By Cliff Rold
While there is plenty of room to debate just how ‘back’ Manny Pacquiao is from a knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, his return was a successful one on Saturday. Brandon Rios, like Pacquiao, entered off a loss but was the younger, presumed hungrier man.
He was out of his class.
Fans got a reminder this weekend. Even in his inevitable decline period, Pacquiao is coming down from a level few achieve. This is one of the great ones. Greatness can take a long time to fade.
Let’s go to the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Pacquiao A; Rios B-/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Power – Pacquiao A; Rios B+/Post: B+; B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Pacquiao B; Rios C/Post: B+; C
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Pacquiao A; Rios B+/Post: A; B
One of the biggest shocks of the night is that Rios, a hell for leather warrior who typically makes good TV, never let it all hang out. Overwhelmed might be the right word for it.
He looked overwhelmed.
It wasn’t unlike the way Canelo Alvarez looked against Floyd Mayweather in September or the way many Roy Jones opponents used to look in the 90s. At some point, the speed edge, the quality edge, settled in.
Sometimes, there just isn’t an answer.
For Pacquiao, the one question lingering over the fight was how he would respond after Marquez. Fans saw a cautious, careful execution of the game plan. There were still plenty of flashy combinations but there was also a precise guard employed early. Pacquiao was touched with some hard shots and took them fine enough; his chin isn’t shattered.
However, the impact of Marquez was evident. In round twelve, with Rios into the ropes, Pacquiao backed off and let the fight come back to ring center. He wasn’t falling into a trap again. He was going how with his win.
For anyone else, a shutout win over Rios would be a big deal but for Pacquiao, it isn’t. He’s climbed too many other mountains. The only one he really hasn’t, Floyd Mayweather, is the obvious name on everyone’s lips today. It’s still THE fight even if it is also still THE pipedream.
The politics are too heavy.
What that might leave is a rematch that has increased in appeal this year. Timothy Bradley got a decision most felt he didn’t deserve over Pacquiao last year. In two fights since, he’s improved his standing tremendously in a war with Ruslan Provodnikov and entertaining chess match with Marquez. Bradley gets Pacquiao back into the title picture and comes with a revenge storyline. It makes sense.
We’ll see if they can make the dollars too.
For Rios, the loss is no real setback. He’s where he was: a good for TV action fighter who can be matched in the right fights and make great shows. After a night with Pacquiao, his audience will have grown and that might mean a fight like, say, Rios-Mike Alvarado III can get the mass of eyes it richly deserves.
Report Card Picks 2013: 54-24 (including two additional picks in the site staff picks)
And a note on one of the worst stoppages these eyes have ever seen…Carl Froch-George Groves was turning into a classic. Groves dropped Froch, an accomplishment in itself, to set the tone and built a hefty lead. Round six was one of the best of the year, Groves dominating until late and fighting back against a Froch rally. In rounds eight and nine, a fatiguing Groves was getting caught. The tide was turning. Drama was in the air. Then, after one head-whipping combination, referee Howard John Foster defecated on the whole affair. It was wretched. Groves was rocked but hadn’t gone down and was in less trouble than Froch had been earlier. Foster should be reprimanded and this needs a rematch as soon as possible. The fighters deserved better. So did everyone who spent their time to watch.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]