The End? Pacquiao vs Rios Preview

By Steve Bateson on November 21, 2013
Rios and Pacquiao will clash in China this Saturday night

The career of Manny Pacquiao began in 1995. Eighteen years later, after winning world championships in eight different weight classes, he finds himself in a position where anything but a victory in his next fight will surely condemn him to retirement.

This Saturday night Top Rank boxing returns to the Cotai Arena in Macau, China and the main event will pit Pacquiao against the young, fearless, power-puncher that is Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios. Had this fight been made two years ago than the overwhelming consensus would have sided with a Pac-Man knockout victory, but a lingering doubt has begun to creep its way over the head of the former P4P king. Is Manny Pacquiao on the decline?

On paper you see Pacquiao has lost his last two fights but dig a little deeper and you see that neither of those defeats have exactly been “normal”. First off there was the extremely controversial split-decision defeat to Tim Bradley and then last December Pac-man was brutally knocked out by long-rime rival, Juan Manual Marquez, with a punch that would have put a heavyweight to sleep. In that fight, especially, Pacquiao looked sharper than he had in a long time, and had Marquez not found the perfect punch then it is not unlikely that the Phillipino fighter would have won by a stoppage himself.

Pacquiao is known for his quick combinations, slick movement and footwork as well as his punching prowess. He likes to come at his opponent from a variety of angles, bobbing his head out of range, and then unleashing a barrage of hurtful attacks that have laid claim to many elite fighters over the years. Brandon Rios (31-1-1) is the sort of fighter than Pacquiao has dined out on for an age, a come forward fighter with very little in the way of defense, but that does not dispel the idea that perhaps Rios has caught his opponent at the right time.

Rios, trained by Robert Garcia, really shot to prominence in 2011 when he battered Miguel Acosta into submission to win the WBA Lightweight Championship. Weight issues lost him that belt on the scales, as well as a gift decision against Richar Abril, and that is when Rios and his management decided it was time to try their luck at higher weight divisions. The light-welter weight scene (140lbs) is where Brandon Rios met Mike Alvarado and for any boxing fan who has not witnessed their two clashes, I suggest you do so immediately. Rios showed his power when he stopped Alvarado in 2012, Alvarado shipped too many punched and demonstrated that if you give Rios the opportunity to tee off then he will make you pay.

But in the re-match, earlier this year, Alvarado brought his boxing skills to the table and we saw that Rios isn’t as comfortable against an opponent who can jab and move, staying out of range of a barn-burner. Alvarado sealed a unanimous decision and left Rios to contemplate his next move, ultimately leading to the show down this weekend.

Rios can punch, twenty three knockouts in thirty one wins are proof of that, and he has a great chin but he has a tendency to walk forward with his hands low, just looking for a fight. His style is very reminiscent of Antonio Margarito, a former gym mate of Rios and a former Pacquiao victim, and whilst his swarming attacks may pose a threat the likelihood is that Pac-Man will be able to evade his onslaught and pick Rios off at will. Pac should be too fast, too elusive, and use too many angles to bamboozle Rios, who only has one way of fighting.

The flip side of the coin is that Pacquiao has “aged” and that perhaps he isn’t as tough as he once was. It has been almost a year since we saw him fight Marquez and there is a possibility that he has slowed down and his punch resistance may have wavered. If that is the case then Rios may very well be able to pull off a shock, he will need to use his strength to pin Pacquiao down and bang away to the body but make sure he doesn’t take too much damage, himself, in the process.

Take away all the drama at the press conference yesterday, a poor sight for boxing, and just look at the contest we have to look forward to and you can appreciate the mouth-watering aspect of this fight. The smart-money is on Pacquiao to inflict a heavy beating upon Rios and force him into submission between rounds eight and ten, a similar fight to the Pac-Cotto one, but we cannot rule out Rios and the off-chance that we are witnessing the end of Pacquiao’s career.

Whoever wins this fight can look forward to 2014 and some very exciting matchups at the top of the welterweight division. Who knows, perhaps Pacquiao vs Mayweather still may be a possibility? Or maybe not.

The undercard will see a re-match for the IBF Featherweight Championship as current champion, Evgeny Gradovich (17-0) takes on the man he defeated earlier this year for the belt, Billy Dib (36-2). Gradovich was a late substitute back in March but his relentless style was too much for Dib and he was able to outwork the then champion to claim the belt for his own. Expect another enthralling contest, likely to go the distance, but don’t be surprised to see a similar result to the first time round. Dib is cute and accurate but Gradovich will be able to smother his work and get off the big shots that were so effective in their first meeting. It will be a tight one, a real 50-50, but I’d back the champion to retain.

Other fights on the card include former Heavyweight Prizefighter winner, Tor Hamer (21-2) against the undefeated Andy Ruiz Jnr (20-0) for the WBO Intercontinental and NABF Championships. The winner may very well find themselves in the shakeup for bigger things in 2014 and I would be surprised to see this one go the distance.

Local hero and two time Olympic gold medallist, Zou Shiming will make his third professional appearance in the flyweight division. The Freddie Roach trained fighter will need to be more impressive than his two previous performances as he looks to rise the ranks quickly and into title contention by the back end of next year. Shiming is lightning-quick, but his power seems limited and he takes too many shots from mediocre opposition. It will be interesting to see if he has developed since the last time we saw him in July.

Should be a great night (morning in China) of action and it will be interesting to see if Manny Pacquiao can extend his fairytale career for a few more chapters.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Manny Pacquiao vs Brandon Rios "FACE OFF" with Max Kellerman (HBO full tv version)

Brandon Rios' Greatest Hits (HBO Boxing)

Manny Pacquiao's Greatest Hits (HBO Boxing)

Look Back: Rios vs Alvarado

Rios vs. Alvarado II: Highlights (HBO Boxing)

Pacquiao vs Cotto (GP highlights)

Manny Pacquiao vs Antonio Margarito: Highlights (HBO Boxing)

Manny Pacquiao vs Brandon Rios (GP promo)

Evgeny Gradovich vs. Billy Dib

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