Forty Thousand Miles of Talk: Pacquiao and Rios Speak

By Adam Berlin on August 6, 2013
Forty Thousand Miles of Talk: Pacquiao and Rios Speak
When I see old-time fight footage, I'm impressed by how glitz-free the pre-fight ritual is.

If Arum believes true fight fans won’t see beyond the lights and fireworks and pre-fight entertainment, he’s mistaken. The fight’s the thing…

There was already a mob outside the Jing Fong Restaurant. I was pedaling down Chinatown’s Elizabeth Street, pad and pen in my messenger bag, looking for a place to lock up my bike. But the human roadblock in front of me forced me to slow. Fans and photographers were swarming around an over-sized black SUV, the kind of vehicle that’s become synonymous with celebrity. When the car door opened, boxing’s biggest celebrity walked out. Manny Pacquiao. I got off my bicycle because there was nowhere to move, but also because I wanted to see Manny’s demeanor as he walked through the crowd. He was, of course, calm. Pac Man seemed more Zen than ever; his smile is almost innocent, more befitting a peace-loving humanitarian than a war-waging pugilist. I thought of Floyd Mayweather, naturally, and his belligerent body language; unlike Money May, who walks the streets with big-muscled men, there were no over-sized bodyguards flanking Manny’s welterweight frame. The quiet man from the Philippines signed some autographs, posed for some pictures, then walked into the restaurant where the press conference would soon start.

I locked my bike a street away, then walked back to Jing Fong’s, flashed my credentials to get past the adoring crowd, and went upstairs. Diners filled half the banquet hall. In the other half, cordoned off, the requisite platform was set up, with the podium flanked by two tables where the fighters and their people would sit. The rest of the room was filled with large round dinner table and a large turnout of writers and photographers already jockeying for position, some setting up tripods, some starting their stories. The best boxing lines usually don’t come from the dais; they emerge more fluidly before and after the official proceedings. Brandon Rios, squeezed between two tables, was holding court in the middle of the room. That’s where I went. 

“It’s my time now,” Rios was saying, obviously in the middle of a self-promoting rant, and why not? That’s what press conferences are for. “Yes, I’m hungry. This whole world knows I’m a bad ass. When I went to Macau, I was at a loss for words. I’ve never been at a loss for words before. I’m not worried about the fight though. At the end of the day, I’m not fighting the crowds. I’m fighting Manny Pacquiao.”

A reporter asked Brandon if he felt Manny was a weaker fighter now that the Pac Man was coming off a devastating knockout at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez.

“I’m not Manny Pacquiao mentally or physically. I’m not sure how the knockout affected him. I just know about me. All my critics, they fucking doubted me. I’m going to shut everybody up.”

Bam Bam Rios is famous from dropping F bombs in his sentences. But that’s part of his charm. He’s a brash kid who backs it up, and that’s all we ask of our tough guys. I was standing just behind Rios, so I got his attention and asked him how he’d use that anger to his advantage.

“What anger?” he said.

“The anger you just expressed against your critics.”

“It doesn’t bother me. The critics questioned me once and I shut them up. (He was referring to a controversial split decision win against Richar Abril last year.) Don’t doubt me again. They doubted me once. Now they’re doubting me again. Don’t doubt me twice. I’m going to shut them up.”

The questions continued and Rios fielded them easily and thoughtfully. Asked about being the bigger man, Rios said, “I’m just bigger than he is. I’ve always been bigger than my opponents. As soon as I start training the weight will come off.”

Asked about comparisons between his brawling style and Margarito’s, a man Pacquiao beat up for twelve rounds, Rios said, “Margarito hurt Pacquiao with body shots. I love Margarito. He’s my man. But I’m younger than Margarito. Now it’s my turn. He has a bull’s heart. But now it’s my turn.”

Before Brandon Rios lost to Mike Alvarado in his last fight—a brutal, back-and-forth fight-of-the-year candidate—I believed Rios was invincible. Not because he was the quickest 140-pounder or the strongest. Not because he was the most skilled. But because he had a bull’s heart. All fighters go into the ring believing they have a chance to win, but Brandon was one of those rare fighters whose will to win seemed impenetrable, whose self-confidence was so supreme he wouldn’t let himself lose. In his last fight, some of that confidence was shaken. He didn’t perform in the latter half of the fight when Alvarado stood in front of him, equally willful, equally violent. While Rios had knocked Alvarado out in their first fight, in the rematch Alvarado held his ground. So while Rios was criticizing his doubters, I wondered if the real doubt rested in this bull’s heart rather than the critics’ words.

The fighters were moved up to their respective tables. The writers found their seats. Instead of the usual three or four cameras set up at the back of the room, I counted fourteen. Even here, in the rear of a Chinese banquet hall on a Tuesday afternoon, the atmosphere smacked of a mega-fight.

Before the talking heads began their usual string of thank-yous, a drum beat started and two dragon heads appeared, one black, one red, tails trailing behind, dancing around the room. The spectacle was at least somewhat appropriate. The fighters were wrapping up a trip through Asia, promoting the fight. The fight would take place in Macao. Manny Pacquiao is from Southeast Asia. We were in a Chinese restaurant. And if Top Rank can tap into the Chinese market, Bob Arum will have something to dance about.

Bob Arum has held court so many times, he’s as composed as a Borscht Belt comedian at the microphone. He welcomed everyone, stated, “As you can see the world is changing” and then segued into the money portion of his speech, talking about the importance of broadening boxing’s base while keeping the pay-per-view tradition alive. Because of the time difference, this fight will begin at 10 a.m. Macao time to ensure that America’s paying audience will see a Saturday night fight. After shilling for Tecate beer, one of the fight’s big sponsors, Arum told a story about a TIME magazine reporter who questioned boxing’s appeal. 

“He said that for the Mayweather fight (not a Top Rank fight) he was disappointed. There was no pizzazz. In the NFL, in the NBA you see singing and all kinds of entertainment. But here with boxing, what he saw was like from the ‘50s and ‘60s. But that’s not true with us. With a major Top Rank event you’ll see a spectacular show. Dancers come into the ring. Fireworks. Lighting. It’s a real show. That’s the future of the sport and that’s why it’s so important to do well in Asia. You can’t be a major sport unless you translate to China. That’s why the NBA is trying to get involved with China, and we’re doing the same.”

Bob Arum is the promoter of this fight. He’s the man making it happen, working hard, and using his money to eventually make more money. That’s fine. But if he believes true fight fans won’t see beyond the lights and fireworks and pre-fight entertainment, he’s mistaken. The fight’s the thing. And if this fight doesn’t live up, and right now Pacquiao is a 4 to 1 favorite, which suggests it might not live up, all the singing in the world won’t ease that pay-per-view price. For my money, and my money is certainly not Bob Arum’s money, I wish boxing would go back to simpler times, times before me. Whenever I see old-time fight footage, I’m always impressed by how glitz-free the pre-fight ritual is. The fighters walk into the ring without special effects, the announcer recites records without Buffer-style hyperbole, robes are removed, the referee asks the fighters to touch gloves without delivering copyrighted lines like “Let’s get it on,” or “I’m fair but I’m firm,” and the bell rings. It’s a beautifully simple preamble to a beautifully pure event.  Without fanfare, the spotlight’s brightness is not diminished, and shines full-force where it should: on the fight. 

Robert Garcia, Rios’ trainer and one of the few who knows his trade, spoke first. “It’s been two weeks of a lot of traveling. And it’s been great. You can’t help but like Manny Pacquiao. I have to wish him a safe and healthy training camp. But on November 23, Brandon Rios is going to come out and surprise the world. He has the power to come out with a win.”

If Pacquiao’s people were looking for a game plan in the opposing camp’s words, it was right there on a buffet platter. Rios is nicknamed Bam Bam for a reason. He throws tons of punches and he throws them with bad intentions. Garcia knows his charge won’t be able to box the fleet-footed, quick-fisted Pac Man, so Rios will have to assert himself with raw power. And because Pacquiao succumbed to raw power in his last fight, there’s a chance, even if it’s a 4 to 1 chance, that the world will indeed be surprised.

Had Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s long-time trainer, been in attendance, he would have spoken next, but Roach is training Miguel Cotto for his upcoming fight. Instead it was Pac Man’s often-controversial advisor Michael Koncz who took the mic. Describing Pacquiao’s loss in the first-person plural, as if he too had been hit by Marquez’s knockout punch, Koncz stated, “We’re not having a comeback fight. Manny was fighting his best fight when we got careless. Manny will throw punches and Brandon Rios will do the same thing. I hope no one gets hurt, but it will be an exciting fight.”

It’s a sure bet, royal we aside, that Koncz won’t get hurt.

It was time to hear from the fighters. Arum introduced Brandon first, lauding him as a terrific guy with a great sense of humor. “He comes to fight and he likes to have a good time, which he did in Macao and China.” On the Rios side of the podium, grins full of subtext broke out. 

Rios took his place at the dais. He spoke calmly and quietly, without any of the fire I’d sensed earlier.

“I’m ready to fight. The promotional tour has been very long and now I’m ready to train, ready to fight. I’m going to show the world that Brandon Rios is not done. I’m the next superstar. I’m ready. I’m ready 100%. This is the first press conference I’ve been through where nobody’s talking smack. Everybody’s been very respectful. I was waiting for it, but it never happened. If they’re not going to step up, I’m not going to step up because they’re going to point the finger at the bad guy. USA. We’re going to bring it home, baby.”

While Arum started his introductory speech about Manny Pacquiao, and while Manny, seemingly bored, stared at the texts coming into his phone, Jing Fong’s waiters put down dishes of dumplings on each table. That’s when all of the “press,” and not just the press taking notes, went to work. The chopstick-handling was less than elegant, but the food disappeared nonetheless.

I’ve seen Manny Pacquiao at press conferences before. He may prepare differently for each fighter he faces, but when it comes to hyping a fight, he always says the same thing. Different today was the fact that Pacquiao was coming off a knockout loss. And so doubt, the word Brandon Rios had ascribed to his critics, provided the foundation for Manny’s usually homogenized comments.

“I didn’t pick an easy opponent because I believe that in the last fight many people are thinking my boxing career has ended. But in my last fight my condition was amazing. My condition was one of the best conditions in my boxing career. But in the sixth round I got too careless and too aggressive and he got me with a good shot. But if we review the fight my condition was one of the best I’ve had. That’s why I choose Brandon Rios. I know he’s a good fighter, a busy fighter, and I choose him because he can give me a good fight on November 23. I can prove I can still fight and my boxing career is not over.”

Manny Pacquiao is a fighter first and a politician second, and having fulfilled the boxing portion of his speech, he moved into more diplomatic, and monetary, territory.

“It’s going to be a memorable fight. It has been a long time since boxing in China could be presented. Remember, China has a 1.4 billion population. It will help a lot in the boxing world. I’ll do my best to give a good fight and make sure I’m 100% mentally and physically.”

The fighters were asked to pose and they assumed the usual positions, making their hands into fists, staring into each other’s eyes. There was no animosity displayed, no aggression; smiles trumped hard stares. When the two men stood back to back it was easy to see the difference in their bodies. Manny Pacquiao, dressed in chinos and a polo shirt, a man having a casual Tuesday workday, appeared to be the much smaller man. Covered up were his massive calves, the calves that propel him around the ring, so he can deliver punches from all angles. Brandon Rios was dressed for a day at the beach in shorts and a T. He’s noticeably taller than Manny. He appeared thicker than Manny. Only Manny’s fists seemed bigger, and perhaps that’s all that will count come fight night.

Before I left, I approached Robert Garcia. I wanted to know if he’d be training Rios any differently now that Bam Bam had tasted loss for the very first time. 

“He’s already over it,” Garcia said. “When he first lost it hurt him and he thought it would affect him. But look what happened. He got this fight. He still has it, the same heart. He still has the will not to lose a fight. And the last fight was close. He still wants it.”

Clearly, Garcia wasn’t going to give me any secrets about their upcoming training camp. Nearby, Rios was talking to reporters and I overheard one line, “I’m going to destroy him.” When your name is Bam Bam, that’s the perennial plan.

Perhaps the best part of this press conference was its lack of drama. Two men politely spoke. Two men politely posed for the camera. Two men conducted themselves as men. To their credit, and perhaps to Bob Arum’s disappointment, there was no “pizzazz.” 

I left Jing Fong’s, unlocked my bike, bought some fish and vegetables at the Chinese market, and rode the streets of Manhattan back to Harlem. It’s not an easy ride. Cutting and slashing between cabs and city buses, veering away from opening doors and oblivious pedestrians, this kind of biking is the opposite of a ride in the country. But as I pedaled furiously, I thought how my rough trek home was fitting. The press conference was over and the press tour, which according to Bob Arum spanned 40,000 miles, will cap off Thursday in LA. Then training will begin. And Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios will start the hard part of their journey, which will culminate in a ring in Macao, where things will get harder still.


Adam Berlin is the author of the novels Headlock (Algonquin Books) and Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press). His novel The Number of Missing (Spuyten Duyvil) about post 9/11 NYC comes out in November, and his boxing novel Both Members of The Club (Texas Review Press), winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize, also comes out in November.

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  1. Bodyshots 09:18am, 08/15/2013

    NAPOLEON, Marquez tested no cleaner or dirtier than Pacquiao*. he was on public record as welcoming stricter and mutually-applied testing but Pacquiao* declined. everything else is unsubstantiated sour-graping. meanwhile, it’s silly to try and diminish the smaller Marquez’s KO of Diaz (or Casamayor, or Katsidis), which was the culmination of an unrelenting exchange of punches between Both fighters. ultimately, “Dinamita’s” ability to KO a fellow featherweight like Pacquiao* is only surprising or suspect to those who lost the plot of the entire rivalry in the smoke and spectacle of Arum’s production of “Pacmania”. otherwise, it was overdue and predictable for those of us who remained focused like Marquez on the “desired result”. as Pacquiao* himself has said, “That’s boxing”. nothing mystifying about that to fight-fans who remain focused on the Sport not the hype.

  2. Napoleon Nalcot 06:29pm, 08/13/2013

    Bodyshots, yeah sure Marquez knocked Diaz out but he did it with so many punches being thrown before the Baby Bull was finally demolished. There’s no showing of one single power punch in that fight except that Marquez’s generosity to trade punches with paid off in favor of him. Also, the case with Katsidis followed the same path. No single power punch coming from Marquez but he knocked Katsidis out with the increased volume of his accurate counter punching ability.

    Marquez is desperately trying everything to defeat Pacquiao. He even tried drinking his own urine once because he believed this can do him wonders. No wonder why he hired the noted PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs) dealer Angel “Memo” Heredia to be his strength and conditioning so he could transform his 39-year-old body into a Hulk against the Pacman. Victor Conte, upon seeing Marquez trained by lifting enormous weights as part of his training against fourth encounter with Pacquiao, almost can’t believe it. But it will take, according to Conte, some few days to recover for any fighter to lift that same weights Marquez has lifted. Unless a PED is introduced that recovery time will be shortened. If Marquez truly believed he is the superior fighter himself then he would not hesitate giving the Pacman another rematch. It is the most logical thing for him to do: He will defeat Pacman once more plus he will get the highest payday of his life.

  3. Travelling Man returning from Boston 03:16pm, 08/13/2013

    Bodyshots . I think you owe FIGHTFAN an answer on Adam’s prior article.

  4. Bodyshots 12:50pm, 08/13/2013

    Nice write-up by Berlin. It’s encouraging to see a boxing writer who spotlights the sport instead of himself in his articles. Looking forward to reading more.

  5. Bodyshots 12:48pm, 08/13/2013

    Btw, prior to DEMOLISHING Pacquiao* once-and-for-all, “DINAMITA” floored and KTFO of the previously indomitable “Baby Bull” Diaz who had never even been floored before, which explains why Pacquiao* ducked Diaz and Casamayor on his way past lightweight. Marquez planted his flat at lightweight and KO/TKO’d Diaz, Casamayor, and Katsidis for good measure. Also, NObody has Bloodied and Busted-Up Pacquiao* more than Marquez has from 126lbs-147ishlbs. Anybody who questions Marquez’s punching power must not have watched much boxing besides Pacquiao* matchups.

  6. Bodyshots 12:42pm, 08/13/2013

    People keep imagining that Marquez KTFO of a monster welter or jr-middleweight “champion”(?). In actuality, all “DINAMITA” did was KO a fellow pumped-up featherweight with a perfectly-prepared and timed feint and punch. Prior to that he had decked Pacquiao* with another perfectly-prepared and expertly-delivered lead right-hand. Going into the 6th, Marquez was only behind by one point on the “official” scorecards but Marquez’s entire fight-plan for IV was intentional and transparent. In fact, a few true fight-fans echoed Marquez’s stated goal with utmost confidence in his ability to KO Pacquiao*. particularly after he transformed himself into a Pacquiao*-seeking demolitions charge that was timed to go off beFore the “official scorecards” were ever read. bottomline, there is nothing suspect or shocking about the “revelation” that Marquez is greater than Pacquiao*. A few of us were convinced of this all-along.

  7. Napoleon Nalcot 06:37pm, 08/07/2013

    This is a very well-written sports article and I enjoyed reading from start to finish. I usually don’t finish reading a long article but the way you have written it somehow captivates me.

    Pacquiao, as a fighter, far from over. He only needs to give enough time to focus on his training and no distractions. To say that Pacquiao’s career is over based on his two successive defeats is ignorance. Although Bradley got the big “W” through what was a controversial decision, Pacquiao outpointed him from all angles. Pacquiao was on the brink of knocking out Marquez in the 6th round of their last fight when the Mexican suddenly found an opening and released his questionable raw power upon the Pacman who, as a result, fell face-first on the canvas motionless.

    Marquez has never been that strong until that fight when he cut the tree out of Pacman with a single shot. It’s surprising to see Marquez acquired such a power punch from that same right hand Pacquiao has been eating leather with numerous times already during their previous encounters.

    And the fact that Marquez’s reluctance to again set a next date with his arc nemesis is an indication, in my own opinion, of two things he must have honestly assessed for himself: 1. He’s afraid of the Pacman. 2. He must have been on to something that artificially enhances both his strength and stamina.

    Rios is a tough fighter, but Pacquiao will be just too much for him to handle. Nevertheless, it’s a hell of a fight.

  8. Your Name 05:24pm, 08/07/2013

    I predicted IF Bradley came to the dance ....with no panties…and was ready to rock,,,,,,Bradley could out point Pac man….......so it shall be,,,,,,so it was said !!!

  9. Michael Hegan 04:14pm, 08/07/2013

    pac will be tempted….after all he has good ‘ol warm , friendly, and compassionate bob to take care of his best interests….....................do any of you know who Pacquiao’s manager is ????

    ....just askn’

  10. Michael Hegan 04:09pm, 08/07/2013

    All in all….....Larry Holmes was the guy that did it best…..he survived doink ing….and is a financially independent man…

    maybe pac and big cat should have lunch

  11. Michael Hegan 04:01pm, 08/07/2013

    All I’m say’n…..is Pacquiao has a lot on his plate , nowadays…..

    He has taken on public service obligations…and there is that hospital he has funded…
    ....some reports indicate his gambling and domestic ....rough waters have been put behind him….

    Pacquiao has grown ....and his focus is no longer upon his fighting…he is like Larry Holmes….his interests are divided…...  Larry was buying up Easton Penn…and trying to make it work….and trying to get in shape for his next title challange….

  12. Ted 03:41pm, 08/07/2013

    He should have exited after Bradley. Now, his health becomes an issue. That “Zen-like” look he has might be something else. Manny has been in a lot of wars. Definitely quit after this one—win or lose. And I cannot conceive that he needs money. His legacy is secure.

  13. Michael Hegan 03:34pm, 08/07/2013

    how many of you guys think that Pacquiao should be , at least thinking about an exit strategy.

  14. Ted 03:10pm, 08/07/2013

    “without Buffer-style hyperbole,” I like it! Good line.

  15. Ted 11:34am, 08/07/2013

    Prov. Rios will win this one. No one can come back from a KO like the one he suffered, especially against a monster like Rios. PAC is toast. You hear it here first.

  16. Don from Prov 07:41am, 08/07/2013

    “...but Brandon was one of those rare fighters whose will to win seemed impenetrable, whose self-confidence was so supreme he wouldn’t let himself lose. In his last fight, some of that confidence was shaken. He didn’t perform in the latter half of the fight when Alvarado stood in front of him, equally willful, equally violent. While Rios had knocked Alvarado out in their first fight, in the rematch Alvarado held his ground.”

    I agree.  I never thought Alvarado began to box more effectively—
    Just that Rios lost something, and that is not a good sign.

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