Manny himself looks back on those fights and often remarks, “They just ran away from me.” But even he knows that in his extended career all of those bouts were, in the end, measurable disappointments.
With the truculent Brandon Rios promising to retire him, Manny understands that the fighter known almost as much for his expletive laden rants as his hardnosed approach to his profession will be right in front of him. It’s what he wants, but it also means he has an opponent willing to swing for the fences with an abandon that will not rest until the fight is over. Flaws aside, Rios is as tough as nails.
During HBO’s recent Face Off segment, Rios projects the look and demeanor of a fighter who believes that his time has arrived. A brutal loss at the hands of an aging fighter under heavy scrutiny could very well preclude him from ever becoming a money fighter. For all his bravado, he gets this and Rios will leave everything he has in the ring from opening bell to finish. He can’t fight any other way and that’s why he’s here. The fans love it, and Pacquiao needs it. He needs an opponent with brass balls who isn’t a technically sound automaton. Rios is the perfect opponent, style wise.
“I decided to choose an aggressive fighter like Rios to prove to the people I can still fight and my boxing career is not over.”
Pacquiao then adds, with just a twinge of frustration, “I want to get back the trust and confidence of the fans.”
Although Rios is a do-or-die kind of fighter, should he acquit himself well against his far more experienced foe he can carry on, albeit in a diminished capacity. The fact is, despite Manny’s recent ring history, Brandon will be a significant underdog when he enters the ring.
He understands this, but it also infuriates him and it’s that contained rage that makes him dangerous.
“This is my time,” he says. “I can’t go back. I don’t want to go back.”
Pacquiao’s response to that is both accurate and a tad arrogant. “You want to be me.”
Brandon will have none of that. “No,” he returns, with a flash of anger and wave of his hand. “I want to be Brandon.”
Pacquiao seems to appreciate that machismo, that bravado, even if Rios may think the smile Manny can’t ever seem to suppress is condescending. It isn’t. It’s just the way Pacquiao is. He’s never been one to bad mouth his opposition. Even when the man in front of him is getting more and more infuriated, and more and more animated, with the perceived disrespect he feels is constantly being launched at him.
For Manny, this fight signifies a new beginning or the end. Should he win but look bad in doing so, his trainer Freddie Roach may pull the plug. Manny acknowledges that he will finish his career with his beloved trainer and should Roach say it’s over, the fighter will defer to him.
The answers about Manny’s ability to absorb punishment at this stage of his career should be answered early in the fight. When Rios lands cleanly, and he will, Pacquiao will either shudder or shrug, and that should decide his future right then and there.
HBO’s Max Kellerman put Manny on the spot during that interview when he asked, “Do you ever question yourself? If you still have it anymore?”
Manny shook his head. “No. I never question my capabilities. My speed and power are still there. I have 100% desire. My time is not done yet.”
Those questions should be wholly or partially answered on November 23.
After it’s over we will either continue to watch as Manny Pacquiao’s extraordinary career rumbles on, or prepare his fistic obituary and begin debating where he belongs among the greats of the sport. That’s the intrigue of this fight and Pacquiao knows his back is against the wall. That could be his ace in the hole. He’s fighting for survival. And no awkward laugh or gentle smile can hide that fact.
For Manny, this is it.
Matthew Hurley is a full time member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His first book on boxing, Ringside Reflections, can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes&Noble.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 7, 2013