Bad loss to Rios could spell the end for Filipino star
Pacquiao likely fighting for his career in Macau
MACAU // The Filipino great Manny Pacquiao will need to shrug off the distractions of a deadly typhoon and a physical clash involving his trainer as he heads into a make-or-break comeback fight against Brandon Rios on Sunday.
The only man to win world titles in eight different weight classes knows that his career is on the line as he returns to the ring in Macau, just days away from his 35th birthday.
It is almost a year since Pacquiao was knocked cold by his Mexican arch-rival Juan Manuel Marquez, a defeat that came six months after a controversial split-decision defeat to the American Timothy Bradley.
If he were to suffer a third loss in succession, in the World Boxing Organisation (WBO) International welterweight title clash with America’s Rios, talk of his retirement would amplify into a roar.
Only 18 months ago, “Pac-Man” was regarded by many as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, having lost only once in 31 fights dating to 1999.
Freddie Roach, his trainer, has conceded that if Pacquiao loses badly to Rios, a former lightweight world champion, he would have no hesitation in telling him to retire.
But defeat is the last thing on the mind of Pacquiao, who is guaranteed to receive US$18 million (Dh66.1m) for the fight, which is likely to begin around noon in Macau – 9am in the UAE and midnight in New York.
“Brandon Rios says he’s hungry to win this fight, and I also say I’m hungry to win this fight because I’ve lost twice last year,” Pacquiao said.
The final days of Pacquiao’s build-up have been anything but smooth after Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, leaving about 5,500 people dead or missing.
Pacquiao’s training base in General Santos City escaped the storm, but the Filipino congressman had to be talked out of halting his preparations to visit the disaster area.
“I’m doing my best to win this fight and give a good fight, especially with what happened to my countrymen,” he said. “To all the people and the families who have been affected by this storm, the typhoon – this fight is for you.”
Pacquiao was also unimpressed by a bust-up between Roach and Rios’s camp, which ended with Alex Ariza, Rios’s conditioning coach, kicking the 53-year-old Parkinson’s disease-sufferer in the chest.
As cameras rolled for a reality TV show, the two sides were heard exchanging racial insults and expletives, while Ariza mocked Roach’s slurred speech.
“All I can say is both teams prepared for this fight. Let this finish in the ring and not in trash talk before the fight,” Pacquiao said. “Let’s set a good example to all the people who admire boxing.
“All I can say is this is sports. This is nothing personal, we are doing our job in the ring. Anyone who has a grievance should forgive as the Lord forgives.”
Although Roach says Pacquiao’s intense eight-week training camp has put the 10-time world champion in his best shape for years, his challenger is confident.
“This is the best shape I have ever been,” said Rios, 27, who has a 31-1-1 record but has never boxed at welterweight or fought anyone of Pacquiao’s pedigree.
“I’m nobody’s tune-up fight,” Rios said. “I’m nobody’s punching bag. A punching bag don’t punch back. Sunday, you’re going to find out I’m not going to stop. I’m a monster when I get in that ring.”
Rios is also unfazed by stepping up two weight divisions and 12 pounds in the past 18 months, saying 147 pounds is a “natural weight” for him.
Both fighters will have to cope with the unusual timing, meant to attract the pay-per-view audience in the US. It is expected Pacquiao will eat breakfast at 4.30am.
If Pacquiao wins, he will seek a re-match with Marquez ahead of a long-mooted meeting with Floyd Mayweather that fans have longed to see. Lose, and the end of his career draws nearer.