The End or a New Beginning
According to many in the media and casual fans alike, the sport of boxing has been on the ropes for the last decade. Bad puns aside, tonight’s WBO welterweight title match between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios is one that has the promise of an action packed fight between two offensive fighters. It has a chance of re-igniting casual interest in boxing.
The fight is being billed by Top-Rank as the potential end of Pacquiao’s storied and decorated career. His fourth fight between Juan Manuel Marquez eleven months ago was the first time the Pacman was knocked out since 1999, when he was KO’ed by Thai fighter Medgoen Sigurat. Manny lay motionless on the canvas for several minutes, and many analysts and fans alike began to wonder if it was time for Manny to call it a career.
Brandon “Bam-Bam” Rios’ first fight with fellow American Mike Alvarado won fight of the year in 2012. The fight showcased his strong chin and power. It identified him as one of the rising stars in an already talent filled welterweight division. However like Pacquiao, Rios is also coming off a loss, a split-decision in a rematch with Alvarado earlier this spring. Thus far in his career, Rios has defined fearless. He never steps back in a fight and on the HBO’s 24/7 feature said, “I love to get hit.” He relishes the role of underdog and villain. Brandon takes pride in his ability to take a punch and even more for paying his opponent back in kind. In this upcoming match, he can really embody the role of a challenger with nothing to lose.
For Manny, this fight is a must-win in more ways than one. When Pacquiao told trainer Freddy Roach that he wanted to return to boxing, Roach agreed on the condition that Manny would retire if he got KO’ed again. After an extended training camp, Roach has become much more confident in Pacquiao’s ability to defeat Rios. Roach has gone so far as to say in the final episode of HBO’s 24/7 that, “If Manny loses this fight, he should retire.” Most boxers have a sense of national pride, fighting for their countries. This takes on a new dimension for Pacquiao as Super Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan cut through the middle of the Philippine archipelago just two weeks before the scheduled fight.
Typhoon Haiyan had the strongest recorded wind speeds of a storm to ever make landfall. With the death toll currently around 5,000 people and millions more were displaced it. While I don’t think Manny seriously entertained the thought of withdrawing from the fight, I don’t think I could have blamed him if he did, due of the nature of the damage wrought by the storm. He has stated that he will dedicate this fight to the victims of a typhoon. Manny is guaranteed 18 million dollars, and his cut of a pay-per-view win would go far in providing a modicum of relief to disaster weary people.
For some strange reason, sports, which are insignificant in the face of disaster and tragedy, have the ability to bring communities together. They provide a needed distraction and in some cases inspiration. The effect of the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup run and the World Series victory for the Red Sox on the city of Boston is a case in point. Pacquiao hopes he can be the same symbol of hope for the Philippines.
If the calamity of the Typhoon Haiyan wasn’t enough, the usual pre-fight fracas took place during fight week. A major storyline heading into the fight was Freddy roach's firing of Pacquiao’s conditioning coach Alex Ariza. Ariza would promptly be picked up by Rios’ trainer Robert Garcia. During this Wednesday’s workout Ariza kicked Roach in the chest and Roach made several derogatory remarks towards Ariza and Garcia. These are visual signs of the bad blood between camps that boxing fans have come to expect.
As for the actual gameplans in the ring, Pacquiao will try to outbox Rios. Brandon will look to make it an in-fight. Simple enough, right?
Pacquiao fans have predicted this fight will be similar to his one-sided facial re-arrangement of Antonio Margarito. Margarito was a large welterweight at 5’10”, another fighter who didn’t believe in going any direction but forward. He thought he could bully Manny with just his size, and had no respect for Manny’s power. He paid for that arrogance with a broken orbital bone. Brandon Rios is no Antonio Margarito. In my mind he physically resembles Erik Morales. While not the counterpuncher Morales was, Rios subscribes to the same philosophy of immediate retaliation after a hit. Pacquiao should approach the fight as he did in his second and third fights against Morales. And that was to take out the legs of Morales by going to the body and finishing with a combination to the head. This would sap Rios of some of his power. Manny definitely has the speed advantage over Rios in both his hands and his feet. That handspeed should be used to overwhelm Rios, during Manny’s rushes.
Pacquiao’s downfall would be to recklessly drop his guard as he comes forward, which he did against Marquez fight. It’s something he’s done his whole career. Manny should look to keep his jab strong and keep Rios off-balance and follow up with his odd-angle punches. Freddy Roach has predicted a KO in four rounds. Whether that’s pre-fight chatter or a serious prediction, Pacquiao would be wise not to look for a knockout against the strongest fighter he’s faced in terms of power.
Rios won’t be looking for decision. To retire Pacquiao, he has to knock him out. Brandon’s goal will be to make Manny remember his KO from Marquez early. Unlike his fight with Alvarado, Manny won’t keep his head several inches from him. Rios will have to make this fight a war by catching Pacquiao with strong shots as Manny comes forward. Then Rios will look to drive him into the ropes and tee-off. Rios’ jab has the power of the left straight of most fighters and is a hidden danger for Manny. Brandon also has the advantage on all dual exchanges and must entice Pacquiao to trade shots. When I mentioned that he has a strong chin, I was serious. Rios has never been KO’ed in a professional fight.
Both fighters made the 147lb welterweight limit on Friday: Pacquiao at 145 lbs and Rios at 146.75 lbs. Rios looked thick and strong. Pacquiao on the other hand was trimmer and his muscles looked well defined. The main event should start around midnight eastern time, 1:00PM in Macau, China at the Venetian where the fight will take place.
Prediction: I won’t predict the score because I’m conservative and the potential for an early round stoppage is high. If Pacquiao avoids the dual exchanges, his speed and power are more than enough to keep Rios at bay.
Pacquiao in a Unanimous Decision.
What to Watch For on the Undercard:
Fans have criticized the last two big PPV undercards on Mayweather/Alvarez and the Bradley/Marquez, which have mostly been snooze-fests. This card should be a tad more interesting.
Evgeny Gradovich (17-0, 8KO) vs. Billy Dib (36-2, 21KO): The IBF featherweight belt is on the line, Gradovich and Dib II should be exciting enough when the two aren’t clinching. Grandovich’s pressure style flustered Dib in his split-decision win in their first fight. The switch hitting counterpuncher Dib, barely made weight but he should be ready for Gradovich this time around. Gradovich’s formula for another win is to keep Dib in front of him and get in Dib’s head.
Prediction: Give Dib a Unanimous Decision, 116-112.
Andy Ruiz Jr. (20-0, 14KO) vs. Tor Hamer (21-2 14KO): The American Hamer and the Mexican Ruiz Jr., two heavyweight prospects in a lagging division. Ruiz Jr. is has hands much faster than his slightly flabby looks would suggest. Hamer, a NYC native, is coming off a tune-up win after he was handled by Vyacheslav Glazkov last year. Hamer looked fit at the weigh-in at 220 lbs. Ruiz Jr. weighed an unimpressive 255 lbs., but his weight hasn’t stopped him before. Hamer will have a chance if he can tire Ruiz. Andy’s Sunday punch is a mean overhand right and has the handspeed advantage. Tor in addition to having the coolest name in boxing has the experience advantage and a strong right straight.
Prediction: Ruiz Jr. TKO in Round 5, but Hamer will have a good chance if it goes past 7.
Zou Shiming (2-0) vs. Juan Toscano (4-0, 1 KO): The home crowd will be behind Shiming who is a two-time Olympic gold medalist for China. Shiming has been working in the Pacquiao camp with Freddy Roach and a very accomplished amateur boxer. He’s been in the spotlight before and he should handle the relativley unknown Mexican, Toscano.
Prediction: Shiming in a UD, 60-56.
Julian Atienza covers Boxing, MLB, NBA, NFL and Tennis for WFUV Sports.