Manny Pacquiao is a rarity in boxing. A superstar, a longtime, no doubt, pound-for-pound contender and almost always entertaining to watch. For all the greatness that Floyd Mayweather possesses, that last part has been the part that has been lacking during his rise to the top of the boxing world.
Pacquiao's style may have finally caught up to him in his last bout when Juan Manuel Marquez connected with a shocking punch that left Pacquiao out cold. That loss came after a "loss" in name only when Timothy Bradley was gifted a win that made no sense to almost anyone outside of the two judges who saw a Bradley victory.
Tonight, Manny will face off with Brandon Rios on HBO pay-per-view in the rare main event that promises an exciting fight.
Rios has been one of the current generation's most reliably exciting fighters. Even in positions where he has struggled to make weight and looked near dead on the scales, he has shown up the next night and gone to war with toe-to-toe brawlers.
Rios' two fights with Mike Alvarado have been Fight of the Year contenders, the kind of brawls that those who witnessed them keep in a special place in their memory.
But Rios lost the second fight with Alvarado, his most recent time in the ring. Meaning that both Rios and Pacquiao enter the ring coming off of losses. But, as is the standard with boxing, there's money to be made on this fight, which means the WBO invented a title out of thin air for the two men to battle over. After all, could all the sanctioning bodies really pass up the opportunity to score 3 percent of purses this big?
Belts are meaningless trinkets in the boxing world and most everyone is fully aware of it. But it's sexy to put "championship" on commercials and posters, so the fighters and promoters go with it.
But we can forget the title and focus in on the action.
Pacquiao made his name as a sort of destroyer of worlds. A man who was able to rise from weight class to weight class, seemingly never hitting the point where his power wasn't moving up with him. When he went up to light middleweight, he wasn't able to stop Antonio Margarito, instead having to settle for literally almost punching him permanently blind. But the one-punch KO stuff did seem to stop once he hit 147.
Rios has never gone up as high as welterweight in his career -- this is a first for him. But he looked good on the scales, especially to fans who have gotten so used to seeing the aforementioned struggles to make weight. Rios looked comfortable and didn't appear to have allowed himself to get soft with the extra weight allowance.
The ability of his power to travel up to 147 may be an issue, but he's more a volume power puncher than a one-shot guy, wearing his foe down over rounds before forcing him to succumb to the onslaught.
Rios isn't a guy who is likely -- and may not actually be able -- to change who he is. He's going to be in Pacquiao's face and he's going to throw a lot of punches. Manny in his prime would feast on guys like that, using his underrated defense and bombing with counter shots.
This could be a 12-round war or it could simply be a few rounds of Pacquiao being an elite fighter with stopping power against a very good fighter who lacks the skills to compete.
What to watch for:
- Pacquiao has not stopped an opponent since Miguel Cotto in 2009. He has still had decent power, hurting foes with some degree of regularity. But he doesn't have quite the same shocking stopping power at 147 and above. He should have enough power to hurt and back Rios down, but if his power and Rios' chin add up to an inability to stop the freight train, does he still have the reflexes to survive a firefight?
- Rios isn't hard to figure out. But how will 147 suit him? Will he have good stamina? Will his chin hold up? Does he have enough power to complement the volume?
- Is Pacquiao done? The Marquez knockout was scary. People forget that, but it was actually a frightening moment where he didn't move for a few minutes and had been caught amazingly clean. There's a long list of fighters who never recovered from something like that and Rios has the game to show if Pacquiao was broken forever in that moment.
Should I care about the undercard?
No, it's horrible and Top Rank should be ashamed that it's so far behind Golden Boy Promotions in terms of understanding the value of compelling PPV undercard bouts.
I will go ahead and believe that Manny isn't completely shot and has the skills to handle Rios capably. He was doing well against Juan Manuel Marquez, a much better boxer than Rios, before he got caught.
I'll take Manny in a seventh-round stoppage after wearing Rios out with thudding counter shots.