Unless everyone who’s ever seen Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios fight is dead wrong, the last thing Saturday’s pay-per-view encounter in Macao, China, is likely to devolve into is a strategic chess match between two nonviolent, safety-first counterpunchers.
Rather, most experts, observers and passers-by are expecting one thing and one thing only.
A slugfest...for as long as it lasts.
On the surface, it’s a scenario that both men are quite accustomed to.
Rios, a former titleholder at 135 pounds before climbing the weight-class ladder, has ended 23 of his 31 wins inside the scheduled distance and is unapologetic when describing his zeal for ring combat.
“I’m a warrior,” he told Bleacher Report’s Briggs Seekins. “I just love to get in there and trade punches and see who can take it.”
Pacquiao, meanwhile, has 38 KOs in 54 wins and has stopped foes of all sizes through the years—from the 107-pound Rudolfo Fernandez (TKO 3) in 1995 to a 145-pound Miguel Cotto (TKO 12) in 2009.
The Filipino’s typical reaction to an intense back-and-forth in the ring isn’t a fleeing bicycle ride; it’s a maniacal grin and a clapping of the gloves that says, “OK, pal, it’s on.” And even in last December’s shocking loss—a one-punch KO via the right fist of Juan Manuel Marquez—he was leaping in to inflict more damage on a listing foe who appeared on the verge of foundering.
He relishes Rios in that respect as his stylistic soul mate, and for good reason.
“We will be fighting toe-to-toe. It will be entertaining,” he said. “Any time there’s a fighter who’s in front of me who wants to exchange and trade, I get excited for that. I’m very happy to be fighting Brandon because of that style. He’s a strong guy, very aggressive, puts a lot of pressure on.”
Because of the mesh, it’s a matchup that some have said wakes echoes of Pacquiao’s own signature one-punch demolition, a chilling KO of then-140-pound kingpin Ricky Hatton in 2009.
And while Hatton, then 30, and Rios, now 27, are hardly identical, it’s not entirely without merit.
At 5’8”, Rios is just a half-inch taller than his English counterpart, who was 45-1 with 32 KOs before a sweeping left hand rendered him semiconscious in the center of the MGM Grand Garden ring.
Also like Hatton, many of Rios’ stoppages have been the product of prolonged battering rather than single-shot concussion. In fact, of the last four KO victories he’s scored at 135 or 140, three have come in the seventh round or later. And the only one that didn’t, a third-round blitz of Urbano Antillon in 2011, came after two knockdowns and was waved to a halt by referee David Mendoza, not a 10 count.
The pulverizing approach pays off for Rios, like Hatton before him, when he’s on a similar or higher plane than his foe in terms of speed, precision and power. His fighting heart and zest for battle simply grind equal or lesser opponents into dust—as was the case in a 2012 stoppage of Mike Alvarado.
But against a guy who’s faster, hits harder and loves mixing it up just as much—like Pacquiao—it’s not as ideal a proposition. Because it’s far less likely his foil will be there to be punished for lengthy stretches and far more likely that Rios will be the one whose mettle is eventually tested by repeated barrages.
It was after Rios’ defeat of Antillon that promoter Bob Arum initially forecast that a Pacquiao-Rios fight could ultimately happen, though it’s likely he envisioned it more as a showdown of two pound-for-pound elitists than a means for his most lucrative property to rebuild his brand after a two-fight detour.
Either way, though, it’s likely that Freddie Roach was right all along.
While he may not emerge free of a nick or a scratch, his man is better at Rios’ game than Rios is.
“I’m not going to put Manny in a fight he can’t win,” Pacquiao’s trainer said, during HBO’s initial 24/7 episode. “I’m not going to put him in a fight he’s got a chance of getting hurt in.”
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in the article were obtained firsthand by the writer.