Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pacquiao-Rios: Keys to the Fight

One of the more intriguing fights of 2013 takes place this weekend in Macao, China as longtime boxing star Manny Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KOs) faces Brandon Rios (31-1-1, 23 KOs) in a welterweight clash. In a rarity for a boxing pay per view, both fighters are coming off of losses. Pacquiao was memorably knocked out in the sixth round in December by Juan Manuel Marquez and Rios dropped a close decision to Mike Alvarado in their rematch in March.
It's been a long layoff for Pacquiao and at 34 it will be fascinating to see how he returns to the ring. The knockout in December was gruesome and his team made him undergo a battery of medical tests to ensure that there were no lingering effects from that decisive blow. Although he was cleared to fight, there's no way of knowing how the knockout will play into his psyche and manifest in the ring, or if it does at all.  
Pacquiao's role as a Filipino Congressman and his unofficial duty as one of his country's most notable celebrities have provided ample opportunity for him to step away from boxing. Pacquiao has also spoken about how he has been affected by the devastation of the recent typhoon in the Philippines; his countrymen are still recovering from one of the worst natural disasters of the modern era. All of these factors beg the question: Does Pacquiao still have the physical tools and desire to remain at the top of the sport? 
For Rios, this will be his opportunity to reclaim his status as one of boxing's shooting stars. Already one of the sport's premier action fighters, Rios will now have the chance to prove he's one of its best. Moving up to welterweight, it will be interesting to see if his pressure style can work against a fighter who has had a lot of success against come-forward boxers. In addition, it is unknown how well Rios' chin will hold up against a big puncher at a higher weight.
The keys to the fight are below. My prediction will be at the end of the article.
1. For Rios, Press Pacquiao Early.
For however confident Pacquiao claims that he is in his return to the ring, the frightening spectacle from last year lingers. Sure, fighters lick their wounds, go back to the gym, put their equipment on and try to move forward, but Pacquiao, like any boxer, will have some jitters stepping back into the ring, and no amount of sparring – with the headgear and larger gloves – will fully erase doubt. He and his team want to get off to a good start and establish confidence. 
Over the last few years, Rios has done a much better job of starting faster and he's going to need to accelerate this trend mightily for this fight. As soon as the opening bell rings, he immediately has to test Pacquiao's resolve and fortitude. Fortunately for Rios, he has the perfect style and temperament to pursue this aim. Rios has never had a problem taking one or two shots in order to come forward. He won't get dissuaded from a flush power shot. Rios must take the fight to Pacquiao and get in close quarters. He needs to rough him up, go to the body and make Pacquiao know that he will have to endure 12 rounds of a savage dogfight in order to win. Perhaps Pacquiao's desire won't be there. Maybe he won't want to engage in this style of a fight. It will be up to Rios to force Pacquiao to make these tough decisions in the ring. If Rios can beat him up early, maybe Pacquiao won't want to stick around late. 
2. Manny, Movement Is Your Friend. 
Until his last bout with Marquez, Pacquiao had increasingly become more of a straight-line fighter, forsaking lateral movement and angles. During his last fight, Pacquiao returned to using his footwork and timing to launch attacks at Marquez. What made Pacquiao so special in his prime was his combination of explosive speed and power. He's a much better fighter when he's firing off odd-angled shots and using his movement to get his opponents out-of-position. Incorporating these facets against Rios will make the fight considerably easier.
Rios will be easy to hit, but the trap is to stand in front of him and trade. For Pacquiao to maximize his chances in the fight, pot shotting will be key. Landing one or two power shots and stepping off to the side will be far more effective than exchanging bombs. As the second Alvarado fight demonstrated, Rios has difficulty cutting off the ring. The more that Pacquiao uses the ring the fewer problems that Rios will present for him. Pacquiao needs to throw quick flurries and then escape.  Rios can't win this type of fight, but he might prevail in a war. Pacquiao's legs will minimize the damage.
Interestingly, in a number of Pacquiao’s recent fights, he has complained about foot and legs issues. These problems didn't manifest in December against Marquez but it's something to keep aware of. If Pacquiao can't move well because of physical ailments, the entire complexion of this fight changes.
3. Rios Has To Stay Out Of Mid-Range.
If there's a pocket in this fight, Rios is in a lot of trouble. He can't match Pacquiao's speed and creativity from mid-range. In addition, Rios doesn't have too many counterpunching weapons from mid-range or the outside. Sometimes he's had success with an overhand right, which worked well against the taller Alvarado, but I don't see that punch landing frequently against Pacquiao, who relies on quick movement. 
Rios must stay in close range as much as possible. In addition, he can't ignore defense when coming in. Yes, Rios' chin is special, but he's never been hit by anyone like Pacquiao before. There's a big difference between walking through the shots of Miguel Acosta and those of Manny Pacquiao.
Being in close will help take away Pacquiao’s straight left hand, clearly his best punch. Pacquiao has far less accuracy and power with his right hook or uppercuts. Close quarters will be Rios' safe zone and it will also allow him to get his work done, landing bracing hooks to the body and short right hands. If Rios can't get in close, he won't be able to initiate enough offense to be competitive and he will be a sitting duck for Pacquiao’s best shots.
4. Pacquiao Must Lead With Power Shots.
Pacquiao has a good jab. It's fast and it can blind opponents. In addition, he uses his jab as a timing mechanism to establish rhythm, providing the opportunity to incorporate the rest of his arsenal into his offense. The Pacquiao one-two, where he flicks the jab and throws a left hand straight down the middle, has damaged many an opponent.
However, Rios is the wrong guy to jab against. He won't mind getting hit by it and the jab will provide him with additional time to move forward. Pacquiao needs to keep Rios at bay and the best way to do that is with power shots. Shooting lead left hands, left hand to the body/right hook combinations and lead right hooks will help suppress Rios' forward momentum. In addition, Pacquiao needs to find his left uppercut and have it ready for when Rios is walking in. Pacquiao must unload the kitchen sink on Rios, who can also be cut easily. In his last fight, Pacquiao got starched by being too cute, running in with a double jab. No such craftiness will be needed against Rios. Pacquiao's brute power shots will more than suffice.
5. The Major Work Will Be Done In The First Half Of The Fight.
I would be very surprised to see wild swings in the fight late. The work (or lack of work) done by each fighter in the first half of the match will clearly manifest by the eighth or ninth round. Will Rios' pressure and body attack successfully wear down Pacquiao’s physical and mental capacities as the fight progresses? Will Pacquiao’s hard power shots take their toll on Rios? 
The late rounds will be the coronation for whoever was more successful earlier in the fight. If Rios takes a hellacious beating for eight rounds, he won't have enough in the tank to press a real attack in the championship rounds. But if Rios can grind Pacquiao down throughout the fight, Pacquiao won't have the legs or resistance to overcome Rios (with the exception of a Hail Mary power shot or two). I think that the first eight rounds will clearly establish the ultimate victor; the rest of the fight will be important only for record keeping purposes.
Here's what I don't know:
1. I don't know if Pacquiao will come out timidly, trying to shake off the cobwebs of last fight, or if he will start the action guns blazing.
2. I don't know how Rios will respond to Pacquiao's power punches.
Here's what I do know:
1. Rios will get hit, he will get hit a lot and he will get hit hard.
Maybe Rios will have some moments luring Pacquiao into a war for brief stretches but I just don't think that he holds up through 12 rounds of Pacquiao’s power punches. Ultimately, Rios will get hit too cleanly throughout the fight. His body and skin will deteriorate in the second half of the match. Whether he makes it to the final bell will most likely depend on trainer Robert Garcia's compassion in stopping the fight. I think that Garcia will make the right call in the late rounds to protect his fighter.
Manny Pacquiao TKO 11 Brandon Rios

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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  1. I think Manny is going to punish Rios for his comments about Freddie Roach, and stop him in 3, not worrying about the head, because Rios face is already looking like a catchers mitt, he will punish the body and then take him out once he knows he's hurt. Manny has always been a nice guy, I think we might see something different this time, some anger!

  2. Manny knocks out this bum in 3

  3. this fight has the mirror image of pacquiao v juan diaz written all over it.

    what i know, is that joseph abril will be waiting for rios, and when pacman is done hurting him, he will take over from there.