A highly motivated Manny Pacquiao returns to the ring on Sunday morning to fight Mexican-American brawler Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios in Macau, dedicating the fight to typhoon-ravaged countrymen and seeking to reclaim his exalted position among the world’s boxing elite.
“To all the people and the families who have been impacted by the typhoon – this fight is for you,” said Pacquiao during the final press conference of the first major boxing card to be held in the Chinese resort city of Macau.
Pacquiao’s long-time trainer Freddie Roach thinks the explosive and faster Pacquiao will prove too much to handle for Rios, who has never been stopped before, and predicted that the former world lightweight champion would be lucky to last four rounds.
“I know I predicted that Manny would knock Rios out inside six rounds but based on our last workout, I don’t see how Rios makes it past the fourth round,” Roach told Filipino newsmen on Thursday, three days before the fight.
Las Vegas and international bookmakers have Pacquiao a 4.5-1 to 5-1 favorite five days before the fight, Pacquiao’s first match in years outside the United States.
Experts believe that Pacquiao’s condition and form makes him absolutely more dangerous.
“Pacquiao’s new-look will give him the edge to move faster than his previous fights in all angles and Rios is in trouble,” said former two-time world champion Luisito Espinosa in his social networking site. “He looks very comfortable.”
Even Pacquiao’s biggest critic – father of unbeaten American Floyd Mayweather Jr. – is also convinced that Rios (31-1-1 win-loss-draw card with 23 knockouts) won’t win over Pacquiao (54-5-2 card with 38 knockouts).
“He [Rios] is tough and strong, he hits hard, but he is too damn slow. If he’s too slow, it looks to me like to go Pacquiao’s way,” Floyd Sr. told reporter Chris Robinson of www.boxingnews24.com. “It’s going to be a tough fight for him unless he knocks out Rios.”
Rios’ nemesis Mike Alvarado, who got even with Rios last March in their rematch fight, said Pacquiao is an A class fighter and the Mexican-American fighter is far from that level.
“Brandon’s a better boxer than people give him credit for,” Alvarado’s trainer Shann Vilhauer said to Nick Groke of Denver Post. “Problem is, he’s a Pacquiao-level fighter, but not a Pacquiao-level boxer. Pacquiao is that good.”
The 27-year-old Rios scoffed at Roach’s forecast and warned that he is set to retire Pacquiao who remains one of boxing’s top draws.
Rios’ trainer Robert Garcia thinks Pacquiao is not the same fighter who dominated his now-retired boxer Antonio Margarito in 12 brutal rounds to win the vacant World Boxing Council light middleweight title in November 2010.
“I think he has slowed down a lot in the last two years and his legs were prone to cramping,” Garcia said.
Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum said Pacquiao is guaranteed $18 million (about P790 million), which could go up to $30 million (roughly P1.3 billion) with pay-per-view upside.
Signs of decline?
Veteran American boxing writer David Avila thinks that Pacquiao’s two consecutive losses in 2011 showed telltale signs of Pacman’s “ageing legs and slower reflexes.”
Avila observed that against Bradley, Pacquiao was fighting “only at full bore in the last 60 seconds” of most rounds due to exhaustion. And against Marquez, Avila noticed that although Pacquiao seemed to have recovered from his first knockdown in the Round 3, he was fighting with “unsteady legs” in the middle rounds of their fourth bout.
“Few surmised that the reflexes were not up to his old standards. They saw Pacquiao rally back and knock down Marquez, but few saw the quivering legs of Pacman, whose stamina issues began to surface after expending so much energy chasing Marquez,” Avila wrote in The Sweet Science.
“Just before Marquez unloaded the big right hand, if you looked at Pacquiao’s legs, they were visibly unsteady. He was just plain tired in the sixth round. It happens to the best,” Avila added.
Paquiao’s former strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza, who now works for Rios, said he was frustrated that Pacquiao was scrimping, if not altogether junking the punishing but efficacious speed and strength drills that Ariza felt were key to Pacquiao’s tremendous success against some of the best boxing competition at the elite level.
Ariza, said Pacquiao would have knocked out American welterweight Shane Mosley and even Marquez in their last fight had the Pinoy boxing icon been more dedicated to his conditioning regimen.
“Manny was losing focus and was less committed to training the way he used to do,” said the outspoken Ariza in a previous interview.
But Pacquiao seems to be in great shape for his must-win fight against an opponent his handlers believe is tailor-made to make the Pinoy idol look good on Sunday.
Team Rios think they have found a blueprint for solving the Pacquiao riddle: pressure Pacman, hoping to catch him with a solid punch at the button, as Marquez did last December.
Respected trainer Robert Garcia said Rios has prepared for the best, the “scariest version of Manny Pacquiao.”
“We respect Pacquiao and we are aware of what he has done. He is a great fighter and I think Brandon is ready for him,” said Garcia, the 2012 Trainer of the Year.
Garcia knows that the only way for Rios to beat a skillful former world No. 1 like Pacquiao is to knock him out.
“We have studied many ways of doing this (going for a KO), and I think Brandon can do it,” said Garcia without divulging strategy. “He wants to retire Pacquiao and he could pull it off.”
Lawmakers meanwhile said that Pacquiao’s fight today will bring hope and encouragement to Filipinos, especially the victims of super typhoon Yolanda.
Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla and Isabela Fourth District Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao wished their colleague a good fight and victory. Pacquiao represents Sarangani province at the House of Representatives.
“We strongly believe he will win the match because of his strong motivation, rigid and hard training, and full preparation for the bout. The whole nation is united in praying for his victory and safety,” Padilla said.
“To Manny, be the silver lining in the horizon again for all Filipinos. Good luck,” said Aggabao.
“We are all united in supporting, cheering and praying for Manny who is determined to win the fight for our nation and countrymen distraught by super typhoon Yolanda. We are confident he will win the bout given his strong will, power, speed, stamina and full preparation for the fight,” Valenzuela Second District Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo said.
WITH A REPORT FROM JHOANNA BALLARAN