If you ask people who accuse Manny Pacquiao of using steroids, or some other performance-enhancing agent, to explain their why it is that they think so, you’ll notice a couple of commonalities in the content of the responses.
(1) No one can cite any actual evidence of his using steroids — no seedy connections, no failed tests, etc.
(2) They will tend to make general insights like: “Just look at his body,” or “He started at 106 pounds; there’s no way he could maintain speed and power at such a high weight [some specifically will mention the newly-minted 154 “title”]” or “Teddy Atlas said so,” and so on.
First of all, regarding (1), there is absolutely nothing connecting Pacquiao to performance-enhancing drugs. In fact, until the Mayweathers first made the baseless accusation, no one had any reason to think Pacquiao was using steroids. Indeed, no one did think he was using the juice before then. Next thing you know, Paulie Malignaggi is on board, saying he doesn’t respect Pacquiao and that something was “fishy” about the Cotto fight. Then, Teddy Atlas dropped the infamous anonymous email bombshell on an episode of Friday Night Fights during the negotiations with Mayweather. Of course, no one has since come forward with anymore information about these emails.
Atlas since has implicitly hinted that anyone with an “intellect” ought to be suspicious about Pacquiao due to his “balking at taking a blood test.” He continues to say this, as recently as after Pacquiao’s win over Antonio Margarito, despite the fact that Pacquiao and his team have agreed to testing on Mayweather’s terms. What Atlas and others using this line of thinking ignore is the possibility (even probability) that Team Pacquiao was not going to let Mayweather push them around in negotiations, getting whatever he wants as he is accustomed to doing. As the fight has come to more precarious ground, Pacquiao is gradually giving in to Mayweather’s demands and is now just trying to make the fight.
On to the empirical evidence, which most people cite most often, most vociferously, and find most convincing. It is the basis for the accusations by the Mayweathers, Atlas, Malignaggi, and the rest. Here’s the argument, roughly: Pacquiao started at 106 pounds, has been moving up in weight, fighting and beating better and better opponents, and hasn’t seemed to lose any power or speed. Something isn’t right about that. (Malignaggi also points out that he seems equally as capable of taking punches from the bigger guys. This is spurious for two reasons:  steroids don’t help your chin, Fernando Vargas proved that, and  Pacquiao has been more affected by punches of the bigger guys, admittedly so.)
Pacquiao, malnourished, 106 pounds at 16 -- Gerhard Joren/OnAsia
This “evidence” does not hold up to scrutiny, not even the least bit. Let’s take it apart, piece by piece.
Manny Pacquiao did start his career in January 1995 at 106 pounds, yes. But he was a malnourished boy, one month removed from his 16th birthday. When Floyd Mayweather Jr. was 16, in 1993, he won a National Golden Gloves championship. His weight-class: 106 pounds. Does anyone find it curious that Mayweather has been able to win world titles all the way up to 154 pounds? Pacquiao was barely eating and living in the streets since the age of 14. If Pacquiao had been a normal, healthy American amateur, he likely would have been bigger than Mayweather Jr. at that point in his career.
Secondly, Pacquaio was never anything close to a natural flyweight, where he was first crowned champion. After killing himself to make the weight cost him his title, he jumped up 10 pounds to 122. He settled there for three years, fought three or four fights at 126 (including his destruction of Marco Antonio Barrera), then settled in for the bulk of his peak years at 130 pounds. His starting weight probably should have been 122 pounds (super bantamweight), but even that didn’t work for long, as he basically skipped through featherweight to get to 130. Compare this to Mayweather Jr., who was 125 pounds at the 1996 Olympic Games, then spent the first five years of his career at 130. Huge difference, I think not.
Third, his move up in weight has not been as dramatic as some think. Pacquiao decided late in camp for the Margarito fight to stop pumping protein shakes into his stomach every few hours, and accordingly, weighed only 144 pounds for a “junior middleweight” title fight. He could make 140 without really trying. Is there any doubt that could still make 135 pounds if he wanted? On the other hand, it is unimaginable to think Mayweather Jr. could make 135 pounds. He can’t even make 145. Pacquiao is still the smaller man, and in reality, is a blown-up lightweight.
A related point, his body shape, including head size, has not changed in any significant way. With his large legs, broad shoulders, and robust chest and midsection, Pacquiao was better capable to grow into higher weight classes than Barrera, Marquez, or Morales, for example. Take a look at these pictures: against Jorge Solis, 130 pounds; David Diaz, 135; Hatton, 140; Clottey, “147;” and Margarito, “154.” You’ll notice that he’s filled his naturally pretty-big frame, but his body doesn’t look transformed as some claim. (Again, for the sake of comparison, here is Mayweather at the Jesus Chavez weigh-in, 130 pounds and against Mosley at 147. Bottom line: the body grows.)
Lastly, and most importantly for the accusers, the issue of his speed and power is poorly understood. To reiterate the above points, given that his weight increase has not been as dramatic as it seems, his retention of speed shouldn’t be surprising, especially when coupled with the fact that he and his trainers have focused specifically on preserving his speed. With regard to his power, it should be remembered that as Pacquiao has moved up in weight his technique and accuracy have improved — this change, in contrast to his body size, has been dramatic. Power in boxing comes from timing, speed, and technique. Pacquiao has learned to throw punches at the right times (e.g. catching guys coming in, off-balance) and has developed a knack for staying balanced no matter from where he throws a punch. Additionally, with the exception of the Hatton fight, Pacquiao isn’t obliterating guys within four rounds, with single punches, the way he occasionally did at lower weights. He’s doing it with unrelenting activity, overwhelming punch output, chopping foes up. When a guy with fast hands, good natural power, a strong and balanced base, great punching technique, sound timing, and the ability to throw punches by the dozen enters the ring, you’re looking at a frightening offensive fighting machine.
Once one wades through the rhetoric and just looks at the facts, especially that he started his pro career at 16 weighing the same as Mayweather Jr. did at 16, it’s obvious that the case for Pacquiao’s alleged steroid-use falls apart. Unfortunately, the (very) little work it takes to figure all this out just won’t be done by people like the Mayweathers, Malignaggi, or most damaging, Atlas, who could really do a lot to bring sanity to this debate. Sanity, however, is and will remain in short supply in this “debate.”