By Matthew Hurley: In the aftermath of Manny Pacquiao’s brutal knockout loss to arch rival Juan Manuel Marquez there were many who began calling for the Pac Man to hang up his gloves. But Pacquiao never had any intention of walking away from a sport he loves and a profession that brings him millions of dollars. Is he damaged goods after that loss? Only getting back in the ring will answer that question.
One brutal right hand and a significant portion of the boxing public seemed all too willing to say goodbye to a fighter who has provided enough drama and excitement over the years to keep even a UFC fan satisfied. To simply write him off is both disrespectful and premature.
There are many fighters who have shown the ability to come back after suffering a crushing defeat. More recent examples include Thomas Hearns rebounding from his knockout loss to Marvelous Marvin Hagler to ice the late James Shuler in the first round. He then moved up in weight to capture the light heavyweight crown against Dennis Andries and then dropped back down to middleweight to capture that title with a dramatic knockout of Juan Roldan.
Hearns would get brutally knocked out by Iran Barkley but again he would rise from the ashes and take another light heavyweight belt from Hall of Famer Virgil Hill.
Lennox Lewis avenged both of his stoppage losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman with stoppages of his own.
And perhaps the most impressive run in recent years is that of current heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Whatever your opinion is of the hulking Ukrainian’s style, his ability to put himself back together after devastating knockout losses to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster is not only impressive but remarkable. Just remembering how fragile Klitschko looked in those losses makes it hard to even compare that version of The Steelhammer to the one who just racked up his umpteenth defense of the heavyweight crown.
There’s no reason why Manny Pacquiao can’t just shake off the loss to Marquez and move on. But the only way for him to know how much he truly has left is to get back in the ring and absorb or crumble the first time a wicked shot gets through to his jaw. Years back an easy tune-up bout would be the first step in getting rid of potential jitters. A fighter’s confidence can be broken, but it can also be restored with a win.
Pacquiao didn’t afford himself that easy road. He wanted to jump right back in the mix. Unfortunately both Marquez and Timothy Bradley (who holds a disputed decision victory over Manny) passed on rematching Pacquiao and ended up turning to each other for a showdown of their own on October 12 in Las Vegas.
With few options left, Pacquiao and Top Rank narrowed the list down to Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado.
Rios and Alvarado split two intense battles – Rios by sixth round knockout in fight one and Alvarado by decision in the rematch. Pacquiao ultimately decided on the more stationary Rios, contending their offensive minded styles will make for a great action fight.
Boxing message boards and some cynical writers are now pounding their drums and calling Pacquiao a cherry-picker; much like those who don’t care for Floyd Mayweather and call him the same thing. It’s narrow minded thinking. Must it be repeated over and over? This is a comeback fight. Pacquiao should be commended for targeting Marquez, Bradley, Alvarado and Rios. And with Rios getting the call, we are certain to get not only a fire fight but another conclusive finish.
Brandon Rios is a fan friendly fighter with a strong chin, good power and relentless, forward aggression. He should provide the answers many have about Pacquiao’s physical and mental strength. Manny is unquestionably a slower fighter than he was at his peak in 2009 and 2010. Signs of deterioration are there and his focus has come under question as well.
Still, despite all that, he put forth a spirited effort against Marquez, who himself said later, “I knew Manny could knock me out.” But ultimately Dinamita timed Pacquiao and took him out with one bomb of a right hand. By picking Rios, whose enthusiasm for the fight is already boiling over, this return to the ring has all the earmarks of being an exciting contest for however long it lasts.
The only one out of those four possible opponents who actually got screwed was Mike Alvarado. Logic would dictate that after beating Rios in their rematch he should have landed the Pacquiao fight. But boxing has never been logical or fair – bigger personalities with less talent more often than not land the big fights rather than the tough, working class fighters who grind out victories through sheer force of will.
But don’t feel too badly for Alvarado. Bob Arum knows he has an exciting fighter on his hands and he will keep him busy. There’s always a chance that after the dust settles from Pacquiao – Rios and Marquez – Bradley should Alvarado continue to win in thrilling fashion, he’ll be right in the thick of things and will get that big payday.
Pacquiao – Rios is a fun fight and those who are in anyway critical of the match are probably the same people who bitched and complained about Pacquiao – Marquez IV. And all we got that night was the knockout and fight of the year. With these two fighters both coming off losses and a little desperate to prove their worth, one can only conclude that something dramatic will happen in the ring on November 23.
Matthew Hurley is a full time member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. His first book on boxing, Ringside Reflections, was published in 2012 and can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.