Boxing can be a brutal sport to watch because of the physical toll as well as the head game effect. Some fans forget to notice the grinding sensation that fighting has on the mentality of fighters. Sure, two guys step into a ring for a living and allow their fists to the be the judge, but for me it’s the action that goes on between the head before and after a fight that leaves me fascinated. While a swollen eye or broken jaw can have a residual effect on a person’s life, how long does their psyche need to recover? An example. How do you come back from being knocked out cold with one punch during a fight you were seemingly winning on all cards? This is the struggle that the former champion Manny Pacquiao faces when he steps into the ring tonight against the rugged straight forward brawler Brandon Rios.
Let me first point out to you that I am a huge Pac-Man fan. He is the reason I got back into boxing 5 years ago. As a kid, I was wooed by it when watching it with my dad. I watched Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler beat the crap out of each other. I was one of the few people who predicted Evander Holyfield could take down Mike Tyson, literally and figuratively. I wasn’t surprised when George Foreman, overweight and near the end, stopped Michael Moore with one punch and shocked the world. I was a kid who grew up loving the Rocky movies and so I loved boxing in real life. While the 6th Rocky movie helped reopen that invigorating aura of the fighting world, it was a short Filipino beast that got me back into the game. The only way to understand Pac is to relive his story and rise to power. Sometimes you have to unleash everything in someone’s tale in order to create something worth caring about.
Pacquiao helped pull me back into the sport when he began his remarkable run by destroying and ending the career of Oscar De La Hoya. There was something about the way this guy fought that was ferocious. A boxer that started out around 115 pounds and won titles in 8 different weight categories, Manny was dynamic. He destroyed Ricky Hatton, a former champion who had only been stopped by Floyd Mayweather Jr.. While Floyd needed 10 rounds to finish Hatton, Manny took him down in the second round. He loved to fight bigger guys. He beat Antonio Margarito up and help the slow decline of his career. He beat Miguel Cotto into submission in the 11th round. He toyed with a defensive prone Joshua Clottey and won. There was also a fight with Timothy Bradley that I will get to a little later.
However, if anyone knows Pacquiao deep enough, they know his career will forever be defined by his fights with the Mexican champion Juan Manuel Marquez. Two guys who always stood in the middle of the ring and banged for the duration of the fight, Pac and JMM were made for each other. Pac was the aggressive hunter and Marquez was the calm and collected counter puncher. Manny knocked him down three times in the first fight before Marquez made a late charge but still lost. The second time they fought, it was ruled a draw and I agree because both men got in their fair share of kill shots. In the third fight(and most controversial) Marquez was beating Pacquiao on most cards before taking his foot off the gas in the final few rounds, thus allowing Manny to score a few shots and get closer to a victory himself. Pacquiao won the fight and this angered many boxing fans who felt who Marquez was cheated. The fourth fight, which took place last December, is now the only fight anyone remembers.
The most action packed of the fights, each fighter exchanged knockdowns in the first 4 rounds. However, as the 5th and 6th round were unfolding, Pacquiao was starting to brutally pummel Marquez and opened up cuts around his eyes and busted his nose open. As Marquez would later admit, he was having a hard time breathing with all the blood in his nasal department. However, in the closing seconds of round 6, Pac went in for the big kill shot and when he did he left his feet and Marquez, crotched and ready to fire back, hit Manny with a legendary and magical counter hook to the middle of the face that knocked out the Filipino star cold. As one Grantland writer at ringside said, it was like you were watching Manny and then suddenly, he was gone. Watching it on my computer, I was shocked. It woke my wife up. Manny was on the canvas for at least 20 seconds or possibly 35 seconds. Marquez raised his hands while Manny’s were at his sides. Watching it, I remember comparing it to seeing a king fall from the throne. I had never seen Manny knocked out much less knocked out cold. I didn’t think it was possible. However, there he was. Pacquiao came to, and after getting checked out at a local hospital, was fine. He took a year off, but couldn’t be farther from people’s minds when discussing where his fight game was. This is where people get short sighted and miss something.
Manny is 34 years old, so he is getting up there and edging closer to the end of the line. A man can only let his body take so much punishment. However, saying he has lost it is premature and incorrect. Take the fight before the 4th Marquez fight, a battle with Tim Bradley. For 12 rounds, Manny dominated Bradley and rarely got into trouble. He punched the undefeated fighter at will and appeared to be running away on the scorecards. I watched every single second of this round on my television. Manny beat up Bradley and I may have given Timothy 2-3 rounds at best. When the scorecards were read, Bradley was the winner. Duane Ford was the judge who scored it easily for Bradley and after the fight there wasn’t a single analyst who passed up the opportunity to rip this inept judge. The dangers of boxing lie in the inability of the judges to get a decision right. This was a the bad luck charm hitting Manny. Add this to the single punch knockout from Marquez and this is what people describe as the downfall of the former champ.
It’s fair to question Pacquiao after his 3rd fight shaky win over Marquez. He didn’t look right in that fight at all. However, take away horrible judging in the Bradley fight and the one punch from Marquez and Manny could have easily stayed on his cruise control career. That’s boxing. It can be severely blunt and careers can be derailed. With two bouts of misfortune, Manny is fighting for his career and his respect tonight against Rios.
This isn’t a cake walk by any means. Sure, Rios is a childish filthy talking moronic street fighter, but he can hit hard and he likes being punched hard in return. In his own words, he has to be punched in order to know he is in a fight. He’s crazy in that particular way. Rios had his own memorable clash in the ring, splitting two fights with Mike Alvarado this past year. He nearly lost a decision to Richard Abril. Rios isn’t a world class fighter because he hasn’t fought anybody worth a second glance outside of Alvarado and Abril. He is a brawler with a 31-1 record who exists as a dangerous redemptive stepping stone for Pacquiao. Top Rank CEO Bob Arum selected this fight with the help of Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach because this is a guy born and bred for Manny to take on. That doesn’t make it easy but merely sets up a fighter with a fighter who will keep coming forward and theoretically play into his gameplan. Pacquiao’s problem lies with deceptive counter punchers. Rios is not that. He is a head leaning forward little punk who wants to scrap and is set to get caught in Pac-Man’s trap.
Manny, in my opinion, has too much lateral head movement and can land combinations from so many angles that he should slowly take Rios apart. However, this is boxing and no one knows where Pacquiao’s head is after the past 2 fights. My guess is he is ready to put the recent history behind him and carve a new path by pounding on a kid who wants to take his spot one day near the top. If I am Manny, I put my foot out and kick this kid back down the pile to the bottom of the heap.
Sure, there are fireworks between the two camps. Roach doesn’t like Rios’ trainer Robert Garcia and that extends from the Pacquiao-Margarito fight where the Garcia trained Margarito and Rios put out a video mocking Roach’s Parkinson’s on camera. It also extends from two trainers who think they are the best. Alex Ariza, formerly the fitness trainer for Pacquiao, is now in Rios’ camp and shares a nasty disdain for Roach. There was an altercation at the gym in Macoo, China this week where the two camps waged war over scheduled training time. Ariza mocked Roach’s Parkinson’s and also made fun of another man’s sexual orientation. In my mind, Ariza is the scum of the earth and should be thrown into the ring to face Pacquiao tonight. These, however, are simply fireworks.
Tonight, around 1030pm, Pacquiao and Rios step into the ring and settle the dispute with their fists. At the core of every boxing match lies a dispute or conflict of interests. Two men standing toe to toe with each other, wanting what the other one has. Can Pacquiao put aside his Congressional duties in the Philippines in order to deal with his obligation in the ring? The only thing stopping Manny from becoming great again is himself and his overloaded schedule. You can’t be half a boxer in this world. Manny has to keep his entire focus on the opponent and put aside his worries for his country, which was rocked by a typhoon recently. If he has to, see Rios as the typhoon that is attempting to destroy your own career. See him as the man looking to demolish and take everything you have. That has to be first and foremost on Pacquiao’s plate.
Tonight, on the other side of the world, Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios will put aside the outside noise and distractions and face off in the ring. While the outcome is up in the air, there will be blood. These two fighters will throw hard punches and rock each other. They will not run away or dance in the ring. They will let it all fly and whoever walks away with standing tall deserves the right to continue as a big name in boxing. The other shall fall away from the sport rather quietly.
This is why I love boxing. It’s a marriage between a person and the sport that is built on the craving for action but also the humanistic idea that these are two moral beings duking it out in the ring. There’s an appreciation for the sweet science as well as the human emotion. You never know what’s going to happen. That is why I watch.
Thanks for reading this,
Dan L. Buffa
@buffa82 on Twitter
Reach me at email@example.com.