Brandon Lee “Bam Bam” Rios, who was jailed three times before he reached the age of 18 because of petty crimes, will look to pull off the biggest heist of his career on Sunday (Manila time) when he takes on Filipino ring icon Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao in Macau for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) International welterweight (147 pounds) championship.
While Rios is heading to the fight a huge underdog, there is no denying the fact that he is in an enviable position to hammer down the final nail on Pacquiao’s boxing career.
Pacquiao, 54-5 with 38 knockouts, is coming off back-to-back losses to American Tim Bradley Jr. and Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez last year. The setback to Marquez in December was particularly devastating, with Pacquiao getting shellacked in the sixth round with a vicious counter right hand from Marquez.
Pacquiao has not scored a knockout victory in the last four years and will be a few weeks shy of his 35th birthday when the bell rings for the Rios fight. After 17 years in the punch-for-pay business, Pacquiao is at that stage in his career where one more fight may put him beyond the threshold of a boxer’s lifespan.
In stark contrast, the 27-year-old Rios is very well in his prime. Born and raised in Garden City, Kansas, Rios developed an interest in boxing at age eight after following an older brother to the gym. Rios describes himself as a hyper kid and boxing provided him the perfect outlet to keep his energy level in check. Rios was 10 years old when he took part in his first tournament and he ended up amassing a win-loss record of 230-35 as an amateur pug.
Rios entered pro boxing in 2004 and won the World Boxing Association (WBA) lightweight (135 pounds) title with a 10th round stoppage of Miguel Acosta in February 2011. Success, however, had a negative effect on Rios’ waistline as he started to struggle meeting the weight limit. He was stripped of the crown in December 2011 when he failed to make the lightweight limit in a title defense against John Murray. In April 2012, Rios received a shot at the vacant WBA lightweight crown but again showed up overweight opposite Cuban Richard Abril. The fight with Abril pushed through and Rios barely escaped defeat with a controversial split-decision. Rios was lucky to win as many thought he was thoroughly outboxed by Abril.
Rios moved up to the junior welterweight (140 pounds) this year and got off to a good start by stopping Mike Alvarado. But in a rematch in March, a sluggish Rios was handily beaten on points by Alvarado.
Rios has since tapped conditioning coach Alex Ariza to help him get in the best shape possible against Pacquiao. Then again, while Rios is expected to show up in tip-top condition, it remains to be seen if he has the requisite skills to conquer Pacquiao. Rios was specifically picked by Pacquiao’s camp because his brawling, caveman style of fighting is tailor-made for the Filipino. Pacquiao is at his best against foes who reckless lunge at him, as this allows him to properly position his legs and unload his supersonic left straight.
Pacquiao is at his most vulnerable when he is forced to take the initiative. When up against a counterpuncher, Pacquiao has a tendency to jump into the fray with his head wide open, making him a sucker for a counter blow.
Experts see Pacquiao’s speed and innate power making the big difference. Rios has not fought anyone in the level of Pacquiao and if powder-puff hitters and untested commodities like Joel Ortega (he floored Rios twice in the first round before losing by 5th round knockout in 2006) and Alvarado can hurt Rios, one can already cringe at the spectre of the American absorbing head-on Pacquiao’s left straight.
Rios, 31-1 with 23 knockouts, will test Pacquiao on the inside. Rios knows how to use his broad shoulders to trap a foe inside. Rios’ pet combination is a left uppercut coupled by clubbing overhand right which he loves to throw while in the midst of a heated exchange.
Pacquiao will have to move well, punch from angles and vary his combinations to perpetually befuddle Rios and keep him at a safe distance.
Rios will definitely make Pacquiao sweat and it will be interesting to see how the “Pacman” will hold up in the early rounds as Rios is expected to pressure him and test his fragile psyche. If Pacquiao survives the early storm, there will be no denying him a conclusive knockout victory. Rios has been fading badly in his recent fights and it doesn’t figure to be different in the Pacquiao fight which is likely to be a barnburner.
Pacquiao’s career is inevitably winding down, but the “Pacman” remains the favorite to overwhelm Rios. Yes, the end will come for Pacquiao, only not against Rios.