Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios: Top Storylines as Showdown Looms

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2013

Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios: Top Storylines as Showdown Looms

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    Manny Pacquiao hopes get back into the pound-for-pound discussion with a victory against Brandon Rios.
    Manny Pacquiao hopes get back into the pound-for-pound discussion with a victory against Brandon Rios.Kevin Lee/Getty Images

    It's fight week, fans, and we'll set you up right with all the info and storylines you'll need to know for Manny Pacquiao's big return to the ring against Brandon Rios in Macau, China, on Saturday night (9 p.m. ET; 10 a.m. on Sunday in China).

    Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KO) was once considered the pound-for-pound best fighter in all of boxing. He was a buzzsaw, running through quality opponent after quality opponent on his way to the top. But his star has diminished greatly over the past year. Consecutive defeats—controversially against Timothy Bradley, and decisively against Juan Manuel Marquez—have left the Filipino icon badly in need of a victory. 

    Rios (31-1-1, 23 KO) is a former lightweight and junior welterweight world champion. He's best known for his two-fight series with Mike Alvarado and his all-action, little defense style in the ring. Many are discounting his chances of winning, but that's extremely dangerous when you have a fighter as tough and determined as "Bam Bam."

    So consider yourself armed. All you'll need to know about Pacquiao vs. Rios is contained within. Here we ask questions, make speculations and give you the top storylines for Saturday night's huge main event!

Will the Knockout Affect Manny Pacquiao?

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    Sometimes all it takes is one spectacular knockout to end a career. Manny Pacquiao hopes that won't be the case for him when he steps in the ring on Saturday night.
    Sometimes all it takes is one spectacular knockout to end a career. Manny Pacquiao hopes that won't be the case for him when he steps in the ring on Saturday night.Al Bello/Getty Images

    It was, in a word, scary.

    Juan Manuel Marquez's missile right hand came out of seemingly nowhere, and it landed on Manny Pacquiao's skull with a sickening force that not only ended the fight but also knocked the former pound-for-pound king out cold. 

    The sight of Pacquiao—who never seemed so much as hurt during his meteoric rise to the top of the sport—crumpled on the mat was as shocking as it was scary, and it's something that has the potential to reverberate beyond that December night. 

    Boxing often presents its fans with a sort of unspoken disclaimer. A big punch can make you cheer, it can make you jump out of your seat, and it can cause you to chuck your beer across the room if it lands on your guy. But it can also end a fight or, even more tragically, a career or even a life. 

    Pacquiao, smartly, took a year away from the sport in order to recover from that punch and has reportedly been able to put that fight behind him.

    But that type of punch can have lingering effects, both physical and mental. There are countless examples of fighters, who had never seemed bothered by big punches before in their career, swallowing something like what Marquez delivered to the "Pac-Man" and never being the same.

    We just won't know if Pacquiao will be Pacquiao until he shows it in the ring. Will he be the same aggressive, action type of fighter who is willing to let his hands go without fear of the repercussions? Or will he be more cautious and diminished?

    We don't have long to find out.

Why Brandon Rios?

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    Was Rios chosen to make Pacquiao look good?
    Was Rios chosen to make Pacquiao look good?Josh Hedges/Getty Images

    When Manny Pacquiao announced his impending return to the ring, there was a fair amount of speculation about who he would face. As a Top Rank fighter, the pool of available options was confined to that stable, and the two most mentioned names were Mike Alvarado and Brandon Rios.

    The two had just engaged in an exciting two-fight series, but it was Alvarado who had won the most recent fight by decision. So it seemed logical that he would be selected to get the reward of a bigger fight.

    Not so fast.

    Alvarado is more of a boxer-puncher. He can brawl when necessary, but also box when advantageous. That's exactly how he defeated Rios in the rematch. And that's a style that, at least it seems, Pacquiao and his team preferred not to see in his first bout back from a devastating defeat. 

    Rios has a style that is much more conducive to constant action and possibly built for Pacquiao to take apart. He comes forward all night, throws a lot of punches and doesn't pay a ton of attention to this defense. That means he hits and gets hit a lot. 

    He was chosen, in large part, because not only does he bring to the table a game plan that matches well with Pacquiao's strengths, but he also guarantees more action.

Is Manny Pacquiao Still a Draw?

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    Does Pacquiao remain a top draw in boxing after consecutive defeats?
    Does Pacquiao remain a top draw in boxing after consecutive defeats?Al Bello/Getty Images

    There was a time—and not all that long ago—when Manny Pacquiao sat atop the boxing world.

    But after his consecutive defeats, and nearly a year off from the sport, there are serious questions about whether or not the "Pac-Man" will ever again reach the stratospheric heights that once allowed him to tower over the sport.

    Much like the man that he has been forever linked to—Floyd Mayweather—Pacquiao tends to be a very polarizing figure.

    He has legions of supporters who are always willing to trump his accomplishments, which include world titles in a record eight weight divisions, 10 overall world titles and becoming the first man to win the lineal title in four separate weight classes.

    There are also plenty of detractors.

    They are quick to point out that many of Pacquiao's biggest career victories came against bigger fighters at catchweights, rather than at their optimal fighting weight. They'll also point out that Pacquiao had a propensity for facing guys coming off of losses. 

    The truth, like so much revolving around boxing's greatest debates, lies somewhere in the middle. Both have valid and fair points, and both tend to exaggerate to make their side look better.

    But what isn't up for debate is that this fight is possibly defining for Manny Pacquiao. 

    A win, and there is no doubt he'll land himself in another big fight next year. 

    A loss, and the train grinds to a halt, and we can all begin debating his place in history.

Can Brandon Rios Put the Final Nail in the Coffin?

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    Rios split his series with Alvarado, but this is a whole different level.
    Rios split his series with Alvarado, but this is a whole different level.Josh Hedges/Getty Images

    By now everyone knows the stakes for Manny Pacquiao.

    Most of the boxing world—fans and media alike—didn't really place much stock in his loss to Timothy Bradley. Nearly everyone watching, including a virtually unanimous media and officials convened by the WBO for a formal review, scored the bout for the Filipino by a wide margin.

    The loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, on the other hand, was clear cut and decisive. A third loss in a row would be devastating, and it would likely signal the ending of a great career for the Filipino icon. 

    But is Brandon Rios the man to put the nail in the coffin and, while he's at it, throw a few shovels full of dirt on it?

    That's a difficult question to answer.

    Rios is an exciting fighter, sure. But most seem to feel that he has a style that's perfectly suited for Pacquiao to not only win the fight, but also look spectacular in doing so. That's largely why he was chosen for the assignment.

    There's no doubt that this is a favorable stylistic matchup for Pacquiao, but anything can happen.

    That's why they don't settle the fights on paper.

These Guys Know They're Fighting, Right?

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    Are these guys aware they'll be punching each other in the face later this week?
    Are these guys aware they'll be punching each other in the face later this week?Feng Li/Getty Images

    There's something a bit odd about the above picture. Can you spot it? Don't discount the obvious.

    OK. Here it is: Why are Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios smiling? And furthermore, why do they have their just-opened-an-awesome-gift-on-Christmas-morning look in basically every single picture they've taken for the promotion leading up to this fight?

    Now, nobody is saying that there's a hard and fast rule in boxing that says you have to hate each man you step into the ring with. 

    Sure, there have been plenty of cases where genuine animosity and even dislike fueled the pre-fight fires, and many boxing rivalries that ended in the ring had their origins outside of it.

    In most cases, though, the combatants enter the ring with a respect for their fellow fighter, and oftentimes that respect only grows after exchanging fisticuffs. 

    But there's something a bit disconcerting here. 

    Where's the fire? Where's the focus?

    One guy is fighting for his professional life—and, for that matter, to quell speculation that he no longer possesses a killer instinct—and the other is looking to prove he belongs at an elite level.

    It's fine if they like each other, but in a few days they'll be punching each other in the face. So why not act like it?

Can Brandon Rios Handle the Big Lights?

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    It's no exaggeration to say that this is Brandon Rios' biggest fight.
    It's no exaggeration to say that this is Brandon Rios' biggest fight.Harry How/Getty Images

    Brandon Rios made a name for himself—and earned this fight—by engaging in a pair of barn-burners against fellow 140-pound contender Mike Alvarado. 

    Their first meeting, which took place in October 2012, was an instant fight-of-the-year candidate. Both guys settled into a phone booth and teed off with lethal power shots for virtually every second of the seven rounds it lasted. It would be Rios who emerged the victor on that night, coming from behind and stopping Alvarado on his feet.

    The two would meet in a rematch earlier this year, and Alvarado, who was more committed to boxing rather than slugging, evened the score with a close but unanimous decision. 

    Those two fights were a boxing fan's dream. They were exciting and dramatic and kept you on the edge of your seat. But neither one was near the level—at least in terms of event status—of what Rios will encounter on Saturday night in Macau.

    This is pay-per-view, against a man who still has one of the biggest and most identifiable names in the sport. This isn't just a big stage: It's a world stage, and Rios will need very quickly to get over the jitters and not get swallowed up in the magnitude of the moment if he wants to win.

Is This China's Coming-Out Party?

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    Is China the next big market for big-time professional boxing?
    Is China the next big market for big-time professional boxing?Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    A major pay-per-view event, featuring one of the sport's biggest stars, will be originating not from Las Vegas, not from New York but from the Venetian Resort in Macau, China.

    Now there are a few reasons for that. 

    Bob Arum made some news earlier in the summer when he announced that he doubted Manny Pacquiao would ever fight again in the United States. The main reason—and the reason this fight will be held in Macau—has all to do with dollars and cents. As a foreign athlete fighting in the United States, Pacquiao is subject to a 40 percent tax-rate on his earnings, and that isn't a problem in China. 

    China also represents an exciting new market for boxing. Its population is well over a billion people, and this will be the first major PPV event to emanate from the country. 

    To draw in as many Chinese viewers as possible, Top Rank will sell the PPV in China for the equivalent of just four or five U.S. dollars. It'll cost more than 10 times as much to watch the fight in high definition in the U.S. market.

    But for Chinese viewers who wish to tune in to catch all the action, they'll need to make sure they're up.

    HBO PPV will go live in the United States at 9 p.m. ET on Saturday Nov. 23, and with a 13-hour time difference, that'll mean that Pacquiao and Rios should be stepping through the ropes somewhere around 12 p.m. local time on Nov. 24 with the first fights on the card beginning at 10 a.m.

What Effect Will Typhoon Haiyan Have on Manny Pacquiao's Preparation?

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    Manny Pacquiao was born in, lives in and trains in the Philippines, which was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.
    Manny Pacquiao was born in, lives in and trains in the Philippines, which was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan.Jeoffrey Maitem/Getty Images

    There are times when you need to take a step back and take a sobering view of what's really important in life.

    Boxing is a sport.

    There are many of us for whom that sport has provided livelihoods, recreation or just hours of entertainment sitting with our buddies and watching a big fight. But in the end, it's just a game.

    On Nov. 7, Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines with devastating force. It was quite possibly the strongest tropical cyclone to ever make landfall, with sustained winds of at least 195 miles per hour, and it left a trail of death and destruction in its wake that is hard to even comprehend. 

    Manny Pacquiao was born in the Philippines. He lives there, and he's currently deep in preparations for his bout with Brandon Rios. He has even, as recently as this past July, floated the possibility of running for president of his homeland once he hangs up the gloves for good.

    Pacquiao trains in General Santos City, which is to the south of the areas that received the brunt of the storm and its horrifying damage. He has since dedicated the upcoming fight to his countrymen who have suffered through this great tragedy, but he has said he has no plans to visit the afflicted areas until after business is taken care of against Rios.

    His team says that's to help minimize distractions heading into the fight. But is that really possible?

    The size and scope of the devastation is truly unimaginable, and for someone with such ties to the land, can they truly be ignored? 

    That's an uncomfortable question, but it's sadly a legitimate one.

Where Does Brandon Rios Go Next?

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    Rios is game, and he's a live opponent, even if he's a big underdog.
    Rios is game, and he's a live opponent, even if he's a big underdog.Harry How/Getty Images

    Brandon Rios seems to be in the rare no-lose situation. Despite his series with Mike Alvarado, he's still yet to break into the mainstream of boxing fans' consciousness—at least in terms of being recognizable by the non-hardcore fans—and most people seem to think he'll get nothing more than a trip to China and a second loss out of this fight.

    You can dismiss him at your own peril. Rios is a tough, hard-nosed kid, and he doesn't like to be disrespected. He has a lot of motivation heading into this bout, and he's facing an opponent who carries a lot of questions into the ring with him.

    A win would obviously send him to the stratosphere. A matchup with new WBO Junior Welterweight Champion Ruslan "The Siberian Rocky" Provodnikov is enough to make boxing fans salivate. Two guys, huge punches and not a shred of defense.

    Sign me up.

    On the other hand, a loss wouldn't be devastating, as long as he doesn't get blown out. If he's competitive and in the fight, he can easily bounce back from a defeat.

    In that case, a third fight with Mike Alvarado would make a lot of sense. The two men split their first two contests, and Rios was none too happy about the decision in their second fight. 

    It wouldn't exactly be Gatti-Ward, but Rios-Alvarado is about as close as we'll come.

Where Does Manny Pacquiao Go Next?

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    Pacquiao seemed to be coming on before getting blasted by Marquez.
    Pacquiao seemed to be coming on before getting blasted by Marquez.USA TODAY Sports

    For Manny Pacquiao, the math is very, very simple.

    Win, and you continue your career.

    Lose, and it's time to hang 'em up.

    Should Pacquiao defeat Rios, as most expect he will, there is more than one intriguing and potentially lucrative bout out there for him. He could pursue a rematch with Timothy Bradleywhich is suddenly very credible, in light of "Desert Storm's" victories over Ruslan Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez—or he could seek out a fifth bout with Marquez.

    If he wants to go a different route, Provodnikov has one of the most exciting names in boxing today, and both guys being trained by Freddie Roach shouldn't be a problem. 

    Roach showed you all you needed to know about his loyalties when he remained in Pacquiao's camp instead of traveling to Colorado to work the Russian's corner in his bout with Mike Alvarado in October. He's Manny's trainer first, and everything else comes second.

    That fight has intrigue written all over it.

    There's also the possibility that the long-simmering speculation about a superfight with pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather could reignite, should Pacquiao win convincingly. 

    Enough has been written about that to last a few lifetimes, so suffice it to say, we'll believe it when we see it. But it remains a possibility, however remote.