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My Two Cents: Pacquiao vs. Rios

Brandon Rios Manny PacquiaoBy Jay McIntyre: In his short story titled A Piece of Steak, Jack London poignantly observed that “Always were these youngsters rising up in the boxing game, springing through the ropes and shouting their defiance; and always were the old uns going down before them.”

While Floyd Mayweather and Bernard Hopkins prove to be stubborn exceptions to this remark, the universal truth that exists here simply cannot be denied. Time and again, the grizzled veterans with their established names have been trampled by the tireless line of young hopefuls seeking to collect notable scalps on their path to prominence.

Manny Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KO’s) is nearly 35, and while this is not terribly old, he has racked up a lot of mileage on his body. He has defeated many established names in the sport such as Oscar De La Hoya, Erik Morales and Shane Mosley and in so doing, he has established a name for himself. Brandon Rios (31-1-1, 23 KO’s) is 27, and although he has subjected himself to some terrible punishment, he is still much younger than Manny Pacquiao. He has neither the resume nor the reputation of his adversary, but in slaying the old lion, he may attain the respect for which he has long sought.. Considering this, the question then remains, can the energetic youth of Brandon Rios vanquish the experienced age of Manny Pacquiao?

The Ring Magazine recently conducted a poll with nearly 7,000 respondents of from that sample, 65.6% predict that Pacquiao will win by knockout, 17.8% predict a decision for the Filipino, while 13.7% and 2.1% think that Rios will win by KO and decision, respectively (the remainder are predicting a draw). The safe money seems to be on Manny, but I believe that Brandon Rios has more than the average “puncher’s chance” in this fight. In anticipation for this intriguing bout, let’s have a look at what both men bring to the table in this most recent edition of “My Two Cents”.

Manny Pacquiao’s known for being an agile southpaw with power in both hands. His ability to put combinations together with blistering speed while avoiding any reprisals has been one of his most potent attributes. But let’s be honest, among one of the first things to go as a boxer ages, is his speed, so we need to look back quite a ways to see some of those marquee abilities at their peak.

Fortunately for Pacquiao he can be very disciplined, and outside of a few examples he is incredibly devoted to the game plan and wisdom of his trainer Freddie Roach (on an unrelated note, I still disagree with Amir Khan’s decision to leave Freddie Roach for another trainer, even though Virgil Hunter is a walking textbook of wisdom on the sweet science). Manny will use this experience and wisdom to put together a no-nonsense, effective game plan to neutralize Rios’ attacks.

Manny will use the his stance as a south paw to confound Rios. To begin with, the distance from Rios’ power right to Pacquiao’s face is increased when he takes a step back from orthodox (righty) to unorthodox (lefty), thus making Rios’ shot travel farther (he telegraphs a lot too!). Manny will be able to pick these off with his right hook, straight left, or his sneaky upward jab (upper jab? jabber cut? either way, I don’t see Rios as having the talent to control Pacquiao’s lead hand in the war for lead hand control).

All of these strikes also require Pacquiao to establish lead outside foot control before/while throwing in order to take his head off his opponent’s line of attack, while still maintaining his own. Pacquiao can go the distance, but given Rios’ inability to break in a fight, Manny will more than likely employ a measured and tactical, though punishingly effective game plan. Lateral movement, short but sweet combinations while flirting in the pocket, and control of distance as Rios relentlessly pursues him, will be his staples of success.

So, where does that leave Brandon Rios? The man has whiskers, so don’t expect him to get knocked out. He may get floored – Manny is as fast as he is smart, he could easily catch Rios coming in too aggressively and deck him momentarily. On paper this is Manny’s fight so I believe that Brandon Rios’ success will depend on either the mistakes of Pacquiao, or Rios’ ability to stick to a game plan that requires that he fight above the previous benchmark he has established for himself. Brandon Rios will need to control Manny Pacquiao’s lead hand to set up his own hooks (he is not much of a jabber) and powerful right hand.

As stated above, Pacquiao’s southpaw stance will make it harder for Rios to land his right hand cold (without any preparation) so he will need to time his big right as a counter, or once he has been able to pressure Pacquiao against the ropes. If he can get his opponent against the ropes Pacquiao will have to circle either into his left or right hooks.

Pacquiao is much smaller than Rios so Rios should indulge his opponent if he effects a clinch at any point in time. Rios is the larger, and more comfortable fighter on the inside and this can only benefit him, though I am supremely confident that the congressman will know better than to court disaster in this aspect of the fight. Given Pacquiao’s ring IQ and speed, Rios will need patience and will have to be willing to give up some early rounds, seeking to tire out his opponent with his relentless aggression, continually forcing Pacquiao to fight to keep Rios at a safe distance. As the fight wears on, Pacquiao’s speed and technique may decline and give Rios the opportunity to bank rounds, or even finish the fight.

Lastly, regarding stamina, I am not convinced that one has the advantage more than the other. Bob Arum has stated that Pacquaio’s training camp has gone tremendously well, while Alex Ariza is convinced that Brandon Rios has upped his strength and conditioning game enough to bludgeon Manny for the entire fight. These words won’t mean a thing until we see them in the ring.

Few can dispute Manny Pacquiao’s ability and legacy. But is he still one of the best in the welterweight division? The sad reality is that while one increases their legacy, over time their abilties decrease (accordingly, on a case by case basis). Brandon Rios will be stepping into deep waters in his fight with Manny, but that does not mean that he cannot win. I wish I could say that the result will simply come down to who can impose their game plan more effectively on the other. The reality is that there are a lot of X factors going into this fight (the tragic death of over 5,000 of Manny Pacquiao’s fellow countrymen due to the recent typhoon that struck the Philippines must certainly be a weight on his mind). The other “X factor” concern Manny’s willingness to stick to the game plan rather than seek a risky knockout to prove a point given his numerous decision wins lately. Finally, is Manny’s chin shot? There is only one way to find out, Roy Jones Jr. is interested to see how Manny reacts to getting caught cleanly by Rios and I think there is something to be said for that caution before the safe money goes straight to a bet on Pacquaio without complete analysis.

So, the verdict? In spite of all he “what if’s?” you can expect Manny Pacquiao to win a clear decision. Time takes its toll on us all, but tomorrow night will not be Rios’ night to make one of the “old uns” fall before him. Rios will pressure, but Pacquiao will use his superior ring stratagem to defeat the less technical fighter. Rios is always dangerous, but when looking at Pacquaio’s two previous losses, I see the quality of those opponents far and above the calibre of Brandon Rios. Rios is incredibly durable so a knockout, while possible and desirable for Pacquiao, will be less likely than a drubbing that goes the distance.

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