuala Lumpur.

This was the first time in 17-years Pacquiao made that walk to the ring without “HOF” trainer Freddie Roach. They split last year.

Defending champion Matthysse took his time entering.

That pace changed radically once the bell rang.

Manny was all about the jab in the first frame, doubling and tripling up while closing the distance.

Lucas tried to time his counterpunches, but remained just out of reach and didn’t connect with power.

The early rounds were a chess match as both boxers got their timing and range.

Pacquiao showed no sign of ring rust from his layoff, and his right arm seemed to hold strong.

He’d torn his rotator cuff while training for the Mayweather fight (2015) and had to have it surgically repaired.

At the top of the 3rd Manny feinted a jab, then connected with a left uppercut and straight right that sent Matthysse to the mat.

That combination alone answered any questions about Pacquiao’s speed and power.

Lucas took the mandatory 8-count and finished the round.

Pacman stayed with his game plan. He followed in after his jab, threw punches in bunches, hooked to the ribs, and fired straight lefts that found face.

Matthysse remained competitive by landing an occasional right. But that “money-punch” was never thrown from the optimal distance to supply maximum effect.

He also stood directly in front of Manny (very dangerous) and backed away in a straight line (suicidal) instead of leaving at angles.

In the final seconds of Round 5 Lucas took a knee due to an accumulation of blows, punctuated by a shot to the temple.

Pacquiao controlled the 6th with 1-2 combos, and took air out of Lucas’ tires with body-shots.

The end came in the last 30-seconds of Round 7 when Manny caught Matthysse loitering in front of him.

Pacquiao connected with a right, and then split the guard with an uppercut that landed flush.

Matthysse crumpled to his knees…and it was over.

With his first knockout since 2009, Manny Pacquiao has reestablished himself as a force in the division.

But where does he find his next opponent in a weight class thick with younger and stronger talent?

Perhaps a fight against a less-experienced boxer. Or maybe a manageable rematch…in Manila, as a “Goodbye to the Gloves” retirement bout.

God Bless and know when to hang them up.

Mark Felicetti does not know when to quit. Reach him at mark@tolucantimes.com.

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