Manny Pacquiao returns to the ring on November 23rd hoping to get back to winning ways after suffering back-to-back losses for the first time in his professional career. After dropping a controversial decision against Timothy Bradley, Pacquiao was then knocked out in devastating fashion by long-time rival Juan Manuel Marquez in their 4th encounter. He looks to get back on track with a bout against former WBA lightweight champion Brandon Rios in Macau.
While it's entirely natural to wonder whether that type of stoppage would have a negative effect on a fighter, it's comments from Rios' trainer that caught my eye. Robert Garcia, who also trained Antonio Margarito for his 2010 fight with Pacquiao, suggests that age may have begun to affect the Filipino fighter.
All fighters age, and with that aging they may be forced to adapt their fighting style. For a fighter like Pacquiao, a great test for this theory would be for him to take on a fighter who uses movement to create awkward angles that would force Pacquiao to be on his toes. Rios is a fighter who comes forward and attacks, which is the perfect opponent for Pacquiao to face right now. A win over Rios, therefore, will not give any true insight into the boxing future of the Pacquiao.
Throughout his career, and especially during his meteoric rise through the weight classes, Pacquiao has been at his best when he's faced offensive fighters. His wins over Marco Antonio Barrera, David Diaz, Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto and Margarito were shining moments in his career. All these fighters were offensive fighters with similarities to Rios. None were cagey, all looked to engage throughout. None of these fighters were particularly tough to hit, or the sort to take many backward steps during their fights.
This offered Pacquiao the perfect opportunity to be at his very best. His aggressive style, combination punching and hand speed allowed him to roll over fighters who fought a similar wide open style. He used their own aggression against them as he was able to use his speed to beat them to the punch time and time again. Once he stepped on the gas, he didn't let off. As none of the fighters noted above were known for their ability to fight defensively and impress off the back foot, they had no answer for the frenetic punch rate of Pacquiao.
In contrast, when you examine the rest of his fights since late 2007 you see a pattern begin to emerge. You can see why Rios is the perfect opponent for Pacquiao right now. Pacquiao has faced his great rival Juan Manuel Marquez three times since 2008 and has struggled each time. While registering victories in two of their three encounters, all have been very close battles that could have easily gone either way.
Marquez's ability to fight off the back foot, absorb pressure and pounce on mistakes made him a nightmare opponent for Pacquiao and it showed in all their fights. Likewise, the cagey Joshua Clottey, the wily veteran Shane Mosley and a Timothy Bradley who was constantly on the move gave Pacquiao trouble to varying degrees.
Although Pacquiao defeated both Clottey and Mosley he was a shadow of the all-action fighter boxing fans had elevated to legendary status. He often found it difficult to break through with attacks when either man went into their shell and fought moving backward rather than forward.
Bradley offered an entirely different problem for Pacquiao and that was how difficult he was to hit with clean shots. Bradley moved constantly throughout their fight. If he wasn't dancing around the ring and wheeling away to create uncomfortable angles, he was ducking, twisting and weaving in and out of range throughout. Pacquiao pushed and fought aggressively for the entire fight, but his opponent simply wasn't there to hit enough.
Rios will be a completely different encounter, and one Pacquiao should have no trouble navigating. Much like the Hatton's and Cotto's who Pacquiao handled with relative ease, Rios is a fighter who will come forward and attack.
Rios will throw punches, which will leave him open to Pacquiao getting through with shots of his own. With hand and foot speed definitely on his side, Pacquiao should have no trouble beating Rios to the punch all night long and landing combination after combination.
In spite of the devastating knockout he suffered at the hands (or right hand to be precise) of Marquez, there shouldn't be any fears over whether his chin can withstand any shots Rios will land. Marquez landed a perfectly timed and placed punch flush in the face of an opponent who was jumping forward and committing to his own attack. There aren't many fighters out there who I would think could remain on their feet in that same situation.
Contrary to the belief of Garcia that Pacquiao has been showing signs of age affecting his performance, it seems to be more a case of the old "styles make fights" cliché. Pacquiao's struggles have always been down to styles and that doesn't seem to have changed. To be at his best he needs to be facing fighters who come forward and look to engage.
He has showed no signs of age against that style of fighter, and the Rios bout will be no different. It will be business as usual as yet another aggressive fighter is beaten by the speed and energy of Pacquiao.
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