March 30, 2013, was the worst night of Brandon Rios' professional boxing career.
He engaged in another bloody give-and-take battle. He gave the thousands of fans in attendance that night in Las Vegas their money's worth and then some. He left everything he had in that squared circle, forgoing safety for violence, stalking his prey and attacking with punches that were meant to destroy.
And then he lost.
Three-and-a-half months before that, just days before his 34th birthday, Manny Pacquiao once again went to war with his arch-nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez. He attacked in manic spurts, firing punches in flurries from unorthodox angles with all of the hunger and desperation he once possessed.
He got up off the canvas, clearing the cobwebs from a devastating punch to drop his opponent the following round. He hurt his enemy, aimed for the kill and threw caution aside for another taste of the glory he used to have in abundance.
Then he was knocked out cold.
Now, these two warriors are slated to meet each other on Nov. 24 in China (Nov. 23 in the States) in the ultimate crossroads fight.
Pacquiao will enter the ring on a two-fight losing streak directly after taking one of the most vicious counterpunches ever thrown. He was completely unconscious for several minutes in a scene eerily reminiscent of the one that occurred after he starched Ricky Hatton.
Rios will enter that same ring on the heels of back-to-back Fight of the Year-worthy wars with Mike Alvarado. He was able to stop Alvarado the first time, but he was outfought the second time around. He lost to a man with a better game plan.
When one looks at these two fighters, the similarities are striking. Both can punch. Both are known for their offensive potency as well as their defensive limitations.
Rios seems completely impervious to pain. In fact, he seems to actually enjoy getting hit. That becomes abundantly clear when he takes a solid hook to the jaw—one that would buckle most men and send the sane ones running for the exits—and he simply grins at his opponent.
Pacquiao, before Marquez left him stiff as a board, was known for taking a great shot and then punching his gloves together as if to say, "OK, you got me. What else you got?"
It is their limitations, as much as their punching prowess, that endear them to millions of fight fans. Floyd Mayweather is a brilliant fighter, one of the greatest of all time. But we like our fighters to be like our superheroes, flawed but resilient. It isn't the dominance that wins us over, but the flicker of mortality they show before rising up in a display of greatness.
It might be morbid, it might be a tad unhinged, but we fight fans want blood.
We'll get some on Nov. 24. It's as guaranteed as a Sidney Crosby goal or a Tom Brady touchdown pass—Pacman and Rios will wage war. The only question is, how long will it last?
Two years ago, this fight would probably have been a gross mismatch. Rios would've given a spirited effort before being drilled into snoozeville by a Pacquiao left hand. It's no knock on Rios, who is a very good fighter and tough as hell. It's more that Pacquiao is an all-time great, and all-time great fighters beat very good ones.
But eventually, even the all-time greats start to slide. Pacquiao, as great as he has been, has entered the sliding phase.
That's not to say that he's a shot fighter—far from it. His "loss" to Bradley was a clear win to anyone who wasn't one of the judges on that night. And the Marquez fight, one in which he was dropped once and then completely vaporized, was a fight where he looked as sharp offensively as he had in years.
He would have beaten nearly every fighter on the planet that night except Marquez. At this point, Marquez is giving a solid argument, with his freakish recuperative powers and insane skill level at an advanced age, that urine drinking might not be such a bad thing.
Still, Pacman is not the Pacman of old.
He doesn't move as well as he used to, his defense has gotten worse and he seems to have lost a bit of steam on his fastball. That doesn't mean he'll lose. It just evens the scales a bit, and that's a win for the fight fans. Ray Robinson needed to lose a step in order for those wars with Carmen Basilio to happen.
Rios is always ready to brawl, and we know what we'll be getting with him. He's going to come forward, throw a ton of punches, turn the fight into a brawl and look for the knockout. Pacquiao will meet him head on and attack. In fact, without having to fear a counterpunch, Pacquiao might be as wild and reckless as he has in years.
The result? Pure, frightening, beautiful violence. A loss wouldn't be that crippling to either fighter. Pacquiao will always be a hot ticket long after he's a viable fighter, and Rios is so compelling to watch that most of the time the result of the fight is secondary to the fight itself.
But a win for either guy would be massive.
For Pac, he'd be right back on track in an attempt to lure Marquez into a fifth fight or perhaps the holy grail, Mayweather himself. For Rios, a win against a living legend further entrenches him as a must-see fighter, an action-craving brawler who can beat one of the best fighters of the last few decades.
Sometimes, unlikely weather patterns merge to create a superstorm. November 24 will be the merging of that perfect storm, a collision of energy so forceful that the entire boxing world will feel its effects.
And we'll be on our feet for every second that it lasts.
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