Ever since welterweight and former eight division title holder Manny Pacquiao 54-5-2 (38) was knocked out face-first in his fourth bout versus Juan Manuel Marquez last December in the sixth round, there's been a plethora of questions regarding what Pacquiao has left as a fighter both physically and psychologically. Most of the doubts cast over Manny regarding his upcoming bout against the tough and talented but pretty wild and undisciplined Brandon Rios 31-1-1 (23) ask the following: A) is Pacquiao (looking calm and ready to rock in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo) still hungry and focused enough to compete with today's elite welterweights; B) has he eroded physically and is he on a rapid decline as a fighter and: C) how much, if at all, will he be scarred and damaged by the devastating defeat he suffered at the hands of Marquez in his last fight almost a year ago?
The answer to A). In regards to Manny's hunger and focus it is pretty easy to deduce. Brandon Rios will go after him like no other fighter he's ever faced. Rios will carry the fight and be looking to get Pacquiao out of there with everything he launches at him. Having seen Pacquiao on the canvas face first and being counted out the last time he was in the ring no doubt escalates Brandon's confidence and belief that he can put him in the same predicament as Marquez did. On top of that Rios throws more punches than Marquez and hits harder. Pacquiao knows that however long he is in the ring with Rios, it'll be a very hard fight physically, and he'll need to be laser focused and in supreme shape. I'm willing to bet that Pacquiao shows up in great condition and is desperate to get a win and once again be thought of as one of the elite fighters in professional boxing. If two consecutive losses hasn't ignited his hunger for this fight, it's all over but the shouting for him.
In order to glean the answer to B),as to whether or not Pacquiao still posses the physical tools to dominate at the championship level,one only has to go back and watch him against Marquez in his last fight. Manny came out fast throwing some buzzing left hands and exhibited a little more head and upper body movement and feints than he had in their previous fight. For the first two rounds he had Marquez fighting in retreat as Juan was trying to figure out how to stabilize Pacquiao's early momentum. A fighter must be in great condition to apply constant head movement and feints as they're pushing the fight, and Pacquiao was doing that beautifully when he got caught and knocked down with a terrific right hand high on the head by Marquez in the third round. Pacquiao recovered quickly from the knockdown both physically and psychologically.
In round five Manny dropped Marquez with a straight left and by the end of the round Marquez was hurt and looked like a beaten fighter. By the end of the sixth Pacquiao was in complete control and was freezing Marquez in his tracks with his head feints before getting caught and knocked out by Marquez's desperation right hand seconds before the bell rang to end the round. The reason he got knocked out by a punch he didn't see was that he was so committed to finally getting the emphatic knockout win over Marquez that would erase the question of who was the better fighter that he got careless. Nine times out of 10 that would never happen with Pacquiao. Maybe 99 times out of 100 it wouldn't. It was the warrior in him that got him knocked out that way.
Other than getting hit with two big right hands over the course of six rounds, Pacquiao did not look like a fighter on the decline. He just got caught, it's boxing and that happens. Had time stopped half way into the sixth round, there isn't a single person who was watching the fight who would've taken Marquez to pull it out even if you gave them 10-1 odds. That's how convincingly Manny was in control. So the answer as to whether or not Pacquiao still has it as a fighter physically is yes. Granted, he may have eroded during the past year but that's something no one can say with certainty until after the fight. Heading into the bout with Rios this Saturday night, it's safe to assume Pacquiao lost because he got caught with a punch he didn't see, more so than him being finished as a fighter.
Lastly, in part C),will Pacquiao be glove shy versus Rios this Saturday night? Will he fight more measured and cautious than he would've had he stopped Marquez in the sixth round instead of the opposite last December? The answer to this is an emphatic no! Pacquiao will go after Rios with the same intensity, vigor and confidence that he would as if he was coming off his stoppage win over Miguel Cotto. I think Pacquiao is fearless and believe he never doubts that he'll win any fight he's in. I'd be willing to bet that Pacquiao will be affected just as Roberto Duran was by being knocked out by Thomas Hearns, in other words he wasn't and was the same tenacious fighter he'd always been in his subsequent bouts.
Recently Pacquiao was asked if he was under extra pressure to win coming off consecutive losses in high profile fights. He said there was “no added pressure on him because if you don't wanna lose, don't fight!” That tells me he's fine psychologically and will harbor no trepidation once the bout with Rios starts.
His statement “if you don't wanna lose, don't fight” may seem innocuous to some but it's telling to me. That’s because losing destroys some fighters mentally, so much so that they become paralyzed by the thought of getting beat. There are fighters who run and train everyday that you'll see in the gym sparring but they never fight. They'll always have an excuse like they hurt their ankle or they're just getting over a cold and couldn't run. And the best is the one where they say their opponent pulled out so they are not fighting. Those guys want to fight and say that they are a fighter but the thought of losing or having to tell their friends or girlfriend that they lost causes them to become a deer in front of headlights when it comes time to step up and actually fight. Manny Pacquiao got over the fear of losing a long time ago. He's mature and self confident in who he is, so that winning or losing doesn't really define him.
To anyone who is the least bit concerned about whether Pacquiao will show up as a damaged fighter when he confronts Brandon Rios, rest assured, that will not be the case. If Manny was concerned about how he'll react under fire during the heat of battle, he wouldn't have agreed to take on perhaps the roughest and toughest fighter out there weighing between 140 and 147 pounds. Rios will be on top of Manny like a wet t-shirt from the moment the fight starts. Pacquiao will have a fighter in front of him that will make him answer to himself inside if he really wants to fight, if he minds getting hit and if he's willing to walk through hell in a gasoline suit in order to win. Manny knows this and more than that, he asked for this kind of a fight being that he could've signed to fight any marquee fighter in the world between 140 and 147 not named Mayweather.
Manny Pacquiao will fight and rumble with Brandon Rios as if he were coming off the best and most impressive showing of his stellar career. If he loses to Rios, it's not because he’s psychologically damaged and harbors trepidation as a fighter because he was knocked out in a devastating fashion in his last fight, it'll be more so because he doesn't have it anymore as a world class fighter at almost 35 years old after 20 plus years fighting as a pro.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com