As a caravan of emissaries of the combat variety approach the “Pacman Wild Card Gym” in General Santos City, a place virtually owned by a certain Congressman, Manny Pacquiao stops short of the door to take in the full rush of precipitation.
He needs to cool off.
“What’s going on with Manny?” I ask Buboy Fernandez, Pacquiao’s boyhood friend and assistant trainer. It’s not every day someone actually decides to deliberately become an umbrella.
“He’s pissed. And actually, this is good,” says Buboy with a wry grin. “He just saw Alex Ariza on TV with Brandon Rios. Alex was saying how Manny went from a ordinary fighter to an extraordinary one and now he’s back to average. Garcia and Rios were laughing… It’s Ok.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, with a tone more or less asking why.
“He’s real focused and sharp right now. Bad news for his sparring partners, he’s already at 85%,” Said Fernandez. “He’s been beating the hell out of them, and we just heard from Freddie that Miguel Cotto might come go with Manny after what he did to Rodriguez. That’ll be good- and probably bad for Miguel too. He’s hungry.”
So is Rios.
In fact, so much so that he would get gaunt making weight while dreaming about food making 135lbs. Enter the aforementioned (and Pacquiao turncoat) Alex Ariza, who did a masterful job with Pacquiao regardless of the sour nature surrounding their split. He’s doing the same in restructuring the regimen and physique of Rios, as he looks to become a 147lb wrecking machine in his welterweight debut against the 8-division Filipino icon on November 23rd in Macau, China.
Displaying a cool confidence following a grueling workout and sparring session a ½ a world away in California, I now see replays of Rios spilling what sent Pacquiao into a small monsoon.
“I have to go ahead and send Manny Pacquiao’s ass into retirement,” Rios blasted. “Marquez beat him; Bradley beat him, now it’s my turn. Out with the old in with the new.”
This fight promises to be fireworks, in a way that won’t feature any dramatic embellishment or inter-weaving of fact and fiction. These two are action stars of best kind, and will be in a kill zone once the first bell rings. Since imagination so fuels our collective psyches, considering other hell-raising match-ups is simply unavoidable for a writer of cinematic scope. Rios’s challenge of Pacquiao and the promotional build-up you are about to watch unfold on HBO will all feel like a movie.
Since that’s the case, let’s imagine them in fierce duals with Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward.
Rios vs. Gatti
This is an excellent fight and a cold-blooded affair. Under the guidance and tutelage of Robert Garcia, Rios is a systematic, search and destroy guy. Add Ariza and his conditioning methods in, and we have quite the capable destruction machine, particularly at 140lbs (Ariza knows Manny is a small 147lb fighter and that Brandon is jumping 2 weight classes. Look for Rios at about 145lbs). Neither man would want to back down- and wouldn’t. Rios’s come forward style would mesh well with that of Gatti’s, who offered a little more movement but slightly less defense than Brandon. Arturo (RIP) had a great deal of heart and was uncommonly brave. He fought as recklessly in the ring as he lived outside of it, and would go toe-to-toe with Brandon in a pitched battle. Both of them possess tremendous resolve, and it would be trench warfare for the ages. And therein lies the difference. The inside work of Rios is better than that of Gatti’s, who would find himself under a fuselage of punishment as the fight neared the closing stanza. Oh yes, Arturo would rock Brandon a few times for sure, but Brandon would drop Gatti for sure - and for good – in the 9th round.
Pacquiao vs. Ward
The Pacquiao that I’m now watching prepare for Rios looks to be deadly. And this is before Freddie Roach shows up to install and reinforce the gameplan to derail Brandon Rios. I don’t really think of Manny as a true welterweight. He isn’t. Manny Pacquiao is really no more than a 140lb fighter tops, which makes it all the more remarkable what he’s been able to do. He’s unusually fast and very fast. His offense is the perhaps the most dynamic the sport has ever seen, but it’s his footwork that is something to truly behold and marvel at. Pacquiao’s NBA-like, point guard rhythm in the ring would completely befuddle Ward, and probably send him to a ward of a different kind. Understanding Mickey’s power comes only from the left hand; Pacquiao’s ring generalship would get Ward out of position frequently, enabling him to unload his machine gun offense, while not allowing Mickey to launch anything. This fight would make Manny look like Attila the Hun in terms of the savage nature in which he would destroy Mickey Ward. Thoroughly beaten and hopelessly behind on points, Mickey’s last ditch effort at a knockout would get him killed in round 8. He would be revived a few minutes later and not remember the walk back to the dressing room.
Up Next… Pacquiao vs. Rios: The Kill Zone [Vol. II] “A Streetcar Named Desire”