Did anyone expect a different winner?
You know a doorstop attached to the wall? One the sits there unmoving, has the door crash into it again and again, get chipped, splintered and broken down… but every so often you stub your toe on it? That’s Brandon Rios. He was a cricket ball bowled by the England team; more in hope than expectation and then blocked, parried, hit and occasionally smashed to long on while sticking around for over after over despite the damage done to it… and every so often glancing painfully off a hand.
Manny Pacquiao won and won easily. He was too quick, too sharp, too accurate, too fast with his hands and feet and too slick. That’s not really surprising. If a bigger, stronger, more powerful and more experienced Margarito… a man who had actually shown the ability to track down fairly quick boxers previously… couldn’t really do anything to Pacquiao there was no reason to suspect Rios would be able to. The pre-fight discussion was all about how Rios was tailor made for Pac and the fight simply showed that to be true. Rios was slow, flat footed, befuddled by movement, defensively weak and simply outclassed. He tried to box in the first round and that didn’t work. He went back to his brawling and didn’t do much better. He had no answers to Pacquiao’s speed, to his combinations or to his movement. Frankly I wouldn’t have objected if his corner pulled him out after about seven rounds… there was no indication anything would change going forward and… unsurprisingly… it didn’t.
That said, this bout wasn’t a question of who would win. Barring a miracle there was no way Rios would. The question was how good would Pacquiao look? Would he be what he once was, the furious puncher who took whole weightclasses by storm in a fury of pugilistic aggression? Or would he be an old, fighter, a sad fighter, a distorted image of what once had been so great?
The answer… as is normally the case with such questions… is somewhere in the middle.
Pacquiao looked good, don’t get me wrong. He was always going to look good about Rios, but there were still positive signs. In his last two bouts his output went between two extremes; against Bradley he seemed to take the first two minutes off and only come to life in last minute to thirty seconds which was likely one of the reasons he lost narrow rounds. Against Marquez he threw everything he had at the Mexican counter-puncher from the very first bell but because of that was wild and vulnerable. Here he kept up a steady output but boxed in spurts, a combination here, a sharp counter there and there was only really one round where he seemed to take much of it off. His movement was good; Rios didn’t apply much intelligent pressure but Manny still moved well as he slipped around him at will. Pacquiao was accurate with his shots, threw in combination, showed no stamina issues, had solid defence and worked the head and body well. He is still clearly a very good boxer.
But still a great one?
I predicted Manny would stop Rios and he didn’t. Part of that was that Rios wasn’t as aggressive as I expected him to be. He was never going to win if he tried to box Pacquiao but for far too long he was content to keep his gloves up and plod forwards, eating shots without coming close to landing any of his own. The few moments of success he did have came when he switched to an “all ahead full and damn the torpedoes” mentality and forced his way to the inside. Doing so throughout the bout would have been a high risk high reward approach as it would have left Rios open to being caught flush by Pacquiao in the manner Hatton was… but it would have given Rios a chance of winning. He turned that option down.
That said, Pacquiao did have chances to finish and then seemed to step back and let Rios back in. He hurt Rios every time he committed to the body but he rarely offered a sustained attack. There were moments where Rios was reeling… notably in the 12th but also in earlier rounds… and Manny let him off the hook. Perhaps that was simply understandable caution after what happened to Manny against Marquez… but truth be told, Manny hasn’t shown the killer instinct that so entranced the boxing public earlier in his career for a number of bouts and I suspect it may be gone forever. That may come back to haunt him.
Likewise, there were some flaws we’ve seen earlier that remained. Against both Margarito and Clottey there were times when Pacquiao inexblicably decided to stand in front of them and take punches and it was in those few moments where the pair had any success. Yet here Manny was, deciding to go inside on Rios and then standing there even as Rios worked his head and body. It made no difference to this bout… but it may in the future.
And the simple fact is some questions were never going to be answered here. Rios is a crude, face first brawler and Manny has always had success against them. He would have truly fallen a long way if Rios even made it competitive. Where Manny has struggled is when opponents have shown more nous, have tighter defences, have been able to slip, block, parry and counter his speedy bursts, have used lateral movement and sensible footwork. But Rios was never going to show any of that and so Pacquiao never had to show the ability to deal with it. That’s a question that will have to be asked at a later date… be it in a rematch with Bradley, yet another Marquez bout or, fingers and toes crossed and realism put aside for the moment, the much delayed bout with Mayweather.
So where does Pacquiao go from here? He’s shown he’s still a good fighter, that he’s not shot, that he’s not Roy Jones Jr post-Tarver. The above mentioned bouts with Marquez and Bradley are possibilities an there will of course be questions about a Mayweather bout. Ruslan Provodnikov, fresh from his destructive victory over Mike Alvarado, was in the audience and while the pair have sparred together and Provodnikov trains under Roach money talks in boxing and a fight between them would be pugilistic gold for much the same reason this bout, one-sided as it was, was a pretty decent bout to watch. Provodnikov is powerful, relentless and hits with more one-shot power than Pacquiao. He doesn’t pose the technical boxing questions we may want Manny to answer… but whatever questions he does pose, the way Pacquiao answers them will almost certainly be vastly entertaining.
As for Rios, I don’t know. He shouldn’t drop in anyone’s opinion coming out of this bout; he performed pretty much as we expected him to and did about as well as we expected him to. He’s still tough, still durable, still entertaining to watch and he’ll still give a hard night’s work to anyone who decides to stand in front of him. A third Alvarado bout seems both possible and somewhat entertaining to watch. At the same time however, that’s three bouts in a row where he’s taken a beating, even if he did win one of them, and four bouts in a row where he’s looked fairly poor. He may only be 27 but he’s taken a lot of punishment and his words are already starting to slur. He made $4,000,000+ from this bout and some pretty hefty chunks of change in earlier ones. I certainly wouldn’t be upset if he retired tomorrow. I don’t expect him to, but I wouldn’t be upset.
On the undercard, Evgeny Gradovich had a career best performance against Billy Dib. In many ways it was a copy of their first bout, with Dib being the slightly more skillful man but not being able to either discourage or avoid Gradovich and his relentless workrate. Gradovich isn’t a big puncher (despite scoring a knockdown) but his shots add up and Dib was well beaten by the time his corner mercifully asked the referee to stop it. It’s hard to see where Dib goes from here outside of reverting back to being a regional attraction in Australia… 50 Cent’s lack of promotional power is going to hurt him and more and more the rapper’s attempts to get into the boxing game look like an expensive mistake. As for Gradovich, he may not be the best in his weightclass and he may not ever become the best but he’s put himself in contention for big bouts and his high paced style will make him a difficult opponent for anyone.
I’m not a fan of Tor Hamer yet I still find him in infuriating, so God knows what his actual fans and trainers think of him. For two rounds he exposed some of the defensive flaws prospect/contender Andy Ruiz Jr has, catching the rotund but quick punching heavyweight with repeat clean shots. Then in the third he seems to go off the boil completely, stand there as Ruiz Jr gets his combination punching game going, loses the round clearly and then quits on his stool. Hamer showed a lack of heart in a previous loss where he likewise quit early in a fight despite not appearing to take much punishment and I think he’s now relegated to being a gatekeeper or step-up opponent for more favoured prospects. Ruiz Jr’s physique still means that many fans and the general public will look at him quizzically but to his credit he’s getting closer to fighting shape and he clearly has natural talent. With Top Rank invested in him I imagine they keep him busy against mid-level opponents for a while yet while trying to iron out those defensive issues but he’s an entertaining man to watch and one to keep an eye on.
Zou Shiming looked much improved from his previous bouts as he comprehensively outpointed overmatched Mexican Juan Tozcano over six rounds. The multiple time Olympic Gold medalist seemed to sit on his punches more and have a more “pro” style then in his previous bouts… but despite that he still showed a lack of power and some defensive flaws, being hit with punches he really shouldn’t be. He’s 32 and I’m not sure how great he’ll end up being in the great scheme of things but Top Rank will continue to keep him well protected as a media attraction in China… expect to see a lot more of him, even if against scrubs.
In what turned out to be a pretty accurate preview for the main event, Puerto Ricah former Olympian prospect Felix Verdejo absolutely had his way with the awkwardly named Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan. The Thai never stopped coming forward and never gave up but he took a beating here. Verdejo had him hurt multiple times in multiple different ways and boxed smartly on the move. Duanaaymukdahan showed great heart and an iron chin but all that really does is explain how bad his defence was. Verdejo is one to watch and, again, one Top Rank have invested heavily in; he’ll get a few more showcases but I think he’s good enough to start facing a better class of opposition in the near future. Top Rank will likely be a little concerned about moving him too quickly after what happened to fellow Puerto Rican prospect Thomas Dulorme after he was moved a little too quickly and beaten up by Argentinian hardman Luis Carlos Abregu but there’s no reason Verdejo can’t make a slight step up now… he’s shown the class to be able to.