by Kieran Mulvaney
Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios - Photo Credit: Will Hart
All kinds of prognosticators are weighing in on this week's fight between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios. Many say that Pacquiao, the favorite, possesses a skill set that will simply outclass Rios. Others counter that Rios was built to absorb punishment, and that Pacquiao may still be haunted by the crushing punch that knocked him out against Juan Manuel Marquez last December.
But what do the real experts think? Here's how a selection of past and present fighters see the bout shaping up.
Terence Crawford (lightweight contender):
I've got to go with Pacquiao. Because Rios, he's going to take a lot of punishment coming in.
Ruslan Provodnikov (junior welterweight title holder):
To be honest with you, strategically, politically, it would be good for me if Brandon Rios won the fight. But I'm going to be rooting for Manny Pacquiao. I spent two months with him in training camp. We're very close. He's a great, great person, and I think that he will come back after his last fight, and he has still has a good amount of time left.
Mike Alvarado (junior welterweight contender, Rios opponent):
That's a really good fight. Rios is going to push Pacquiao. He's going to make him adjust. I want Rios to win that fight, so when our trilogy happens it's like, "Hey, he just beat Pacquiao." But I don't know. I don't think he's going to beat Pacquiao. I laid out the blueprint for how to beat Rios. Pacquiao's going to be like, "I can box, I can move, I hit hard." But then again, we're waiting to see how Pacquiao recovers after losing to Marquez. That was a punishing blow; it might have a big effect on his career. We'll see.
Nonito Donaire (featherweight contender and former three-weight title holder):
If Pacquiao can return to a Pacquiao with focus, he'll overwhelm Rios with power and speed. But if he goes in with a shadow of a doubt in his mind after what happened to him in his previous fight, then Rios can overwhelm him with intensity and pressure. But I think that Pacquiao has the best chance of winning this fight, if he even gets just 50 percent of his focus back.
George Foreman (former two-time heavyweight champion):
I think it's going to be a 12-round decision and I give Pacquiao the hometown decision. How about a home-region decision.
Sugar Ray Leonard (former five-weight world champion):
I think Pacquiao will win although I give Rios a shot, a big shot. It's not going to be an easy fight. I'm picking Manny because he is Manny Pacquiao.
Timothy Bradley (welterweight title holder):
I've got Manny Pacquiao by a mid to late round KO. Eight rounds.
Marco Antonio Barrera (former three-weight title holder):
I think it is a complicated fight for both of them. You have Brandon Rios who comes straightforward and will apply the pressure on Manny. Then you have Manny who moves around the ring very well and picks and chooses his spots and comes at different angles and is a very strong fighter with a lot of speed. It's just going to be a tough fight for both of them.
by Kieran Mulvaney
For much of his earlier career, Juan Manuel Marquez was the Cinderella of Mexican boxing, toiling in the shadows while Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales engaged in an all-time-great trilogy of battles and electrified their fan bases. Marquez was the cerebral counterpuncher who garnered fans' intellectual appreciation; Morales and Barrera were warriors who set those same fans' pulses racing.
Over the last five or six years, however – beginning perhaps with Marquez's victory over Barrera in 2007, and augmented certainly by his epic four-fight-and-counting rivalry with Manny Pacquiao – Marquez has emerged from his contemporaries' shadows. And on Saturday night, he has the chance to leave them in the dust.
Victory over welterweight belt-holder Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas would give Marquez a world title in five weight classes over the course of his career – more than Morales, who won four, and more than Barrera and even the great Julio Cesar Chavez, who secured three apiece. Here's a look at his reigns in four previous weight classes:
Featherweight (126 Pounds): February 1, 2003 – March 4, 2006
Marquez fell short in his first world title challenge, dropping an ugly decision to Freddie Norwood in 1999, but four years later he finally achieved success with a win over veteran and fellow Mexican Manuel Medina. Two successful defenses led to a clash with Filipino buzz-saw Manny Pacquiao in 2004; as everyone now knows, Marquez rallied from three first-round knockdowns to secure a draw and kick-start a rivalry for the ages. Unhappy with the financial incentives for a Pacquiao rematch, Marquez made two more defenses before dropping a decision in Indonesia to hometown fighter Chris John.
Super Featherweight (130 Pounds): March 17, 2007 – March 15, 2008
Aided somewhat by a blown call – in which a Barrera knockdown of Marquez was not only ruled a slip but Barrera was docked a point for punching Marquez when he was down – Marquez secured a decision victory over his celebrated compatriot to win a title in his second weight division. He made one defense before losing a close and controversial decision to – who else? – Pacquiao.
Lightweight (135 Pounds): February 28, 2009 – January 6, 2012
By now, although still a skilled counterpuncher, Marquez was engaging in far more entertaining fights than had once been the case, and his lightweight title reign exemplified that perhaps more than any other time in his career. His title-winning clash against Juan Diaz was a thriller, as was the last of his three title bouts at the weight, in which he bounced back from a third-round knockdown to stop Michael Katsidis. He was stripped of the title when he moved up in weight.
Super Lightweight (140 Pounds): June 9, 2012 – present
Marquez added a title in a fourth weight division after he outpointed Ukraine's Serhiy Fedchenko in Mexico City on April 14. The bout itself was for an 'interim' title, which the relevant sanctioning body upgraded to a 'regular' title two months later.
The nature of its acquisition highlighted the fact that the most recent title reign of the Mexican's career has been the least remarkable; it is likely also to prove the only one he does not attempt to defend. Marquez has his sights now fixed firmly on welterweight, and after losing his first two outings at the higher weight – to Floyd Mayweather and, of course, his nemesis Pacquiao – he most recently scored perhaps the most satisfying win of his professional life when he left Pacquiao unconscious and face-first on the canvas last December.
That victory did not yield another title belt, because Pacquiao had been relieved of his welterweight strap six months previously by Timothy Bradley. That was a decision with which virtually nobody except two of the three ringside judges agreed, but Marquez will not care one bit about such bygone controversy if he takes care of business on Saturday, relieves Bradley of his crown, and cements his place in history.
By Kieran Mulvaney
When Danny Garcia fought his first professional fight, Erik Morales had already retired. He'd had a hugely successful career that included winning world titles in three weight divisions, as well as the adoration of Mexican fight fans and the admiration of followers of the sweet science everywhere.
But Morales, who hung up his gloves in 2007 after five defeats in his last six bouts, couldn’t stay out of action for long. He returned to the ring in 2010, and on Saturday night, he faces Garcia in a junior welterweight title fight. He will be looking to draw on the experience of 59 pro fights to beat back the young man’s challenge.
Among the pick of the crop his lengthy career:
KO11 Daniel Zaragoza, September 6 1997
In his first world title fight, Morales showed the strengths and weaknesses that marked his early career and made him such a popular fighter. The 21-year-old took more punches than he needed to against the game veteran, and his footwork could have done with some refinement, but over the second half the fight, uppercuts and punishing body shots dropped Zaragoza and sent him into retirement.
W12 Marco Antonio Barrera, February 19 2000
The first fight of Morales’ epic trilogy against Barrera was probably the best, and highlighted both Mexicans’ willingness to stand and trade blows. In an epic see-saw slugfest, Morales survived a knockdown (which he argued was a slip) to eke out a close win.
W12 Manny Pacquiao, March 19 2005
As Morales aged, he focused less on face-first brawling and more on technique. He used that technique to overcome a still relatively-raw Pacquiao, frustrating the Filipino by jabbing and moving away from the southpaw’s big left hand. It was Pacquiao’s last defeat, and the last win of Morales’ pre-retirement career.
L12 Marcos Maidana, April 9 2011
The transition from young fighter to veteran boxer was in full effect against the hard-hitting Argentinian. Maidana’s fists caused the Mexican’s right eye to grotesquely swell early on, but Morales showed guile, subtle defense and superior technique to outbox the younger man for much of the fight.
Garcia’s hands are much less heavy than Maidana’s, but he is more skilled than the Argentinian. The question is, can he be as skilled as Morales? Will youth be victorious or will experience prevail?
By Kieran Mulvaney
On most occasions, a professional prizefight is not a resolution to a personal dispute; the confrontation is professional, fueled not by hatred but the desire for greatness, titles and money.
Chris Byrd, the former heavyweight belt-holder, once expressed to me that his approach to boxing was that, on one level, it was little different from tennis. When they were on court, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi wanted only to annihilate each other, he explained. But once the match was over, there was no reason for them not to be friends. Similarly, he offered, boxing was not violence but sport, albeit with gloved fists rather than racket and ball.
Occasionally, however, the personal intrudes on the professional, and when it does, it only whets our appetites even more. Emile Griffith may have entered the ring in 1962 consumed with rage over an epithet directed at him by Benny ‘Kid’ Paret, a rage that would ultimately have tragic consequences. More recently, the epic three-fight series between Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera was fueled by genuine mutual hatred, and Fernando Vargas never even attempted to disguise his loathing of Oscar De La Hoya.
All of those, however, pale in comparison to the antipathy between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito.
There are those who question whether this Saturday’s contest should be taking place, whether Margarito should ever have been allowed back into the ring after the discovery of tampered wraps on his hands prior to his January 2009 bout with Shane Mosley; and whether, even if accepting that he has served a sentence of sorts for that most despised of boxing sins, he should be licensed to fight after surgery to his eye and orbital bone following the brutal pounding he suffered last year at the fists of Manny Pacquiao.
Were anyone entitled to object on the first count, it would be Cotto, who is now convinced that his brutal 2008 stoppage loss to Margarito was the result of the Mexican carrying plaster in his gloves. For more than two years, the man from Caguas seemed firm in his stance that he would do nothing – given his growing belief that he had been grievously wronged and as a consequence nearly severely harmed by Margarito’s actions that night – to help his foe earn another cent in the ring. But that conviction has wavered in the face of a $5 million payday and an apparent sense that the damage to Margarito’s eye (which required removal of a cataract and insertion of an artificial lens, and that gave the New York State Athletic commission pause before relenting and agreeing to sanction the fight) gives him a golden opportunity at redemption and revenge.
“My dog is more of a person than him,” he says calmly. “I don’t feel any respect for him. I’m going to take advantage of his eye, like he took advantage of the plaster.”
“F*** Cotto,” spits Margarito in return. “If he thinks I had plaster, it will hurt like I was using a plaster.”
In the real world, it’s the kind of talk that prompts adults to seek a way to calm things down before somebody gets hurt. But this is boxing, and it’s too late for that. Hurt – perhaps serious hurt – is a given. And because this is boxing, on Saturday night, in front of a packed crowd in New York and an eager audience around the world, two men will fight a very personal and very real battle on a very public stage.
By Eric Raskin
We often think of upcoming fights in terms of what’s at stake for each individual boxer. Rarely do we think about them in terms of what’s at stake for the two opponents collectively. But in Pacquiao-Marquez III, if these two rivals can produce a fight as competitive and compelling as their first two bouts, they will have done something truly special together: author arguably the best boxing trilogy of an era absolutely loaded with classic three-fight series.
Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales got the fun started in the year 2000. Then Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward battled similarly spectacularly over 30 epic rounds. In the mid-2000s, Morales engaged Pacquiao in another unforgettable trilogy. And though they technically fought four times, the first three fights of the Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez series were as jaw-dropping as any of the aforementioned group. Just how unique has this “golden age of trilogies” been? In the previous three decades combined, there were only two trilogies that would legitimately fit in with those listed above: Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier and Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield.
Now Pacquiao-Marquez is poised to join that list, and perhaps stand atop it.
As a survivor of one of these legendary series, Ward insists that being a part of something like that serves as a source of everlasting pride.
“Whenever someone says Arturo’s name, they say my name with it. That’s really something,” Ward said. “It makes all the hard training and all the cuts, the stitches, the bruises, it makes it all worthwhile when you’re remembered like this. As bad as it was when I was in there, when I look back now, I’m glad I went through it. Being part of a great fight, that might get you remembered forever. But being part of a great trilogy takes it to another level.”
That’s what Pacquiao and Marquez are working toward together (even if that’s not either man’s primary goal). Through two fights that went the 12-round distance, on the six official judges’ cards combined, Pacquiao leads by a score 679-678. That’s right: One point separates them after 24 rounds.
We can only hope the third chapter of the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry will be as competitive as the first two. Some predict Pacquiao will be too big and too strong for “Dinamita” now; others think that Marquez’s style will always cause Pac-Man problems, thus creating another classic triple.
No matter what, this has been the greatest era for trilogies that fight fans have ever seen. And it doesn’t necessarily have to end here. Maybe Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito will go from their December rematch to an eventual rubber match. Maybe if Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather fight once, they’ll go on to fight three times.
As fans, we’re all blessed when a great trilogy comes along. And that extends to ex-fighters who are now in the role of fan.
“I don’t know which of these trilogies is the best. I just know that I like watching them,” Ward said. “You sit back, you watch—and you’re just glad it isn’t you in there.”