ALL eyes will be fixed on Filipino ring icon Manny 'Pacman' Pacquiao when he goes up against American Brandon 'Bam Bam' Rios in Macau in a 12-round showdown for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) International welterweight (147 pounds) championship.
The WBO International title is not a genuine world crown, but this is the least of Pacquiao's concerns. More than collaring another title, Pacquiao will be focusing on saving whatever is left of his tattered boxing career when he swaps mitts with Rios.
The last time he was in the ring, Pacquiao was unconscious and lying face down after swallowing a vicious right counter from Mexican rival Juan Manuel Marquez in December. Pacquiao never recovered from the blow and was declared the loser by knockout to Marquez in the sixth round. The loss to Marquez was Pacquiao's second consecutive setback as he also suffered a disputed decision loss to American Timothy Bradley Jr. six months before his fourth meeting with Marquez.
Pacquiao, 54-5 with 38 knockouts, is heading to the fight with Rios a total enigma. He is coming off back-to-back losses, has not scored a knockout victory in four years and will be a few weeks shy of his 35th birthday when he meets Rios. While many still expect to see a physically imposing Pacquiao, questions linger on whether he has fully recovered from the psychological trauma he went through in the Marquez fight.
Rios, 31-1 with 23 knockouts, is bent on making the most of the opportunity. Born Brandon Lee Rios, the Kansas City native developed an interest in boxing at age eight after following an older brother to the gym. He took part in his first boxing competition at age 10 and finished his amateur boxing career with a record of 230 wins against 35 losses. Rios was a wayward kid, getting jailed three times for petty crimes before he turned 18. In a way, boxing kept Rios kept off the streets.
Rios turned pro in July 2004 and won his first six fights by stoppage. However, in his ninth pro fight in 2006 against Joel Ortega, Rios showed up in bad shape and came close to losing the fight. Dropped twice in the first round, Rios rebounded by knocking out Ortega in the fifth round.
Throughout his pro career, Rios has been hounded by weight problems. He won the World Boxing Association (WBA) lightweight (135 pounds) title by halting Miguel Acosta in 10 rounds in February 2011 but ended up losing the crown on the weighing scale after he showed up overweight in a title defense against John Murray in December 2011. Rios received another shot at the WBA lightweight title in April but again showed up overweight against Cuban Richard Abril. The fight pushed through and Rios won by a controversial split decision. Not a few thought Abril outboxed Rios and deserved the verdict.
Rios moved up to the junior welterweight (140 pounds) division this year and suffered his first setback in March when he dropped a 12-round unanimous decision to fellow American Mike Alvarado. Alvarado rocked Rios in the third stanza and won by wisely mixing his combinations with movement.
Rios, 27, has been described by The Ring magazine as a "strong-willed slugger." The guy is aggression personified, adhering to the concept that the best offense is the best defense. Rios relishes phone booth slugfests and uses his broad shoulders well to keep his foes trapped inside. He throws vicious hooks and uppercuts while locked in toe-to-toe battle and unloads along the way a deceptive and dangerous overhand/clubbing right hand.
Rios has boldly promised to retire Pacquiao, but the high-rollers in Macau do not share his sentiment. Pacquiao remains the smart money pick because of the perception that Rios' gung-ho style is tailor-made for him. Rios is the type of fighter who will bring out the real warrior in Pacquiao. Strategy-wise, Pacquiao is expected to utilize the style he employed against Mexican Antonio Margarito in November, and this means punching from angles, sidestepping Rios' wild rushes and mixing his combinations to keep Rios befuddled. One thing Pacquiao must absolutely avoid is standing in front of Rios.
Unless his confidence has dropped to the seat of his pants, Pacquiao should whip Rios. Pacquiao's speed and proven punching power figure to make the difference. Rios has a puncher's chance but if a powder-puff hitter like Alvarado can hurt him bad, one can only imagine where 'Bam Bam' will end up once he gets a taste of Pacquiao's killer left straight. While it may be argued that Pacquiao is down to his last few fights, the prevailing view is that Rios is not the one who will pull the curtains down on the 'Pacman.'