Bob Arum and Top Rank's dalliance with worldwide expansion became official Saturday night (or Sunday morning). They staged a memorable boxing card in Macau, China, headlined by perhaps the sport's most renowned figure, Manny Pacquiao.
The buildup was heavy, filled to the brim with drama—from one man's fight for those affected by tragedy in the Philippines, to oddities and smut that included rival camps hurling racial slurs and profanity, to a man with Parkinson's disease being kicked in the chest.
It all led to a showdown between Pacquiao and the exhilarating Brandon Rios. "Pac-Man" proved to be the superior fighter, earning a unanimous decision victory after 12 rounds of meticulous violence. But that wasn't the only fight on this occasion.
And you can reflect back on this night of fights through the wonderful art of photography, where moments are frozen from time, altering reality by holding it still.
English soccer superstar David Beckham found his way to Macau, China, in support of Manny Pacquiao and his attempt to reclaim fistic glory.
Not even someone as immensely popular as the English Football Hall of Famer would have missed an event headlined by Pacquiao. Even if that meant flying to a completely different continent.
Pugilistic aptitude wasn't the only flair on display Sunday morning in China. Top Rank's talent scouts put together an awe-inspiring group of ring girls, unsurpassed in pure aesthetics.
Capturing the world's imagination, these beautiful women seemed to float rather than walk around the ring. In effortless grace, their refinement in movement was nothing less than art.
Paradoxically, on a boxing card staged by Top Rank, it may have been a golden boy (of sorts) that the host country paid most attention to.
Zou Shiming, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, is China's greatest amateur boxer and the country's shining jewel when it comes to the fight game. Now 3-0, Shiming outclassed his overmatched opponent, adding an extra dose of aggressiveness that he will need in the profesional ranks.
Let's cut to the chase. Andy Ruiz Jr. is a big boy. In fact, he's fat. It's the very first thing you notice when he walks through a door. But he's also one of the heavyweight division's most gifted prospects.
A former Mexico representative in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Ruiz overwhelmed Tor Hamer, forcing him to retire on the stool between rounds early on. Hamer may have lost his passion for the sport, but this was still a quality win for the 24-year-old.
Equipped with a pair of the fastest hands seen on a heavyweight in recent memory, Ruiz's future looks bright.
Gradovich walked away a split-decision winner that night, and Australia's Dib wanted nothing more than to avenge his first loss in four years. They engaged early and often and provided fight fans all over the world with the fight of the evening (or morning).
Gradovich is the epitome of the hardened, cold Russian demeanor. But he's cut with the ultra-violent body-snatching approach of Mexico's deadliest warriors.
Thus his ferocity. Thus his nickname, "The Mexican Russian."
This apocalyptic cultural hybrid did what he does best: engulfing his adversary under a wave of punches to earn a TKO victory in Round 9, stopping Dib for the first time in his 40-fight career.
Gradovich's ticket to boxing's elite has been punched.
He solidified not only his dominance over Dib but also his place amongst the world's best 126-pound fighters.
"El Ruso Mexicano" is without a doubt a top-10 featherweight, and this win sets him up nicely with fellow Top Rank names such as Nonito Donaire and Vasyl Lomachenko.
Nearly a year after his devastating KO loss at the hands of blood-rival Juan Manuel Marquez, the Philippines' finest stepped back into the spotlight.
Manny Pacquiao, armed with his long-time trainer Freddie Roach, walked out to butt heads with the always-exciting Brandon Rios.
Pacquiao, a man of great faith, bowed his head before his latest encounter. Humbling himself before his God, he prepared for war.
Boxing is full of battle and bloodshed, something not even Pacquiao—the world's most tested combatant—is willing to face alone.
Pundits questioned whether Pacquiao "still had it" after such a crippling KO loss. Whatever "it" is, Pac-Man seemed to have it in spades Sunday morning in China.
The Filipino dynamo blitzed the American Rios. From impeccable movement and shifts to his patented weaving right hook—firing off a simmering right hand and proceeding to duck under his victim's returning left hand with seemingly otherworldly reaction—Manny outclassed his opponent from start to finish.
Few questioned Brandon Rios' heart before his showdown with Pacquiao. And afterwards, no one ever will again.
Rios was on the receiving end of some terrible abuse. Both of his eyes swelled almost beyond recognition. Yet, he only smiled and kept battling forward.
He tried often to close the distance with his swift opponent but always seemed a step or two behind.
Pacquiao and Rios' respective camps had their share of ugly shots.
The tension between the two camps was one of the biggest stories leading up to the fight. But it shouldn't have been because, in the end, the only thing that matters is the two men who duck their heads through the ropes and raise their fists for action. And after 12 rounds of vitality (and a brief staredown), only love was expressed.
Out of the racial slurs and vulgarity, two warriors rose to pay respect to one another.
Boxing: Life's great contradiction.
The Pride of the Philippines completely upstaged Rios. He was handed a wide unanimous decision victory. He fought hard. He fought for his family. He fought for his people. He fought for those who couldn't, for those who are scared.
In sports, we throw around words like "devastation" and "destruction" so often. But nothing compares to what that typhoon did. Still, for a few fleeting moments, those affected by Haiyan who managed to watch Pacquiao toss a shutout with his fists knew there was hope.
Manny Pacquiao weighed in a mere 106 pounds when he made his professional debut back in 1996. But growing with the sport that molded him, he now has the strength to move an entire nation. And when he fights, the world stops to stand witness.
He trounced Rios. Who is next?
When it comes to Top Rank, you never know. But the boxing community twiddles its fingers in anticipation, petitioning for the fight we might want to see just so we can stop talking about it.
Will we finally see Manny trade punches with pound-for-pound kingpin Floyd Mayweather Jr.? Logically, no.
But who the hell needs logic? Fight fans never have.
We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.
—Martin Luther King Jr.