Lucked Out?

Tonight Manny Pacquiao will take on hard-hitting Brandon Rios in a fight that will determine which of these fan favorites will continue in the limelight. Pacquiao’s early dominance in his previous fight against Juan Manuel Marquez was stopped early as Marquez landed a single, perfect knockout shot. In his next outing, against another man who has beaten Pacquiao, Marquez was thoroughly outboxed by Tim Bradley Jr. While I see Pacquiao’s losses as legitimate, I also see the element of luck as a factor in these contests. After so many close calls with Marquez, the coin had to land on heads sometime. Even against Bradley, who many now concede to be among the elite welterweights, Pacquiao had a strong showing for most of the fight, getting outboxed only at strategic points in the fight much as Marquez did. That being said, these performances distinctly lacked the explosiveness and energy of Pacquiao’s former reign. It’s clear that Pacquiao is no longer the knockout artist who drew the world’s attention to fights against Cotto, Margarito or even Josh Clottey.
Fans may never know whether Pacquiao’s inevitable decline was at all related to a cessation of use of PEDs, but we do know how he looked against Marquez. We also know how Rios has fared in his most recent fights against Mike Alvarado. These highly publicized contests showed Rios both winning in spectacular fashion, and also being handed his first loss, but still indicated his power and determination in the ring.
Tonight he’ll need both those attributes to compete with Pacquiao’s speed and boxing ability. A friend of mine remarked that Rios might provide the same style match-up for Pacquiao as did Antonio Margarito, and we all know how exciting that fight was (not that we didn’t want to see Margarito sustain some permanent damage), but I think tonight will be different even against a plodding power-puncher like Rios. If Rios can defend himself effectively and give Pacquiao angles enough to keep him from getting in an offensive groove, he might just be able to land some of his trademark combinations as he stubbornly absorbs punishment. Pacquiao has lost a step in my estimation, and if he can’t hang tough through one more heavy hitter, it may be too much for the aging champion. Even if it’s just one (lucky) punch that makes the difference.

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