In the natural course of things, a former world champion recovering from a harrowing knockout loss in his last fight would opt for a safe, less threatening opponent for his return to the squared circle. Then again, Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao has never been one to follow the traditional route.
On November 24, Pacquiao will emerge from his cocoon and take on dangerous American slugger Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios in his first ring appearance since getting poleaxed in six rounds by Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez in December. By the time the bell rings for the Rios fight, Pacquiao would have been inactive for almost a year, making the fight a huge risk for the Filipino beak-buster.
The 27-year-old Rios, 31-1 with 23 knockouts, is a legitimate threat owing to his no-nonsense slugging and the heightened intensity he is expected to show when he meets Pacquiao. Rios has nothing to lose and the whole world to gain in the event he scores an upset. On the other hand, another devastating loss for Pacquiao will definitely mean the end of the road.
The son of a homemaker and slaughter house employee, Rios first saw the light of day in Lubbock, Texas before his family relocated to Garden City, Kansas when he was two years old. Rios was a troubled street urchin, getting arrested more than three times for petty crimes. He once called himself a jailbird who flew in and out of prison.
At age 8, however, Rios developed a passion for the art of fisticuffs. He became so immersed in boxing that he figured in close to 400 fights as an amateur. Rios went as far as earning an alternate position on the United States boxing team for the 2004 Olympics.
It was during the US Olympic Trials when Rios forged a friendship with noted pro boxing trainer Robert Garcia. Sensing a diamond in the rough, Garcia convinced Rios to move to Oxnard, California and embark on a pro career.
Rios entered the punch-for-pay business in 2004 and was crowned World Boxing Association (WBA) lightweight (135 pounds) champion in February 2011 when he halted Miguel Acosta in 10 rounds. Ten months later, Rios was stripped of the crown when he showed up overweight in a title defense against John Murray. After encountering weight issues again in an April 2012 decision win over Richard Abril, Rios decided to move up to the heavier super lightweight (140 pounds) division.
Rios’ last two fights in the super lightweight class have been classic shootouts. In October 2012, he brawled with fellow American Mike Alvarado and registered a seventh round technical knockout victory. In a rematch in March, Rios hurt Alvarado early in the fight but failed to capitalize and lost by decision.
Rios has been hounded by weight and conditioning issues in the past but he is expected to train in earnest owing to the significance of the Pacquiao fight. Boxing fans are already predicting a punchaton as both Rios and Pacquiao relish toe-to-toe exchanges. Rios will take the fight to Pacquiao and try to capitalize on the Pacman’s ring rust. While a slow starter, Rios owns a blistering two-fisted attack to the head and body. The guy stays close to his adversary and is a tireless workhorse inside. As it remains to be seen how much Marquez’s right hand took out of his confidence, Pacquiao will enter the ring an enigma.
Make no mistake, Pacquiao remains the favorite owing to his experience and diverse skills, but in a director’s cut slugfest anything can happen.
Pacquiao, 54-5 with 38 knockouts, needs a dominant and spectacular victory to return to the sport’s top echelon. It will not come easy, but if Pacquiao is bent on proving that he still has that fire in the belly, he chose the right foe in Rios, a fighter who doesn’t run away from the sight of smoke.
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