Questions abounded about what Manny Pacquiao had left.
After all, the Filipino legend, winner of world titles in a boxing-record eight weight divisions and one of the greatest fighters in history, is 39 now and has been a professional fighter for 23 years. He was also coming off a one-year layoff, a controversial loss and a change of trainers when he returned to the ring on Sunday to challenge Lucas Matthysse for his secondary welterweight title.
But any doubts that Pacquiao still has something to offer were put to rest as he turned in a sensational performance in a seventh-round knockout of Matthysse at Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a fight that headlined the Top Rank on ESPN+ card.
Not only did Pacquiao, a sitting senator in the Philippines, get a clear victory against a well-established opponent -- one also a bit long in the tooth -- but he got one by knockout after scoring three knockdowns against Matthysse.
Pacquiao, once viewed as one of the most ferocious punchers in the sport, had not knocked out an opponent since his tour de force against Miguel Cotto, whom he knocked out in the 12th round to win a welterweight world title for the first time in November 2009, a fight many view as the peak of his career. It had been 13 consecutive fights since he had won by knockout, a stretch in which he went 9-4.
But he looked more like the Pacquiao of old than an old Pacquiao on this night.
"A long time ago," Pacquiao said of the last time he knocked anyone out.
Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs) got off to a strong start, going at Matthysse from the opening bell and firing jabs and combinations against his slower opponent. He never let up.
He really took command in the third round when he split Matthysse's guard with a powerful left uppercut to score a knockdown. Matthysse didn't appear badly hurt, but Pacquiao continued to beat him to the punch with shots from all angles. Matthysse (39-5, 36 KOs), 35, of Argentina, was a sitting duck with little head movement as Pacquiao found a home for his jab and straight left hand.
While Matthysse looked for one big punch with his right hand, Pacquiao methodically broke him down. He landed lefts to the body and head that seemed to rattle Matthysse in a dominant fifth round that ended with Pacquiao landing a right hand to the temple that made Matthysse take a knee for another knockdown just as the round was ending.
Pacquiao continued to pound a befuddled Matthysse in the sixth round. The best shot Matthysse could muster was a low blow on Pacquiao in the sixth round that caused referee Kenny Bayless to give him a chance to recover.
However, the low blow hardly slowed Pacquiao, who continued to overwhelm Matthysse in the seventh round before he landed a hard left uppercut that knocked him down for the third time in the fight. Bayless began the count but then quickly waved it off at 2 minutes, 43 seconds as Matthysse spit out his mouthpiece, sending the pro-Pacquiao crowd into a frenzy.
"Matthysse has the power, so hands up all the time and do my best," Pacquiao said of his game plan. "I'm surprised because Matthysse is a very tough opponent and I knocked him down. I was focused and patient in the fight, and I worked hard in training. We did a good job in training. We were pushing hard."
Pacquiao came into the fight coming off a tremendously controversial decision loss to Jeff Horn in Horn's hometown of Brisbane, Australia, last July that cost him a welterweight world title. He was also returning to the ring off the longest layoff of his career -- 378 days -- and also having made a huge change to his team.
In the wake of the loss to Horn, Pacquiao fired Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach after 17 years and 34 fights together -- never notifying him personally or having anyone on his team do so -- in favor of longtime friend and assistant trainer Buboy Fernandez.
Pacquiao landed 95 of 344 punches (28 percent), according to CompuBox punch statistics, and Matthysse landed just 57 of 246 shots (23 percent). Matthysse landed double-digit punches in only one round, the sixth, when he connected with 11.
At his peak, Matthysse, known as "The Machine," was as devastating a fighter as anyone in boxing. But he hasn't been the same since suffering a 10th-round knockout loss and broken orbital bone against Viktor Postol for a vacant junior welterweight belt in 2015.
After a 19-month layoff, Matthysse returned and won two fights in a row by knockout, including an eight-round stoppage of obscure Thai fighter Tewa Kiram for a vacant secondary title in January. After he claimed that belt, Pacquiao pursued a fight with him.
It's no wonder -- Matthysse was an opponent Pacquiao's size, and he also has had trouble in the past with fast southpaws, losing to fighters such as Zab Judah and Devon Alexander.
Matthysse made no excuses.
"He's a great fighter and a great champion," Matthysse said of Pacquiao through an interpreter. "It was turned around -- sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Today was my turn to lose. But I lost to a great fighter and great legend in Manny Pacquiao. [Now I will] take rest, take a break. I worked really hard. I want to go back home with my family. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Today was my turn to lose, but nothing more. I'm OK."
Pacquiao -- who gave thanks in his postfight comments to Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, who was ringside, for his support -- will have another big fight in his future based on his near-flawless performance. Options could include pound-for-pound king and lightweight world champion Vasiliy Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs), a fight the sides have talked about for which Pacquiao would move down closer to 140 pounds and Lomachenko would come up from 135 pounds, or welterweight world titleholder Terence Crawford (33-0, 24 KOs).
But Pacquiao preferred to celebrate his victory more than talk about his next fight or when it would take place.
"That's another story, another discussion," he said. "Now I am happy go to back to my country, the Philippines, to celebrate the victory and do my job as a public servant. We haven't decided yet [what's next]. Right now, my focus is to go back to my country and relax."
Relax, yes, but not retirement, which was what he might have been looking at had the fight gone differently.