by David P. Greisman
The post-fight talk with the losing boxer is a ritual that is both necessary and potentially agonizing. It is the time when memories are fresh, yet wounds are raw.
Almost nothing pleasant could come, then, from the first post-fight interview with Brandon Rios — not from a man who had made his reputation by taking punishment in order to deliver it, but who had just been on the receiving end of nearly 300 punches solely for the sake of defeat.
It didn’t matter that the odds were against him, that this result was expected, that few believed Rios would beat the great Manny Pacquiao.
“Everybody looks at me as a punching bag,” Rios had said on a media conference call a few weeks before the fight.
He vowed to prove them wrong, to show that he wasn’t content with being flown thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean and getting paid millions of dollars just so he could make Pacquiao look good.
That’s what ended up happening, though.
This was a spotlight show for Pacquiao, whose style and speed rendered Rios powerless. Rios couldn’t turn the tide and wouldn’t be put away. Instead, he took 12 rounds of jabs, crosses, hooks and uppercuts, all of which came in a variety of combinations and from a variety of angles, an unpredictable and blinding barrage.
There was no one shot that finished him, just a veritable hornet’s nest, 281 stings that led him to the sting of defeat.
Rios sought consolation in the fact that he’d just been beaten by one of the best fighters in the world. The nature of sports is that there will be a winner and a loser. While it’s still painful to lose, it can help to view defeat through the prism of your opponent’s features rather than your own flaws.
“It is what it is. It’s part of boxing,” Rios told Kellerman. “Manny did a great job. He’s very fast.
“Power-wise, I didn’t feel that much,” Rios added, though his flesh hadn’t been aided by the adrenaline coursing through his system. Pacquiao’s shots had landed frequently and with enough force to raise noticeable swelling around Rios’ right eye.
Rios is a proud man, though. The loss still hurt.
And so when HBO analyst Max Kellerman brought up Rios’ pre-fight comments and asked him whether he felt he showed something by going the distance with Pacquiao, Rios chafed.
“What do you think, man? You’re the one that asked the question,” Rios responded. “What do you think? You was watching it. Do you think I was a punching bag?”
He wasn’t; a punching bag doesn’t punch back. Rather, Pacquiao respected what Rios was capable of doing, and then he made sure that Rios wasn’t capable of doing it.
That meant discipline instead of recklessness — no headlong charges like the one that put him in the path of Juan Manuel Marquez’s right-hand counter shot nearly a year ago, a shot that knocked him flat out and face-first to the canvas.
Though Rios had been fighting in recent years in lighter weight classes than Pacquiao, he was the naturally bigger man in this welterweight bout. Rios has to lose weight to make 147; Manny has to eat more to increase his size.
Rios relies on his chin to withstand shots so that his hands may hammer away. Pacquiao’s quickness and strategy promptly neutralized Rios’ pressure.
Pacquiao stood in front of Rios in the opening rounds, leading with flurries, leaving Rios covering up to deflect those shots with his gloves and forearms. And when Rios did lead, Pacquiao would counter. Pacquiao was credited with landing 20 of 54 punches in the first round, while Rios was just 5 of 32, according to CompuBox.
That pattern continued in the second, with Pacquiao lacing more of his shots between and around Rios’ guard, both to the head and to the body. In the lulls, Rios would burst forward with clubbing blows, and Pacquiao would sometimes grab ahold of one of Rios’ arms, halving Rios’ number of weapons and allowing himself some rest in the clinch.
Pacquiao began to incorporate more movement. He’d jab, then duck down and circle to his right. He’d throw a left cross, then jump back and out of range. The directions kept changing. The combinations kept changing, too, everything from single shots to seven or eight of them.
He also varied how much power he put behind them. Some punches were meant to blind and distract and score, and to make Rios respect Pacquiao’s speed. Others had more pop and served as a reminder that Rios couldn’t just walk through these shots.
Rios didn’t know what would be coming, and he wasn’t willing to take it all on his chin, particularly not when he was having so much difficulty landing cleanly himself, or even landing much at all.
The question was how long Pacquiao could maintain this pace. By conserving power, though, he conserved energy. This allowed him a work rate in which he threw 790 punches in total, or an average of 65 per round. And that, in addition to his movement, limited Rios to 502 shots thrown, an average of about 42 per round.
Rios had but a few moments, never putting Pacquiao in peril, but doing enough to convince one judge to award him the third round, and to get that judge and another one to award him the eighth.
The scorecards were one-sided, mirroring the action: 120-108, or a shutout for Pacquiao; 119-109, or 11 rounds to 1; and 118-110, or 10 rounds to 2.
The punch statistics had Pacquiao landing about twice as many as Rios did. Pacquiao landed nearly half of his power punches, going 223 of 468, or about 48 percent, an average of about 19 landed out of every 39 thrown. Rios was credited with landing 113 of 263 power shots, a 43 percent connect rate, but an average of less than 10 punches landed per round out of every 22 thrown.
It wasn’t the version of Pacquiao who had broken down David Diaz and Oscar De La Hoya in 2008, who had knocked Ricky Hatton out with a single shot and then pummeled Miguel Cotto in 2009, and who had rearranged Antonio Margarito’s features in 2010.
And that was fine with Pacquiao and his team, because it also wasn’t the boxer who had been robbed by the judges against Timothy Bradley last year, nor was it the fighter who had been rendered unconscious by Marquez.
For many of the 350 days that followed the loss to Marquez, Pacquiao dealt with questions about the knockout, questions about whether he’d been irreparably damaged, whether another loss would mean the end of his career.
Rios’ 2013 is like Pacquiao’s 2012 in that he’s now lost two in a row. The other defeat was a close decision loss in his rematch with Mike Alvarado this past March. There’s little shame in either of these losses. That doesn’t necessarily make defeat easier.
It won’t be the 281 landed punches that linger. Rather, it will be the loss that still stings. And it won’t be Kellerman’s questions that bother him in these days and weeks to come. Rather, it will be the questions Rios is asking of himself.
But as Pacquiao showed against him, all it takes is one night to provide an answer.
The 10 Count
1. Manny Pacquiao’s next fight likely won’t be the one I most want to see — Pacquiao against Ruslan Provodnikov.
That’s because both men are trained by Freddie Roach, who describes them as friends. That’s a shame. Perhaps Provodnikov would be willing to part with Roach given the potential Pacquiao payday. That would be a big change to make before such a huge fight. Even though Provodnikov had Roach assistant Marvin Somodio in his corner for his recent win over Mike Alvarado, Somodio said it was Roach who had the lead role in training camp.
I imagine we’ll get Pacquiao in a rematch — either in a fifth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, or in a second bout with Timothy Bradley.
Marquez says he wants a rematch with Bradley or else he’ll retire; Bradley won a split decision in October. But I don’t know if Marquez would turn down a great financial offer, and Pacquiao seeking revenge for last year’s knockout loss would draw despite the previous number of installments between the two men.
A Bradley rematch, meanwhile, is also more marketable now after his 2013 fights with Provodnikov and Marquez than it was in 2012, when Bradley took a highly controversial split decision over Pacquiao.
Less sellable is a bout between Pacquiao and Alvarado, who took a beating from Provodnikov in October.
2. Timing is everything.
Referee Howard John Foster is being roundly criticized for his stoppage in Carl Froch’s technical knockout win over George Groves. Though Foster may believe he made the right call at the right time, many of us feel that he stepped in at the wrong time — which makes it the wrong call.
Yes, the cliché is that we’d rather have a fighter stop things too early instead of too late. But “too soon” shouldn’t be as early as Foster stopped things this past Saturday.
Froch was losing the fight through eight. He was behind on the scorecards, though not insurmountably, and he’d been dropped hard in the first round. But then he hurt Groves with a right hand high on the head, and continued to attack him. He landed four hard shots while Groves was on the ropes, and Groves, hurt, began to come off the ropes with his head down.
Foster stepped in and waved the fight off. It very well may have ended soon, but we’ll never know. What we do know is that it’s a regular occurrence to see fighters who are in far worse shape be allowed to continue. We also know that while Groves was hurt and was going to take more punches from Froch, he wasn’t the prime example of a fighter who needs — and “needs” is a key word here — the referee to save him from further punishment.
3. Can you imagine if Howard Foster had been the referee for Gatti-Ward or Corrales-Castillo?
Foster was on the opposite end of the spectrum from his fellow British ref Terry O’Connor, who seemingly carried Nathan Cleverly back to his corner after one round of Cleverly’s loss to Sergey Kovalev.
Interestingly, here’s a quote from Foster in Mike Fitzgerald’s book, “Third Man in the Ring: 33 of Boxing's Best Referees and Their Stories.”
Said Foster: “There is a very fine line, but I always say it is better to stop it a little early than a little too late. I would be mortified if a fighter was to die or get permanently injured when I was the third man in the ring. I always keep a close eye on a boxer who starts to look a little weary or is starting to take a beating. I'm never afraid to stop a fight.”
That’s not a bad mentality. But in this case, the Froch-Groves stoppage was more than just a little early.
4. Sardonic congratulations are due to Samson Dutch Boy Gym (né Saengmuangnoi Lukchapormasak), who has entered the World Boxing Organization’s ratings in the 105-pound division despite the fact that he hasn’t fought since April 2002.
Oh, and he’s now 41 years old. And he spent his entire career in the 115-pound division, according to BoxRec.com.
Despite all of this, he’s listed at No. 6, as noted by whoever mans the BoxRec account on Twitter.
My guess is it has something to do with the WBO’s No. 8 fighter at 105, a 39-year-old Yemeni boxer named Ali Raymi. Raymi has scored first-round knockouts over all 20 of his pro opponents since his pro debut in January 2011 — and is derided by some of those who follow such esoteric stuff.
Raymi and Dutch Boy Gym are supposedly fighting on Dec. 20.
5. I’ve long said that boxers should be able to quit without facing such harsh criticism from fans and observers. Fans of mixed martial artists recognize that it’s a wise choice when fighters tap out in recognition of the fact that they are about to be choked out or otherwise submitted. MMA bouts also end when fighters “turtle up,” too hurt to defend themselves and in essence asking the ref to step in and stop the barrage of blows.
But a boxer who takes a knee like Miguel Cotto did against Antonio Margarito, or who remains in his corner like Mike Alvarado did against Ruslan Provodnikov? Many hold such a thing against them — even when the choice was the right one for their health and in the context of the fight.
Such criticism should be saved for situations such as Tor Hamer’s quitting on Saturday following three rounds against heavyweight prospect Andy Ruiz.
Hamer had already raised eyebrows 11 months ago when he suddenly and surprisingly quit after four rounds with prospect Vyacheslav Glazkov. He seemed to be an “opponent” in what was a spotlight bout for Ruiz. Hamer didn’t start off as the “opponent,” though, as he did quite well against Ruiz in the first two rounds.
Ruiz began to turn the tide in the third, and suddenly it was over; Hamer remained on his stool, once again mystifying and enraging those who were watching.
Fighters should be allowed to quit, and they should be mindful of taking unnecessary punishment. Hamer, however, called it a day the moment the going got tough.
Perhaps, then, he should be allowed to quit — boxing, that is. If this brutal sport isn’t for him, that’s understandable. But he shouldn’t be allowed to essentially take a dive, then take the money and run.
6. Hamer won’t be allowed to do that, apparently.
His purse was withheld following the fight, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com.
And beyond that, his promoter, Lou DiBella, parted ways with Hamer via Twitter. Seriously.
“That is an embarrassment, Tor Hamer,” DiBella wrote afterward. “Time to become a pilot. Sorry to the fans. … By the way, Tor, you are released. WTF!!!”
7. As for Ruiz, I agree with Brent Brookhouse of BloodyElbow.com and BadLeftHook.com in his description of the flabby heavyweight as “boxing's Roy Nelson,” comparing Ruiz to the long-rotund mixed martial artist.
“Don't let the chub fool ya!” Brookhouse tweeted. “He has more skills than you might think!”
With that said, I do think Ruiz’s weight will be a potential topic for criticism, just as it has been for Chris Arreola. Though Ruiz is better than his body would make him appear to be, he could potentially be even better were he to be in better shape.
If another heavyweight ends up boxing circles around him — as Vitali Klitschko did with Arreola — then there will be questions about whether those surplus pounds worked against him.
In the meantime, I actually see Ruiz’s weight as being a good marketing tool. He stands out; casual fans who saw him on the pay-per-view will remember his body even if they don’t know a thing about his body of work.
8. The award for most self-aware comment of the evening goes to Roy Jones Jr., who was praising Billy Dib’s corner for stepping in and stopping his rematch with Evgeny Gradovich:
“As a prizefighter, we never know how to give up,” Jones said.
That is all too true for Jones, who is turning 45 in January, whose first loss to Antonio Tarver came nine and a half years ago, whose second loss to Tarver came eight years ago, whose loss to Joe Calzaghe came five years ago, whose first-round knockout loss to Danny Green came four years ago, whose rematch loss to Bernard Hopkins came three and a half years ago, and whose knockout loss to Denis Lebedev came two and a half years ago.
With that said, Roy should’ve known better than to use “never.” After all, he’d just seen Tor Hamer…
9. Move over, Cleotis Pendarvis — you’re no longer the only modern boxer with the nickname of “Mookie.”
That’s because the Pacquiao-Rios broadcast brought the pleasant surprise that was Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan, a fighter whose alphabet-soup name and in-ring personality became the highlight of an undercard full of one-sided bouts.
As Grantland’s Rafe Bartholomew put it on Twitter, “I'm witnessing the birth of the legend of Ricardo Thai-yorga.”
Duanaaymukdahan lost a six-round shutout to highly touted lightweight prospect Felix Verdejo. That’s besides the point.
The fun began with HBO’s Jim Lampley, who told the audience that, given Duanaaymukdahan’s name, “We’re going to take the liberty of calling Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan ‘Mookie.’ ”
Except, by and large, they didn’t.
Before that point, Lampley had already pronounced Duanaaymukdahan’s full name correctly on two occasions. And the commentary crew’s proficiency with pronunciation was a source of pride early on.
“There was speculation among some members of the printed press corps, friends of ours in the states, that we might have trouble, might have difficulty pronouncing Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan’s name,” Lampley said early on. “But we have shown what hard work and dedication can do, as we’ve gotten through the first round with clean pronunciations of Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan.”
Because I’m your dedicated “Fighting Words” scribe, here are the final statistics:
Lampley pronounced “Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan” correctly a total of 11 times, added “Duanaaymukdahan” another 11 times, and put forth “Petchsamuthr” once.
Roy Jones did remarkably well, not shying away from the name. He said “Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan” three times, opted for the last name “Duanaaymukdahan” 15 times, and went with “Petchsamuthr” on three occasions.
Max Kellerman joined the crew later on and had one “Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan” and two “Duanaaymukdahan”s.
Harold Lederman threw in the towel the first chance he got, which was after the second round. “The Thai guy, Mookie, he sticks his tongue out at you,” Lederman noted.
As for “Mookie,” well, Lampley opted for the nickname five times, and Roy Jones used it thrice — though only immediately after Lampley had done the same.
10. Also notable was this, from Jim Lampley, taking a look at CompuBox statistics and seeing that Mookie had finally landed a jab:
“Duanaaymukdahan got off the schneid late in the fight.”
That sentence had never been uttered before in the history of the English language, and it might never be repeated again…
Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or on Amazon U.K. at http://amzn.to/11mYGZI . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]