Pacquiao, Rios Begin the Long Climb to Victory

by Kieran Mulvaney

Brandon Rios, Manny Pacquiao - Photo: Chris Farina

When Zou Shiming won his sophomore professional outing in Macau last Saturday night, the crowd included two interested observers who’ll be returning to the same location in November for an in-ring clash of their own.

Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios meet in a welterweight battle on HBO PPV on Saturday, November 23, the main course after a pair of Zou-flavored aperitifs and possibly the most substantial big-time boxing entrée in the region since Muhammad Ali defeated Joe Frazier in the “Thrilla in Manila.”

[View a gallery of images from the Pacquiao-Rios press tour.]

“Big time boxing is being firmly established in China with a Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios showdown," said Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum, who co-promoted the aforementioned Ali-Frazier clash. “It is fitting that Asia's most famous fighter will box in a big event in Macau.”

Over the last several years, Pacquiao has been arguably the biggest global draw in boxing, being featured in Time Magazine’s Man of the Year issue in 2009, and being crowned ‘Fighter of the Decade’ by the Boxing Writers Association of America in 2011. There have been few more appropriate settings, then, for a talent frequently dubbed ‘other-worldly’ to launch the publicity tour for his battle with Rios than the Great Wall of China, commonly said to be the only artificial structure that can be seen from space.

At one point, the two men raced each other up a portion of the steps that lead to the top of the wall, a photo-op that rapidly brought both men back to Earth.

“I hadn’t planned on beginning training camp until August 12, but I think I began it today,” said Rios afterward.

“Now I know that I’ve got my work cut out for me after racing against Brandon up those steps,” countered Pacquiao.  “He’s already in good condition!”

Even an experienced and decorated pugilist such as Rios was humbled when the magnitude of the upcoming event fully dawned on him.

“I was surprised at how nervous I was before the first press conference in Macau,” he admitted.  “I don’t think the enormity and the significance of this event dawned on me until I walked out on the stage and saw hundreds of media there.  All of a sudden I realized that I was headlining a major pay-per-view for the first time.  It was emotional for me.  But I’m over that now.”

And for all the goodwill between the two men, Rios is clear about his intentions.

“Manny makes a lot of mistakes and [trainer] Robert [Garcia] and I will be working hard on making a plan to exploit them,” he said.  “I can’t let this opportunity slip through my fingers.”

Pacquiao likewise is focused on what he needs to do on November 23.

“I have seen Rios fight and I am confident that I will win the fight,” he said. “One of my advantages is my experience against better opposition.  I think the question that needs to be asked is, ‘Is Rios ready for me?’ Rios is an aggressive fighter.  He likes to fight on the inside and toe-to-toe.  He likes to fight, period.  I am 100% confident of winning this fight.”

In his last outing, Pacquiao was knocked cold by a right hand from archrival Juan Manuel Marquez, a result that he insists is providing added motivation to defeat Rios emphatically.

“I was in my best shape when I fought Márquez last December,” he said. “I was winning the fight. I had taken control.  But I got careless and made a mistake, being in the wrong place for him to land that final punch.  But that’s boxing.  That’s what makes it so exciting.

“An impressive victory against Rios will raise my name again in boxing … I need to prove I still can fight like the old Manny Pacquiao. I need to restore the public’s confidence in me and my abilities.  It’s important that this be an impressive victory.”