By Chris Robinson
Despite his fight with eight-division world champion Manny Pacquiao still well over four months away, former lightweight titlist Brandon Rios has been frequenting the gym in Oxnard, Calif. to keep his body warmed up and his mind sharp.
The fight figures to be an all-action thriller given the fighters’ histories in the ring as well the desperation both Rios and Pacquiao are facing after coming off of losses in their previous bouts.
Both setbacks took place in Las Vegas, as Rios was outpointed by Denver’s Mike Alvarado on March 30th over 12 scintillating rounds inside of the Mandalay Bay while Pacquiao was knocked unconscious by Juan Manuel Marquez in December inside of the MGM Grand.
Rios was ringside for Pacquiao-Marquez IV and admits that it was a fine shot that the Mexico City native landed to end Manny’s night.
“It was a nice punch that Marquez waited for,” Rios reflected. “He fought Manny Pacquiao three times up until the fight and he knew what to do to Manny Pacquiao. He knew how Manny Pacquiao fights, he knew. If you were to think about it, Marquez already knew how to beat him. This time, he just knocked his *ss out.”
A fight between Rios and Pacquiao seemed like a longshot a few years back, as the two men were simply on different levels in the sport.
Rios won his WBA title in February of 2011 with a 10th round TKO over Venezuela’s Miguel Acosta in a showcase that helped introduce him to hardcore boxing fans. Around that same time, Pacquiao was getting ready for another big pay per view show, this one with Shane Mosley, and was regarded as one of the two best fighters in the sport.
Out of curiosity, I asked Rios when he first started taking true notice of Pacquiao.
“When he started beating everybody. I started recognizing Manny when he stated jumping up in weight, fighting for eight titles,” Rios stated. “That’s when I first started noticing Manny Pacquiao. Honestly, I just want to fight him because I want to fight the best. They consider him one of the best and I want to fight the best."
The time Rios is referencing seems to start with Pacquiao’s 8th round drubbing of Oscar De La Hoya in December of 2008 after he moved up from the lightweight division to the welterweight class. That shocking display was followed up with virtuoso thrashings of Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto the following year.
Asked if he was surprised at how Pacquiao tore through Hatton, the affable star from Manchester, and Cotto, one of the best Puerto Rican fighters in recent memory, Rios instead seemed to downplay both wins.
“If you’re talking about how I’m surprised at Ricky Hatton, if he compares me to Ricky Hatton, I don’t fight like Ricky Hatton,” Rios said sharply. “I fight better. And Ricky Hatton, how many wars has he been through? When he fought Cotto, he fought Cotto at a catch-weight. Catch-weight is not a big thing to me.
“I’d rather fight somebody at their regular weight,” Rios continued. “When he fought all these big guys, he fought them at a catch-weight. They had to lose so much weight to fight [him] and the next day they really didn’t gain that much weight. Look at De La Hoya for instance. And he only gained two pounds the next day? He couldn’t eat; he made him lose so much weight.”
No such worries for Rios, who will actually be moving up to face Pacquiao at the welterweight limit of 147 sounds.
“I’m going to feel stronger,” Rios explained. “At 140, I felt good. At 147 I’m going to feel even stronger. I’m going to feel strong and I just can’t wait until the fight.”
During our conversation, Rios’ longtime trainer Robert Garcia interjected to point out that we likely aren’t dealing with the same Pacquiao who fought Cotto and Hatton, as Manny, now 34 years old, has been through his share of hard battles in the sport.
Rios isn’t buying into the notion that Pacquiao has declined, however, as he is preparing for the peak version of the Filipino icon.
“I’m going out there and I’m expecting the best Manny Pacquiao,” Rios stated. “I can’t judge on one performance what happened. We don’t know. We’re just going to be ready for the best Manny Pacquiao. The one that was beating everybody. The one that was on top of the world. We got to be ready for that type of Manny."