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Pacquiao Grand Arrival 121204 002aFor those who say Manny Pacquiao was washed up and that his stunning KO loss to Juan Manuel Marquez was simply evidence, I say BS. As I’ve said for years, Manny and JMM are boxing dance partners made sculpted by the boxing gods. Every time they fight (including if they fought a fifth time) will always be extremely close as they are tailor-made for one another’s styles. It will always be close, competitive, and fan-friendly. Manny (seen above, in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo) was actually looking great against JMM in their most recent slugfest, that is, until JMM landed a haymaker of a counter-punch. That isn’t to say it was lucky as he’s timed that right hand on Manny dozens of times over the years, but moreso that it was just a picture-perfect punch that landed on the money.

The loss may have derailed the potential superfight of Manny vs. Floyd Mayweather, Jr., but it doesn’t mean that Manny is done. In fact, assuming he isn’t too affected by the KO, I would still consider taking Manny over Floyd in a fight as I always have. That said, some fighters respond well after KO losses, and sometimes it’s all downhill from there.

When Manny takes on the ever-entertaining Brandon Rios in Macau this November, there will be multiple compelling story lines. Will Manny’s star in China be so bright that his days headlining fights in the US are over? Will Rios bounce back from two brutal slugfests against Mike Alvarado and emerge as one of the premier players in the most loaded division in boxing? But let’s be real, none of these questions carry much weight relative to the elephant in the room: Will Manny Pacquaio be the same fighter after being knocked out cold by his longtime nemesis?

When fighters get knocked out, there’s always questions as to how they will respond. There’s multiple elements to this response. I’ll leave the mental aspect uncovered as there’s no sense in trying to break down what goes on inside another man’s head. That said, boxers cannot have fear. If Manny suddenly becomes averse to exchanges due to the fear of being knocked out again, his patented style that carried him to the height of the sport would be compromised. He’d fail to get off, and as we’ve seen with many fighters, that’s the beginning of the end.

What we can dissect are the physical changes in Manny’s game. A matchup with Brandon Rios is a perfect one to see very quickly what Manny Pacquaio still has left in the tank. If Manny still has his elite talents (footwork, hand speed, punching power/accuracy), he should outclass Brandon Rios. Rios is no slouch. He’s a tough son-of-a-gun who comes forward, throws heavy hands, and seemingly sadistically enjoys taking punches as much as he does giving them out. Rios also presents a formidable challenge in that he will consistently push the pace, and he won’t back down. The reason he is a perfect test is that while he’s a champion-caliber opponent, his defense and hand speed are his two biggest weaknesses. Manny was blessed with the natural skills to pick apart a fighter like those deficiencies. Manny will need to work at a fast pace (which is a part of his style) in order to win this fight. Before the Marquez fight, boxing pundits would have roundly rejected this fight as a serious challenge. But now, with all the questions looming, it’s suddenly an interesting matchup.

Here’s what to look for to see if Manny still has what it takes to climb back up the ladder of the P4P ranks:

1) When Manny does get hit clean, what is his facial reaction? In the past, when you hit Manny, he got mad and ultimately even. If he looks frustrated or dejected, that would be a very bad sign.

2) When Manny takes Rios’ first big shot, do his legs hold up? One of the biggest questions about guys coming off KOs is if they’ll be easier to KO moving forward. Manny has always had a really strong chin and ability to take a punch. If one good shot rattles him, it’s another bad, potentially conclusive sign.

3) Who gets off first? Against Alvarado, Rios took tons of punishment when Alvarado was able to unleash combinations first. Manny is not a counterpuncher, and he’s better at everything Alvarado did well, so if he isn’t the one to get off first, that’s another bad sign.

4) Is Manny throwing combinations with bad intentions? Brandon Rios can be beat by throwing 3, 4, and 5 punch combinations as well as creating angles while he trudges forward. This is what Manny Pacquaio does better than anyone, so if he can’t do that, it’s all downhill from there. Manny doesn’t need to reinvent himself, he just needs to prove he can still be his old destructive force.

5) Is Manny connecting on more than 40% of his punches? While 40% is a pretty high mark, Manny is an incredibly accurate puncher and Brandon Rios’ head movement leaves A LOT to be desired.

6) Does Manny look noticeably faster than Brandon Rios? He better. Rios is not a fast fighter either laterally or with hand speed. Conversely, Manny possesses (er, possessed?) elite hand speed and even more elite foot speed. He should look especially explosive against a relatively stationary target in Brandon Rios. Manny typically darts in all different directions, but is always positioned in a way to throw shots with power. If he isn’t noticeably faster (and quicker) than Rios, his career at the top is all but over.

I don’t mean to discredit Brandon Rios as he’s a really solid fighter with great power, tenacity, and pace. He’s also one of the single most exciting fighters in the sport today. But Brandon Rios is no Manny Pacquaio. Before the brutal KO at the hands of his arch-rival Marquez, there wouldn’t be any question as to whether or not Manny would dominate Brandon Rios. Now, there’s nothing but questions. It’s up to Manny to provide the answers.

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