Manny Pacquiao returns to the ring on Saturday, Nov. 24 (Nov. 23 in the U.S.) at The Venetian in Macau, China, to take on Brandon Rios in a welterweight battle. Both competitors rank among the most exciting and aggressive fighters in boxing.
But does Rios have anything more than a puncher’s chance against Pacquiao? Expert analyst Lee Wylie from TheSweetScience.com doesn’t think so.
Wylie is known in boxing circles for his obsessively detailed pre- and post-fight breakdowns. He uses serialized images to capture exactly what a fighter does and what he wants to do. Wylie watches hours and hours of tape and is one of the more serious boxing historians in the world.
He said Rios is in big trouble on Saturday.
“Unless Brandon Rios can go halfway towards neutralizing Pacquiao with his feet, circling to his left and forcing Pacquiao to over-commit and fall short with his left hand, like Marquez does, then this will be eerily similar to the Antonio Margarito fight,” Wylie told Bleacher Report.
That’s bad news for Rios. Pacquiao dominated Margarito over 12 brutal rounds on Nov. 13, 2011, at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It was a one-sided butchering.
Per Bob Velin of USA Today, Pacquiao was as dominant as ever:
Pacquiao (59-3, 39 KOs) put on a boxing clinic, dominating the fight from start to finish, landing combinations at will as Margarito could not protect his face. By the end of the fight, Margarito's face was a bloody, swollen pulp. But he never gave up.
Maybe Margarito should have, though. He suffered serious damage to his right eye in the bout and never fully recovered from what amounted to an orbital bone fracture. He fought only once more, losing to Miguel Cotto after the menacing Puerto Rican did a seek-and-destroy mission on Margarito’s previously injured eye.
It worked. Ringside doctors stopped the fight after Round 9. Margarito has since retired.
“What’s worse for Rios is that he doesn’t possess any of Margarito’s size,” said Wylie. “That was Tony's one equalizer when he met the mercurial Filipino.”
Wylie said Rios would probably try to jab his way inside against Pacquiao, but that it was the wrong approach because Rios relies too heavily on single jabs and no head movement.
“Pacquiao is superb at countering the jab—slipping to the outside and forcing the jab to sail over his left shoulder as he throws his straight left down the pipe,” said Wylie. “See the Miguel Cotto fight for an example of this.”
So Rios should watch for the straight left? Nope, it won’t be quite that easy for hm.
“Likewise, Pacquiao also likes to time his opponent’s jab and counter with a short lead hook over the top,” said Wylie. “Check out the Hatton and Margarito fights for examples.”
Wylie said Pacquiao is a sweeter scientist than he’s given credit for. He said Pacquiao has world-class skill to go along with his absurdly strong and fast hands. Pacquiao is a surefire Hall of Famer for a reason.
“Not many people realize just how good a counterpuncher Pacquiao is. Watch him against those who pressure him—he'll drift to his left, which is unusual for a southpaw, and square his opponent up. This leaves them at the mercy of Pacquiao’s quick counters and combinations coming from unexpected angles.”
Wylie said Rios, a brawler, will go into the bout thinking that Pacquiao will be there to be hit right from the opening bell.
“He’s sorely mistaken,” said Wylie. “Pacquiao's feints and angles will wreak havoc on Rios' linear movement.”
It’s true. While most boxing experts like the fight for its entertainment value, it seems no one will go out on a limb to pick Rios in the upset. And if they do, it’s only because they believe Pacquiao won’t be able to recover from his knockout loss last December to Juan Manuel Marquez.
It has nothing to do with Rios as a fighter. That’s probably bad news for him.
Wylie said Rios will have his moments when Pacquiao is looking for a rest, but that it will be all Pacquiao otherwise.
“There may even be times when Rios finds Pacquiao with his back to the ropes,” said Wylie. “Again though, Pacquiao has found himself up against the ropes against far bigger men with heavier hands than Rios when he shared a ring with Margarito and Cotto. Needless to say, they failed to break him down.”
Wylie said Rios won’t break Pacquiao down either. But it won’t be because he’s too small or weak. It’s much more technical than that.
“Ultimately, Rios doesn't possess the knowledge or timing to do what Marquez did last time out, and he doesn't have the footwork to corner Pacquiao for sustained periods or to avoid his counters and combinations. Rios defends himself by applying the earmuffs. This is suicidal against Pacquiao.”
But Rios has a puncher’s chance against Pacquiao, right?
“If Rios can't handle Pacquiao’s hand speed and precision, it'll be over inside six rounds. If he can, it'll be a wide decision win for Pacquiao.”
So Pacquiao wins no matter what?
“Rios has been brought in to make Pacquiao look good. He'll do more than that. He'll make Pacquiao look great.”
Kelsey McCarson is a boxing writer for Bleacher Report and TheSweetScience.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.