By the time boxing fans hit the sack on Saturday night, they ought to know a lot more about Manny Pacquiao.
The Filipino returns to the ring after an 11-month hiatus against Brandon Rios in Macau, China. He is the headliner of a Top Rank show that promoter Bob Arum assembled as a means of getting his highest-end client back to a familiar position of worldwide relevance.
Of course, if you ask the underdog based in Oxnard, Calif., Macau will be his stage, not Pacquiao’s.
Per Rappler.com, Rios had this to say at the pre-fight press conference: “Everyone that thinks I'm just a tune-up fight. I'm nobody's tune-up fight. I'm nobody's sparring partner. I'm nobody's punching bag. I'm not gonna stop for anything.”
Pacquiao has displayed his typical gentlemanly confidence throughout the run-up, complimenting Rios on the resume he’s compiled but leaving no doubt that he feels ready to answer the question on many observers’ minds:
Can he be the same after last December’s devastating KO loss to Juan Manuel Marquez?
“I feel like I can still compete at the highest level,” Pacquiao told Bleacher Report. “This will be a good way for me to prove that, fighting Brandon. He’s a great fighter. He will come ready. We will be fighting toe-to-toe. It will be entertaining. I respect people’s opinions, but I want to make sure at the end of the day they will be convinced that I am still the best.
“I can still fight.”
No less an authority than Teddy Atlas—former trainer of ex-heavyweight champions Mike Tyson and Michael Moorer and a longtime ESPN analyst—isn’t so sure.
“One thing I'm certain of is that Manny Pacquiao doesn't know if he's OK,” Atlas told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated. “I don't care how many press conferences, how many 24/7's, how many times Bob Arum says he is fine, (Pacquiao) doesn't know. And he won't know until he gets in the ring.”
We checked in with our staff of boxing experts to get their takes. Pacquiao or Rios?
Let us know what you think in the comments.