But then it happened.
“It” being the very tail end of the sixth frame - which up until, that point, was another big stanza for Pacquiao - when in an attempt to put the finishing touches on the round, he rushed in to throw another left hand, only to have been perfectly timed. Boxing’s version of a hanging curveball, an overhand counter-right was the punch that sent Pacquiao face-first and unconscious to the canvas.
It was the shot heard ‘round Mexico (and beyond).
While streams of beer flew around the MGM Grand Garden Arena and the Mexican partisans celebrated their way into pandemonium, there laid Pacquiao, still and lifeless as a corpse. This was more than just a stoppage loss; it might have been a career-ender. No, not in the sense that Pacquiao retired, he obviously decided to fight on but you wonder if he will ever be the same fighter he was prior to stepping into that ring last year.
Other than Robert Duran, who was flattened by Thomas Hearns back in 1984, how many great fighters have sustained brutal knockouts of that nature and proceeded to have productive runs (Pacquiao is now 34. Duran was a day short of his 33rd birthday when he was KO’ed by the “Hitman”)?
“I’m sure it’s happened but the point is has it happened when a fighter is in the later stages of a great career?” asked Larry Merchant, who will be working the international broadcast for Pacquiao-Rios in Macao. “And specifically, can this particular opponent, Rios, take advantage of whatever the causes of that knockout were, whether it was carelessness, whether it was slowed-down reflexes and so on? That’s the point of this week. Keep in mind that Pacquiao was knocked down by two right hands in that fight. So what is that telling us? And is it fixable?
“And is Pacquiao resourceful enough to wind the clock down a little bit? Is this an opponent for example like Antonio Margarito was for Shane Mosley later in his career? An opponent who came straight to Mosley and sometimes a veteran fighter looks 10 years younger if you’ve got the right opponents. So that’s in the mix.”
On that last point of Merchant’s, there’s a reason why Top Rank Promotions and Pacquiao’s brain trust tabbed Rios: he’s a come-forward, one-speed fighter who’s not hard to find. And unlike Marquez, whose counterpunching riddled Pacquiao at times, Rios is a steady grinder. And while he has heavy hands, he doesn’t necessarily possess one-punch knockout power.
But there are still questions that linger any time a fighter is knocked out in the fashion Pacquiao was. At his best, he was an offensive dynamo who was never afraid to take risks and mix it up. Is he now chinny? Or perhaps gun shy? We won’t find out till he takes one right on the mustache versus Rios. Everything being stated now is pure speculation. How Pacquiao looks in training is inconsequential and how he fares in sparring is irrelevant. How will he react the first time Rios touches him with eight-ounce gloves without the protection of headgear?
Does he shatter into a million pieces or as he has in the past, bang his gloves together, hop on his toes and ask for more to come his way?
Merchant states, “Sometimes it’s like you can take a punch but you don’t want to take too many of them. Is there going to be a second, third and fourth time? I don’t think Rios has proved to be a big puncher - but neither was Marquez. So look, those are the things that are in the equation that we can’t answer and that’s why we want to watch the fight. But sure, you want to see how he reacts. Rios looks like a bigger guy.”
After he was shockingly halted by Antonio Tarver at age 35, Roy Jones never regained his cloak of invincibility. Thomas Hearns was four months shy of his 30th birthday when he was knocked out by Iran Barkley. It took a few fights for him to regain his bearings but eventually he was able to get his career back on track and had big moments against Ray Leonard (a disputed draw in their rematch) and Virgil Hill (for the light heavyweight title). Lennox Lewis was 35 when he was stopped by Hasim Rahman but he rebounded quickly and finished out his career on an upswing (although some will argue that heavyweights are a bit different given their size and the fact they aren’t quite as reliant on speed and quickness like smaller fighters).
What residual effects will Pacquiao suffer through? As Tim Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov have shown, sometimes a grueling fight on a particular night is just that - one night. After engaging in perhaps the best fight of 2013 back in March, Bradley and Provodnikov, within a week of each other in October, scored career-defining victories over Marquez and Mike Alvarado, respectively.
“I’ve used that example of ‘Look how those guys came back in their next fight after a fight that was probably more body-shattering than a one-punch knockout would be.’ But those are fighters who are close to their prime or in their primes. So yeah, we want to see how Manny reacts. We want to see if there’s some way that he can modify his style,” said Merchant. “I think it was clear in that fight, after the Bradley fight, that Manny was going out looking for a sensational outcome. Maybe that’s the reason why he was open to be hit because he wasn’t letting that knockout happen. He was trying too hard to make it happen.
“All those things come into play for Saturday night.”
I’m sure by now you’ve seen or heard about the brouhaha that took place between the camps of Pacquiao and Rios on Tuesday that centered around a front kick launched by Alex Ariza toward Freddie Roach (just in case you haven’t, our own Radio Rahim was live on the scene with footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjbWs_hnOHo (Preview)
All I can say is: none of this surprises me. There’s no doubt that Roach was itching for a confrontation and understandably has lingering ill will toward Robert Garcia that stems from his camp and Antonio Margarito mocking his Parkinson’s Disease back in 2010. But really what took place between Roach and his former strength-and-conditioning coach could be seen coming from a mile away. Bottom line, these guys loathe each other and I’m guessing it’s the first time they’ve been in the same room since they parted ways.
I can vividly recall during the last few Pacquiao camps when Ariza would walk into the Wild Card Boxing Club and there would immediately be a palpable tension. Ariza would immediately put his stuff down near the ring and usually sit near the fall wall of the gym near the double-end and speed bags and wait for Manny to arrive. Freddie and everyone in the gym would basically keep their distance from him. There was very little interaction until Mr. Pacquiao would come through those doors.
Once training started, everyone would do their respective jobs but there was very little in the way of communication between the two. Think of parents on the verge of a divorce who keep the peace on behalf of the children. Now, that the union is broken up, all niceties are thrown out the window.
Let’s be honest; nobody came out of this looking good (admittedly, it was amusing nonetheless). Viewing this cynically (which is part of our jobs, I guess), perhaps this was all engineered - if not planned - by Top Rank. Seriously, there is only one gym in this city for both camps to use? They couldn’t set up a ballroom in one of the hotels to use as a makeshift workout area for one of the fighters?
Oh, that dastardly Bob Arum, he’s good. He’s really, really good (at selling).
RADIO RAHIM RIDES AGAIN
As Maxboxing’s very own video vanguard, Radio Rahim makes his way toward Macao to cover the goings-on leading up to and including Pacquiao-Rios, please check out his YouTube previews here:
Here’s the latest edition of “The Next Round” with Gabe Montoya and Yours Truly (with a full preview of Pacquiao-Rios and a look back at Andre Ward’s return to the ring):
The Andre Ward-Edwin Rodriguez fight on HBO averaged 1.029 million viewers and peaked at 1.2 million, which, considering the fact that HBO paid over $3 million for that broadcast, is downright mediocre...I got a press release announcing the return of Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy on November 30th in Baton Rouge. Good grief...It was officially announced that on December 13th from the Fantasy Springs Casino, “Golden Boy Live” on Fox Sports 1 will have Josesito Lopez facing Mike Arnaoutis and Francisco Vargas taking on Jerry Belmontes...So that story involving Jameis Winston isn’t going away gently into the night; is it?...So Prince Fielder’s homecoming to Detroit was a bit short-lived, huh?...If Jon Taffer of “Bar Rescue” ran for public office, I’d vote for the man...I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.