When Manny Pacquiao steps into the ring against Brandon Rios in Macau on Sunday, the Filipino will be coming off three hard fights that might have taken a toll on his fighting body.
The effects of those three hard fights – a split decision win over Juan Manuel Marquez on November 12, 2011, a split decision loss to Timothy Bradley on June 9, 2012, and a knockout loss to Marquez on December 8, 2012– on Pacquiao cannot be discounted, especially if one takes into account that the Filipino is already approaching his mid-30s.
The question also remains if the stunning knockout loss Pacquiao sustained from Marquez in their fourth fight will affect how the Filipino will fight the Mexican-American; that is if the Filipino would be hesitant to mix it up with Rios, or is Pacquiao’s punch no longer what it used to be.
But going into the fight, Pacquiao is still the betting favorite, by an overwhelming margin, because Rios is still largely seen as untested and tailored-fit for the Filipino’s style.
Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach even sees the fight ending within six rounds.
In an article written by Scott Christ in badleft.hook, Roach was quoted as saying: “Initially I didn’t think the fight would go six rounds, and after the way he’s worked out, I don’t think it will go four. … Rios is a tough guy, and tough guys don’t win fights; good boxers win fights. The more I watch him on tape, the worse he gets.”
Many boxing pundits are also predicting a Pacquiao win by knockout, even if the Filipino’s last stoppage win was over Miguel Cotto on November 14, 2009, or four years ago.
The popular view that Pacquiao will win over Rios is based largely on the Filipino’s still being in the elite list of boxers, because he has battled better opponents; and the Filipino’s handspeed and power will be too much for Rios, considering that Rios can only boast of one world championship at lightweight.
However, skeptics can also argue that Pacquiao might be on a decline, especially if one takes into account his last three fights, which were never easy.
When Pacquiao entered the ring against Bradley, nobody thought that the light-punching former junior welterweight champion could deal with the Filipino’s speed by making Pacquiao miss a big number of shots.
And in the fourth Marquez fight, it was evident that the Filipino was limited to using his right cross as his moneymaker all throughout the fight.
Among the many boxing writers of bleacherreport.com, Kevin McCrae believes that Pacquiao is no longer what he used to be.
“Thinking outside the box—and granted this is still at a very early stage—go with Brandon Rios to defeat Manny Pacquiao by TKO in the late rounds on a November Saturday in China,” he said in his breakdown of the fight posted in bleacherreport.com in May 2013.
McCrae even sees Rios having an edge in punching power. “The Pac-Man has not stopped a fighter inside the distance in what will be well over four years by the time he steps in the ring with Brandon Rios,” he added.
In his latest prediction also posted in bleacherreport, McCrae still believes that Pacquiao will win but not by knockout.
“Pacquiao will win, but it’ll come by a close unanimous decision rather than the compelling knockout most are expecting,” he added.
Even Alex Ariza, the former conditioning coach of Pacquiao, believes the Filipino is no longer the same fighter.
In an article posted in the guardian.com written by Bryan Armen Graham from Macau, Ariza was quoted as saying:
“Just because you can envision what you did when you were 28 doesn’t mean you can perform it. In the gym, he [Pacquiao] wasn’t responding the same way when he got hit. He’s started second-guessing, lunging in from such a far distance. He’s going to be dangerous for four or five rounds, but if he starts looking in the wrong direction and starts getting flat-footed, it could be trouble.”
Come fight night, Pacquiao should not discount Rios because in boxing, lightning can strike twice, or a boxer could end up knocked out cold on the canvas two times in a row.
One factor that cannot be ruled out is how the knockout loss to Pacquiao will affect the Filipino.
In the same article written by Graham for the guardian.com, Rios’ trainer Robert Garcia said: “But no one knows how (the knockout) really affected him. We can’t say. Nine out of 10 fighters are never the same, but no one knows how it will affect him.”