He’s a huge underdog and he knows it. Throughout the promotional buildup to his big opportunity against Manny Pacquiao on November 23, Brandon Rios has either been a bit overwhelmed by all the hoopla surrounding his first major event or pissed off at the disrespect he feels has been thrown his way since the bout was announced.
It’s hard to get around the big question that envelops this showdown – can Pacquiao rebound from the devastating knockout he suffered at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez? It’s the first question on everyone’s lips, and as round table interviews were first offered up by ESPN and then ongoing as the opening bell draws closer, Rios has had to take a backseat.
His appearance with Pacquiao at his side on ESPN’s First Take was embarrassing because, quite frankly, he was ignored. There was a palpable sense that the panel had no idea who he was. Blowhard Stephen A. Smith, a Saturday Night Live character come to life, couldn’t help but bring his favorite fighter Floyd Mayweather into the discussion, much as he had when Manny sat in the same seat beside Marquez back in 2012. And so it went. And Brandon had to sit there and stew.
Such slights have angered him to the point that whatever filter he may have had on his barbed tongue has since been bitten off and spat out in disgust. When Rios starts dropping F Bombs left and right, and slams on broadcasters who he feels have disrespected him, such as HBO’s Max Kellerman, you know he’s in the zone.
Prevailing wisdom says Pacquiao is just way too talented for the precocious brawler, but history dictates upsets are always in the offing. The same was said of Lloyd Honeyghan before he destroyed Donald Curry. So too for Iran Barkley when he went up against Thomas Hearns, and Michael Bentt before he knocked out the late Tommy Morrison in ninety three seconds. The list goes on and on because, as Larry Merchant once described it, “Boxing is the theatre of the unexpected.”
Still, Rios does seem tailor made for Pacquiao. Any technique that resides in his boxing makeup goes out the window when he gets hit. Something snaps and he dives headlong into the mix. It’s as if he’s daring his opponent to be as tough as he perceives himself to be. It’s a huge chink in his armor, but a fatal flaw that endears him to boxing fans that prefer balls to the wall action rather than defensive wizardry.
Pacquiao himself suffers from that same machismo, although he’s better at tempering it. So often, after getting hit, he pounds his gloves together and begins to open up with abandon. Blessed with remarkable speed and reflexes he’s mostly been able to get away with moments of sloppiness. Most of the time.
Rios is hoping for that moment when he lands his Sunday punch and Manny has no choice but to engage. For in spite of all his bravado and Go Ahead, Hit Me posturing, he knows he has to lure Manny into a dangerous shootout. It’s his only chance and deep down he understands this.
Manny knows it too. It’s why he chose Brandon in the first place; because if Rios can’t hurt Manny, the Pac Man will destroy him and look spectacular in doing so.
To that, I’m certain Brandon Rios would tell me to, “F*** off!” That’s just who he is, and it’s that fiery spirit that makes him dangerous and so much fun to watch. Whatever happens against Pacquiao, Rios will not be accused of phoning it in; that he’s incapable of. Whatever he brings to the dance he’ll leave it in the ring. He can’t fight any other way.
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.