Manny Pacquiao Vs. Brandon Rios: Keys To The Fight

So continues our marathon coverage of one of the biggest fights of 2013, Manny Pacquiao vs. Brandon Rios on HBO pay-per-view on Nov. 23. Previously: a special edition of TQBR Radio; what's at stake; the undercard, previewed; the camp fight, broken down; notes from Macau. Next: a staff roundtable.

Mind. Matter. How do Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios stack up in those categories? In a combined, abridged version of the usual two-part series, we examine both the more mental and more physical attributes of the two combatants.

The Don(key) Kong(s) to the fight.


Size. As weight-hoppers go, Pacquiao is head of the class to such a degree that he's historic. He has carried his power all the way up to welterweight, even though he's on the smaller side for the weight class, in terms of his physical dimensions: 5'6 1/2", 67" reach. He's used to being the physically smaller man, without some of the accompanying ill effects due to some of his other assets. Rios' physical dimensions are superior even though he's the one moving up a division, at 5'8", 68". Rios was a swollen-to-bursting lightweight for a long time, so when he moved up to junior welterweight he fit right in, and all the things that made him good at 135 were still there at 140. That's not the same situation here. He'll be making a move up to 147 with his seams intact, after just two fights at 140, against Mike Alvarado. One suspects he'll be at least pretty close to the 140-pound version of himself, but because we don't know…  Edge: Pacquiao

Speed. It's almost offensive to compare them here. Pacquiao might not be the whirling dervish he was at his absolute peak, but he's still ultra-quick. The concern is whether his speed — arguably his biggest weapon — has dropped off enough to give Rios an opening. Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach, in recounting the last Juan Manuel Marquez fight, suggested that Pacquiao should've seen the first knockdown punchcoming, which is cause for worry about Pac's reflexes being significantly diminshed. That said, Rios doesn't have the timing of Marquez, nor, maybe, even the old master's speed. He's not grindingly slow, not comically slow, but he is not fast. Perhaps he'll be a little faster than before the way sometimes fighters moving up a division are, but it will not be close even if Pac's reflexes and quickness have dropped off by 50 percent since his last outing thanks to suffering that big knockout. Edge: Pacquiao

Power. Both have oodles of it, just of different varieties. Pacquiao has that cobra-strike power, that oh-shit-now-you're-down power. Rios has the hammering, punishing, break-you-down kind of power. It's fair to say Rios has not faced such a quality model of that opposing variant, at least not anytime recently, so we don't know how he'll stand up to it. Pacquiao fought Antonio Margarito, though, who was not his peak self when they met but still was throwing a lot of hard punches a la Rios. The damage Margarito did was aided by size, as the bout was contested at 154. Rios is closer to his peak, but this goes back to what kind of power he'll carry up with him to 147. Because we don't know for sure, the known quantity at welterweight again gets the nod. Edge: Pacquiao

Condition. Meaning, both wear and tear and conditioning. Both are superb in the conditioning category; both  have taken a lot of punishment in the ring. Pacquiao's stamina always amazes, that he can keep up all that bouncy energy for 12 rounds. Rios has to be in astounding condition to keep up the pace he does while taking all the return fire he does. Pacquiao might be inhibited by leg problems, though, complaining of cramps over the years, and while his pace slowed in a couple fights against opponents who were avoiding contact (Shane Mosley, Joshua Clottey) his pace against Timothy Bradley was curiously sluggish by his standards without that same contributing factor. He came out against Marquez in their last meeting like he meant to correct that, and it worked well until he went down. And because he's coming off that knockout loss, we don't know how he'll be physically. Rios, meanwhile, is a sponge for punishment. It hasn't seemed to diminish him yet, at age 27 to Pacquiao's 34. It will eventually. There's no reason to believe it will be this fight. Edge: Rios

Chin. Ah, the mystery that is Pacquiao's chin. As has been pointed out aplenty, sometimes when a fighter gets knocked out dramatically by one shot, he recovers physically without much trouble; Vic Darchinyan, say. Others do not; Paul Williams, say. Even the ones who recover well can have a couple shaky outings shortly thereafter, as Darchinyan did against Z Gorres when he was hurt repeatedly. Pacquiao had always demonstrated an ability to take a punch prior to the last Marquez meeting, going down in that bout for the first time in years once and then again, for good. Pacquiao has been wobbled before (and hurt with a body shot by Margarito), but usually recovers quickly and stays on his feet since two early career weight-related KOs. Not that time. So we have to wonder whether Pacquiao's chin was a bit shaky coming in after years of wear and tear, or whether it was the enormously improved power of Marquez that did him in; and we have to consider whether his punch resistance is permanently damaged or will be recovered to any degree with nearly a year of rest. Rios' chin? Never in question in the past, although he was of the previous Pac persuasion, i.e. can be hurt and wobbled but doesn't really go down and always recovers quickly. There's a real question of how he'll handle the punches at 147, but there are far more questions about Pacquiao. This is the most crucial category to Rios' chances of winning. If he can handle Pacquiao's punches, and if Pacquiao is damaged goods, he'll be right in this fight. Edge: Rios


Offense. These are two offensive machines, prone to churning up opponents with lots of damaging blows. Pacquiao has the more diverse arsenal. He has the more consequential jab, can work from distance and get in and out when he wants to with his feet, counter, lead, whatever. Rios has a pretty good offensive skill level, as he's adept at cutting off the ring and getting inside where he thrives, and once there, he fires crisp shots with both hands to the head and body.  Even in the second Alvarado fight, a clear loss where Alvarado's movement dulled RIos' offense, Rios got off enough to make it a Fight of the Year candidate. His jab is more a tool to help him get in close, but it was hard enough to wobble Alvarado in their rematch, so it's not inconsequential. Only Richard Abril's holding has been able to nullify Rios' offense. Still, Pacquiao can do more than Rios. Edge: Pacquiao

Defense. This is as good as it gets for Rios on defense: When he's walking in, sometimes he picks off punches with his gloves; when he's on the inside, sometimes he gets hit less than he hits his opponent with the same tactic. Occasionally there's some upper body movement. In other words, it's not good. There have been times where he's shown the capability to defend himself more capably, it's just that it's not his mentality. Pacquiao gets hit his share, and as mentioned above, his reflexes might be failing him. In the main, he is a much better defensive fighter than he used to be, and he's much better than Rios. If his legs are starting to go, though, that could be trouble. He relies on them heavily for his defense, as it's the constant in and out motion and quick turns that most make him an elusive target. Edge: Paquiao

Intelligence. This is about the collective intelligence of the fighter and the trainer, and both men might be underrated in what they have at their disposal, not that either have a Mayweather brain trust going, exactly. Rios appears crude because he is so easily hit, but his offense is clever. Pacquiao, as noted in this space many times before, doesn't make big in-ring adjustments (not that Rios does, either), but he has become a far better fighter by learning in camp and adding new wrinkles, so he has a certain kind of boxing intelligence, too. Roach and Rios trainer Robert Garcia are two of the most acclaimed coaches of their time, although results have varied of late. After dramatically improving the likes of Pacquiao, Amir Khan and Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr., all three in outings under Roach demonstrated some backsliding. Roach does appear to have worked wonders with Ruslan Provodnikov of late, so perhaps he's back on the incline after a bad stretch that had some wondering whether his Parkinson's disease had begun to diminish his effectiveness. Garcia, meanwhile, hasn't fundamentally improved the likes of Rios or Nonito Donaire, but provided some nuance to that barbarian Marcos Maidana. Both tend to see what's happening in the ring on fight night very well, and both tend to be good at sizing up opponents. All in all, Pacquiao's diversity and Roach's track record despite some bumps trumps Garcia's rising tide in esteem and Rios' clever offense. Edge: Pacquiao

Willpower. There's not much "give" to be found in Rios. Mentally, he's tough. That said, he was frustrated with Alvarado in their rematch and flummoxed by his refusal to engage the way he had before, and it might've taken him off his game. Garcia also said that he didn't train to his full capability for the Alvarado rematch because he expected it to be easy. We'll presume he has been fully disciplined in preparation for this, the biggest opportunity of his career. Pacquiao's interest in boxing, alas, has meandered at times, and it showed against Bradley. He had that determination back on the night of the last Marquez fight, for all the good it did him. Pacquiao, mentally, sounds like he has the right attitude about his loss to Marquez, saying, simply, that sometimes in sports you lose, as though it has rolled off his back, and he has even joked with his wife about the KO. He evidently still cares about the sport and/or its purses enough to keep fighting despite the pleas of his family. What will he think once he gets hit hard? Difficult to say, thus… Edge: Rios

The Rest. You know, most of this stuff could fit into the other categories, so this is probably the last time we use it. Anyway… Rios has never had a moment like this and Pacquiao has had many. Rios was openly nervous at one of the news conferences as a result. Pacquiao will be ready for the big fight atmosphere and Rios might be jittery… The crowd, which will be heavily Asian, will favor Pacquiao for sure, and besides the psychological edge that gives him, it could influence the judges' scoring as sometimes happens when they hear the crowd cheering for a punch they might not otherwise be as impressed by (looking at three judges' records for the last year, there are no obviously questionable decisions)… Pacquiao, accustomed to dealing with outside the ring distractions, has a devasating typhoon back home to worry about, but he's saying he's using it as motivation to lift the spirits in the Philippines. Hard to tell whether it will help or hurt him.. That camp scuffle? Rios was unflappable on the elliptical during the whole thing. Pacquiao might be extra-motivated to beat down Rios in retribution for what happened to his friend Roach with that kick to the chest by Rios team member Alex Ariza, but that actually could make him overeager, and the best plan for him is to be smart and avoid trading. Rios better stands to benefit as a result of the ugliness… Both cut and bruise a great deal. Neither have had a fight stopped because of such things, however. Edge: Pacquiao

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.