By Thomas Gerbasi
No one likes to lose. At the higher levels of the fight game, people like losing even less, and that’s not just their competitive spirit talking, but their wallet. A loss hurts your bottom line and your future earning ability. So when Brandon Rios suffered the first defeat of his pro career to Mike Alvarado in March, he was understandably hurt.
“When I lost my fight, it hit me a little bit and I was sad because I thought I’d have to start all over again,” admitted the former world lightweight champion, who nonetheless didn’t stay down in the dumps for long. He realized that this was part of the game and that he was still a marketable fighter. How marketable? Marketable enough that he was about to get the biggest fight of his career despite coming off a loss.
“I worked my way up to get this far and then I lost the Alvarado fight, but then again, I was like f*** it, it is what it is, you’ve got to start over, and all of a sudden I got a call from (manager) Cameron (Dunkin), and he told me that I was still in line to fight (Manny) Pacquiao. It’s either me or Alvarado. I thought they’d pick Alvarado because he beat me, but Cameron did his job, it was awesome, and he got me the fight.”
That fight, against Filipino icon Manny Pacquiao, takes place this Saturday night in Macao, China. It’s a long trip for the California-based Texan, but one he’s more than willing to make, especially after splitting two wars with Alvarado. So in essence, sometimes you win when you lose.
“Everybody looked at it as a loss because I did lose the fight and I do have a loss on my record,” he said of the rematch with Alvarado. “But then again, I still won that fight because I got the chance to fight Manny Pacquiao. Now I move forward and we’re ready for him. This is the type of fight we’ve been waiting for for the longest time.”
That’s the good news. But let’s not mince words here. With Pacquiao coming off a devastating sixth round knockout at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez last December, it’s in the best interests of Team Pac Man to get their man a winnable fight against a quality name who he won’t have to chase. Rios is undoubtedly that guy. He’s aggressive and exciting, he’s popular with the diehards and casual fans, and he has enough flaws to make him the underdog this weekend. And Rios, not one to bite his tongue, knows precisely what some are saying about this fight.
“Everybody thinks I’m a tune-up fight, but they’ve got something else coming to them,” he said. “I’m nobody’s tune-up fight.”
He’s right. And for all the assumptions that promoter Top Rank is feeding Rios to the wolf, with Pacquiao looking to rebound from the worst professional night he’s had in a long time, does he really want to face a young, strong, hungry fighter eager to send him off into the sunset? Just ask Rios what he sees when he looks at his opponent.
“When I look at Manny, I see a small little mother***er that’s gonna get knocked the f*** out,” he said. “That’s what I see right now and that’s what my mind thinks. The people see Manny Pacquiao the legend, the guy that won eight world titles, but if you’re asking what I see, that’s what I see, a guy I’m gonna knock out.”
It’s a blunt, perhaps harsh, assessment, but this is a harsh sport, one that Rios embraces in all its beauty and ugliness. In his sport, it’s every man for himself.
“That’s the attitude I have with everybody I fight,” said Rios. “I don’t care who he is, I don’t care what kind of name he has, that’s the attitude I have because I know they’re trying to kill me and trying to hurt me, so why try to be friends with them? At the end of the fight we can, but if they knock me out, they’re not gonna feel sorry for me, so I have to have that attitude. If I knock them out or beat them up, I’m not going to feel bad one bit. That’s what we do. And I always have that attitude, even in sparring. I have no sympathy, I don’t take it easy.”
“There’s no easy in this game.”
That’s probably not the guy you want to meet in a ring on fight night, especially after being sent out facefirst in your last bout. Rios’ longtime trainer Robert Garcia isn’t surprised that Pacquiao took the fight though.
“I know what Pacquiao’s all about,” said Garcia, who worked the corner of Antonio Margarito when the former pound-for-pound king drilled out a 12-round win against the Mexican in 2010. “He always wants to fight and he always wants to fight the best, and he never wants an easy fight. He fought everybody, so I wasn’t surprised.”
What may surprise some people is that Garcia believes that his charge will be even better after the loss to Alvarado than he was before it.
“When he got that draw (against Manuel Perez in 2008), I think that was a good thing that happened,” said Garcia. “Even though he hated that draw, after that, the next ten opponents that he fought, he knocked them all out (with the exception of Anthony Peterson, who was DQed against Rios), and they were all decent opponents. So I think after this last fight with Alvarado, I can see the same thing. He’s changed his mentality, he thinks different, and I don’t see the loss affecting him. It’s actually helped him get better and do things better.”
But what happens if Pacquiao nails him with some high heat and Rios becomes Rios and tries to engage in a firefight?
“If there’s a moment where he gets caught up and excited and starts exchanging punches, I’m not going to be worried about that because Brandon is stronger than ever and that’s what he loves to do, so I won’t be scared,” said Garcia. “He can take a good punch and he can land a good one too, and he’s got tremendous heart. Pacquiao has never been in with somebody like Brandon. I think a lot of fighters he’s fought have that doubt and that fear in them, and Brandon fears nobody.”
That’s the one thing we can all be sure of heading into one of the most intriguing bouts of 2013. And when it’s over, if Rios emerges victorious and then hears that he was facing a washed up version of Pacquiao, will he care? Of course not.
“It doesn’t really matter because you’re always gonna have the people that are gonna say something stupid about everything,” he laughs. “‘He got old, he’s not the same Pacquiao that he was when he was beating everybody, so it doesn’t really count.’ Or, ‘he beat Brandon and Brandon was just an easy fighter, a tune-up fight to get Pacquiao back in the ring.’ So you’re always gonna have those critics out there, but it doesn’t really bother me.”