Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios are both looking to make a major statement when they face off on Saturday, Nov. 23. The outcome of the high-profile battle in China is undoubtedly going to have a lasting impact on both fighters.
Pacquiao is coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in his career. Timothy Bradley ended the Filipino superstar's extended winning streak in June 2012, and Juan Manuel Marquez knocked him out six months later to end a disappointing year for "Pac-Man."
He'll look to get back on track against Rios, who's coming off the first loss of his career. After knocking out Mike Alvarado in their first meeting, his fellow American was able to score a unanimous-decision victory in the rematch. It raised questions about whether "Bam Bam" was ready for the big stage.
With that in mind, let's examine the importance of the WBO International Welterweight title bout for both fighters.
Before the controversial loss to Bradley last summer, Pacquiao had reached the mountaintop of boxing. He was riding a winning streak that lasted nearly seven years and had scored wins over big names like Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley, among others.
Since then, however, he's failed to perform at the elite level fans have come to expect. Even if you disagree with the decision in the Bradley fight, it's clear the eight-division champion could have done more and failed to put the underdog away.
Now, his task is proving he remains one of the best boxers on the planet. The biggest difference between Pacquiao at his peak and the version that's dropped two straight fights is a minor drop-off in quickness. Opponents have capitalized, and now he's at a crossroads.
Pac-Man's speed, which allows him to move around the ring with ease and gives him an opportunity to attack from good angles, is one of his biggest assets. He has to hope the time off between fights was enough for him to rediscover his quickness.
He'll need it to defeat Rios, who's not afraid of getting into a brawl and has shown he can take a punch. The only way Pacquiao is going to score a bounce-back victory and get back on the path toward the top of the sport is if he uses speed to open up punching lanes to wear down Rios.
Fighting an opponent with the track record of Pacquiao is the opportunity Rios has been waiting for throughout the dominant start to his career. He's overwhelmed lesser foes, but he's finally getting a chance to show he can contend with one of the sport's biggest names.
The biggest question mark is how his fighting style will translate against Pac-Man. Of Rios' 31 wins, 23 have come by knockout. He's going to push the pace and take chances, which could come back to haunt him if he doesn't connect with a few big shots early.
That said, it's that approach that has allowed him to get a chance at Pacquiao. There's no reason for him to change anything now. He should remain aggressive and in constant pursuit of a knockout, which Marquez showed was possible with a perfectly timed strike to beat Pac-Man in his last bout.
Ultimately, fans are going to walk away from the fight thinking one of two things: Either Rios is ready for prime time and should get more marquee bouts moving forward, or he's still a step below the top fighters.
It would be easier to feel good about his chances if he hadn't lost to Alvarado the last time out. Even so, Rios should be even more focused and determined given the importance of the fight. This could be the type of win his resume is missing.