SINGAPORE – It’s been a while since we’ve seen Manny Pacquiao.
I’m not talking about the nearly one year layoff he’s had from the sport that made him famous.
I’m talking about the real Manny Pacquiao — fast hands, quick feet, never stops coming.
Somehow, between taking the world by storm in a one-sided beatdown of Oscar Dela Hoya and being haphazardly put out of his misery by a Juan Manuel Marquez right hand, Manny Pacquiao disappeared.
When’s the last time we saw that guy?
In 2003, Pacquiao came out of nowhere and shot through the ranks, leaving a trail of Hall-of-Famers in his wake.
It was his relentless volume punching and concussive knockout power that captured the hearts of millions of people around the world.
His path of destruction across multiple weight divisions made him a star, an icon, a congressman.
And he’s definitely come a long way.
At one time in his career, the former pound-for-pound king was just a scrawny 17-year old, fighting for survival on the impoverished streets of General Santos City. He used boxing as a means to live.
In those days, he was not yet known as “Pacman” as Manny “The Destroyer.”
On Sunday, November 24, at the Venetian Resort and Casino in beautiful Macau, China, Pacquiao returns to the ring against former lightweight champion Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios in a war expected to gun for “Fight of the Year” honors by year’s end.
Here’s what the fighters bring to the table:
Pacquiao: Keys to the fight
1. Fast hands, faster feet
At 34 years of age, there’s a visible decline in Pacquiao’s overall physicality, with numbers to support the claim. Even then, you’d be hard pressed to find a fighter who is faster than he is (sans Floyd Mayweather).
Brandon Rios isn’t even close.
More striking than Pacquiao’s overwhelmingly fast hands, is his even faster foot speed. Pacquiao needs to stick to doing what he does best and that’s to get in, throw his combinations, and get out using superior footwork to avoid a firefight with Rios.
If Pacquiao can keep the fight at the center of the ring, he’ll control the pace and the action, leaving Rios with a huge problem.
2. Unorthodox angles
One of the things that make fighting Pacquiao so difficult is that he punches from odd, unorthodox angles.
They say in boxing, the punch you don’t see is the one that knocks you out.
Using his superior speed and athleticism, Pacquiao throws a myriad of punches from virtually any position. Whether in range or out, Pacquiao needs to let his hands go. Unfortunately for Rios, Pacquiao’s speed makes sure he hits the target more often than not.
Another thing Pacquiao does exceptionally well is angling out after he launches his patented combinations. This makes him hard to time and counter.
3. Controlled aggression
Brandon Rios will be dangerous early, that’s for certain.
The young lion has youth on his side and is eager to turn in the performance of his life. Rios will attack with little regard for his own personal well-being, much like a young Manny Pacquiao was at the beginning of his career.
After years of experience however, Pacquiao has learned to wait.
Pacquiao should stalk Rios like a predator does his prey, ready to pounce should the opportunity arise. Look for Pacquiao to pick his spots masterfully, carving up a more than game Rios who will be egging the Filipino to lay the hurt on.
Rios: Keys to the fight
1. Iron chin, iron will
Brandon Rios is known to take a punch very well.
Comparisons have been drawn to a prime Antonio Margarito. And while Margarito was a brick wall, Rios is all smiles as he takes an opponent’s best shots right on the money.
Rios better make sure his chin is right where it needs to be for this one, because Pacquiao will bring the pain and will bring it often. If Rios’ chin holds up, he’ll have a better chance of returning fire and possibly catching Pacquiao — whose own durability is currently in question — with a game-changing haymaker.
2. Body shots
If there’s any weakness to Manny Pacquiao, it’s most definitely his body.
Pacquiao was once stopped early in his career with a carefully placed shot to the liver. Margarito blasted Pacquiao’s ribs with explosives, causing the Filipino firebrand’s knees to buckle.
Fortunately for Brandon Rios, he does pretty well to the body.
Rios needs to let his hands loose, and dig into Pacquiao’s body as much as he can in the early rounds. His best bet is to mix up his combinations with uppercuts to the head, chest and midsection.
If Rios invests in body work early, he can derail the Pacman Express and subsequently increase his chances of catching Pacquiao late.
3. Close the distance
Pacquiao needs space to get his punches off. Brandon Rios needs to find a way to get inside because that’s where he can do all the damage.
Rios would do well to turn this fight into a classic phonebooth matchup, digging his head into Manny’s chest while letting the punches fly. He’ll need to be rough and use his size to bully Pacquiao into the ropes and away from the center of the ring.
If he can drag the fight into close quarters, he’ll nullify Pacquiao’s speed advantage. If he can turn this fight into an all-out slugfest, Pacquiao will oblige.
Though it’s hard to believe, shades of the old Manny Pacquiao surely resurfaced last December.
Pacquiao was arguably on his way to a knockout win of his own against Marquez, until he got completely wrecked.
But more importantly, Pacquiao showed the same brand of speed and power that he had in his prime.
All signs point to this being an easy fight for Pacquiao.
The only lingering question really is how much Pacquiao has left in the tank, and if the knockout loss took something out of him mentally.
Pacquiao is on the slide, that much is evident, but I believe he is still a very dangerous fighter. Brandon Rios is the perfect opponent for him, someone easy to hit and who never stops coming forward.
The last time Pacquiao fought an opponent as easy to hit as Brandon Rios was in 2010 against Margarito, and we all know how that turned out: Pacquiao threw over a thousand punches and severely disfigured the Tijuana Tornado’s face, beating him to a pulp.
Eerily enough, it was Robert Garcia and Brandon Rios who were in Margarito’s corner when Pacquiao beat the daylights out of him. At the time, controversy surrounded the trio when a video surfaced depicting what appeared to be Rios, Margarito and Garcia making fun of Freddie Roach’s Parkinson’s Disease – similar to what transpired earlier this week in a scuffle at the Venetian.
That being said, Pacquiao is chomping at the bits to teach these boys a lesson.
Look for Pacquiao to establish dominance early, throwing Rios a plethora of feints to confuse his inexperienced, younger opponent. The trademark speed and aggression will be there, and Rios will have to find a way to deal with it.
Rios will have his moments, but sometime between rounds 4-5, his fighting spirit will be broken possibly by a knockdown.
Being the tough Mexican warrior that he is, Rios will grit his teeth and walk through the pain. But his heart and ability to stand tall through adversity will ultimately be his downfall.
Rios’ chin will hold up, as many expect it will, but he’ll be much too proud to succumb to any pressure.
It will be up to his corner men or the referee to save him from further punishment. Pacquiao will cap it off with a knockout in round 9 and will be back in the mix to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2014.
PREDICTION: Pacquiao by late round knockout
There’s a growing anticipation, a buzz surrounding Pacquiao’s camp that the Manny of old is back. They say this is the best they’ve seen him in years.
Whispers are that the fire has been reignited, that the pain of loss, the burden of being the beacon of hope for an entire nation, brought the proud Pacman to his knees and humbled him.
They’re saying that the decorated, 8-division world champion has finally tapped back into his roots, that the hunger has once again returned.
This doesn’t bode well for Brandon Rios, but just as much, Rios is ready for the best version of Manny Pacquiao yet.
Now, the only thing left is for Manny to show the world once again who he is.
The word on the street is that “The Destroyer” is back, and he’s out for blood. – Rappler.com
Carlos Cinco is Rappler’s boxing analyst and a sports contributor. Read his boxing stories at www.fightcardboxing.net and follow him on Twitter: @CarlosCincoFCB. All opinions expressed in this article are his own.
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