Pacquiao, Rios Meet and Greet the World

by Kieran Mulvaney

Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios - Credit: Chris Farina - Top Rank 

For Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios, Tuesday in Macau was much like Tuesday in any major fight week: it was the day the wraps officially came off and outsiders were allowed the briefest of glimpses at the fighters and their preparations.

Each morning and afternoon, the two camps work out in the bowels of the Venetian Macao – Rios and trainer Robert Garcia in the morning; Pacquiao and Freddie Roach thereafter – and on this day, media members were invited to watch as the boxers went about their business.

Rios, who has been in Macau a week to acclimate to the time zone, promptly changed the script, however, by electing to take a day off from training; he and his team joked around as stable mate Evgeny Gradovich shadow boxed and hit the heavy bag. If the pressure of the biggest fight of his career is getting to Rios, he isn’t showing it: both at the gym and the day before, when allowing a small journalistic cohort into his hotel suite, Rios appeared as relaxed as if he were on vacation, and judging from the way he and the members of his entourage chased each other around the ring and laughed at each other’s rowdy jokes, it’s a vacation to which he’s invited a frat house.

Club Med was interrupted by the appearance of a media throng, signaling the imminent arrival of Manny Pacquiao and a change in the mood. Pacquiao, as always, was amenable and polite, but as he wrapped his hands in readiness for his workout, he answered questions – questions which, to be fair, he has been asked in countless forms over the years – with little enthusiasm, although sometimes with a hint of the famous Pacman smile.

That smile was on full display in the evening, when he and Rios staged their official arrivals at the hotel, an event that traditionally marks the moment when the starting gun is fired and fight week truly kicks off. A red carpet lined the way from the curb to the lobby, where a tuxedoed host fired up the waiting crowd in English and Mandarin. The whole affair had the air of polite enthusiasm until Rios made his entrance and the media scrum suddenly annihilated the velvet ropes set up to give the fighters some space.

“Can our media friends please take one small step back?” beseeched the host as Rios disappeared from view.

Hotel officials promptly erected more solid barriers, and posted security officials, in advance of the arrival of Pacquiao, who was greeted by the enthusiastic cheers of the partisan crowd. This time, able to interact directly with his fans, he seemed more relaxed than earlier in the day; his beaming smile had returned. But the Filipino congressman and idol of his country carries a burden into this weekend’s contest, as his countrymen struggle with the devastating after-effects of the deadly super-typhoon that crashed into the Philippines a little over a week ago.

“Pray for us,” he said to the crowd, which responded with an understanding roar. Then, the smile was back, he gave a final wave, and he was ushered away, returning for now to the sanctity of privacy.