There are a lot of things boxing writers disagree about, but apparently the outcome of this weekend's fight is not among them. In the admittedly small sample size of HBO Boxing Insiders, not one brave soul was willing to predict a Brandon Rios victory. That isn't to say we're not expecting fireworks, but they're likely to be the type of fireworks heralding the return of a champion, and not a new ascendant to the throne.
Here's how our writers see the fight playing out:
The big question about Manny Pacquiao is whether he is still Manny Pacquiao, after the years of tough fights and particularly the nap he took at the end of his last one. But even 75 percent of Manny Pacquiao should be too versatile, too fast, and too strong for Brandon Rios. A game Rios has his moments, but Pac-Man chops him up en route to an 11th round stoppage.
I've been among the bigger believers in Brandon Rios for the last couple of years, but I expect he'll find himself overmatched on Saturday night. This isn't Mike Alvarado or Miguel Acosta; this is Manny Pacquiao. His speed, accuracy, and athleticism threaten to overwhelm the more stationary Rios. I don't think we'll see significant residual effects from Pacquiao's knockout loss to Marquez, so I expect Manny to stop a very game Rios in about seven or eight high-contact rounds.
Although I think Pacquiao has lost his edge, Rios is a one-dimensional brawler with a poor skill set. Pacquiao boxes circles around him, winning every round.
I think Pacquiao by decision is the most likely outcome, and the second most likely outcome is Rios by KO, if it turns out Pacquiao got old after the Marquez fight. I wouldn't necessarily bet on that, though.
Brandon Rios likes to sit in the pocket, but he doesn't play peek-a-boo with his defense. He relishes taking shots. Pacquiao has some of the heaviest hands in the welterweight division. That spells trouble for Rios. Pacquiao KO 7.
Bob Canobbio, CompuBox
Rios has limited movement and is the busier fighter, throwing 74 punches per round in his last 6 fights. As a result, opponents landed 40% of their power shots. Pac (69 punches thrown per round) has better lateral movement and a better jab. Pac landed 47% of his power shots in his last 9 fights, while opponents landed 33% of their power shots. Pacquiao TKO 10 Rios.
Rios presents a difficult challenge, but his level of opposition hasn't been anywhere near Pacquiao's, and that difference will become evident as soon as the fight starts. This one looks just like Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Juan Diaz all over again: young, volume-puncher with decent power against a tough veteran who knows how to counterpunch and has the patience to wait for his chance to hurt him. Pacquiao wins by late-round TKO.
As much as I'd like to go against the grain, Manny Pacquiao is just too good of a fighter to be beaten by Brandon Rios. Rios almost seems custom-built as an opponent that Manny could look good against in his comeback fight; someone who can take a punch, a lot of them actually, and give Pacquiao the canvas he needs to turn in a masterful performance. Pacquiao UD.