Manny Pacquiao returns to the ring with a unanimous decision win over Brandon Rios
By Mike Sempervive
Manny Pacquiao needed a performance on Saturday night that would not only keep him in the spotlight amongst boxing’s pound-for-pound best, but also get him back in the radar of the casual sports fan that helped to make him one of the most famous athletes in the world. If nothing else, he accomplished the former winning a 12-round unanimous decision over a tough Brandon Rios, by the scores of 120-108, 119-109, and 118-110.
Fighting with his patented dead-ahead style, Pacquiao used his superior speed, right from the opening bell, snapping a hard right jab in Rios’ face, and following it up with hard, accurate shots right up the middle. As the fight continued on, Pacquiao’s attack never wavered, nor had to, as Rios continued to stand in and provide the perfect target that Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach predicted he would be.
According to CompuBox, Pacquiao finished the bout landing 281 punches, 223 power punches landed, and 241 total punches landed to Rios’ face, which was cut over both eyes, and swelled up badly. There were no official knockdowns in the bout, though late in the first round it seemed as if Pacquiao had dropped Rios, but referee Genaro Rodriguez ruled it a slip.
Returning to the ring after a 350-day absence, Pacquiao, who turns 35 on December 17, came into last night’s bout, at CotaiArena, located on the grounds of the Venetian Resort, in Macau, China, hoping to eliminate the bad taste of two high-profile setbacks in 2012. One against Timothy Bradley, where he lost a highly controversial split decision, as well as his welterweight world championship status. The other against Juan Manuel Marquez, that saw him getting brutally knocked unconscious with a counter-punch during a wild exchange of blows.
Despite the one-sided nature of the loss, Rios’ reputation as a crowd-pleasing, all-action, fighter remains intact, as he continued to try and and come forward, and some make offense happen, but just couldn’t score at all against a superior opponent. Fighting for the first time at welterweight, he was coming into the bout after back-to-back shootouts against Mike Alvarado.
During an October 2012 junior welterweight (140-pound) fight, he handed Alvarado his first-ever loss, by stopping him in the seventh round. This past March, in a highly-anticipated rematch, the two combined to throw almost 1700 punches, and put on another Fight of the Year contender, where Alvarado win a tight unanimous decision, and returned the favor by handing Rios his first career defeat.
Ranked #3 by The Ring at 147 pounds, and #7 overall pound-for-pound, Pacquiao, who weighed 145 pounds at the weigh-in, and 150 on Saturday, now raises his record to 55 (38)-5 (3)-2. The 27-year old Rios, who weighed in at 146 ½, before hydrating all the way up to 159 pounds, came into the bout ranked #6 by The Ring at 140 pounds. His record falls to 31 (23)-2 (0)-1.
With the win, Pacquiao claims the World Boxing Organization's “International” welterweight (147-pound) championship, a secondary title used mostly to manipulate the ranking of a fighter in a particular weight division. In this case, it served as promotional icing, and likely sets up either a revenge match on April 12 in Las Vegas against a still-surging Timothy Bradley, or possibly a bout with WBO 140-pound titleholder Ruslan Provodnikov, who would likely move up to 147 pounds.
It’s Pacquiao’s third sub-premium title of that ilk, which is outside the norm for most boxers once they hit a certain status in their careers. He’s also won two World Boxing Council-sanctioned “international” belts at 122 and 130 pounds. Regardless of those trinkets, during his Hall of Fame career, he’s laid claim to an amazing nine world championships, in a record eight different weight classes (112, 122, 126, 130, 135, 140, 147, and 154 pounds), as recognized by The Ring magazine, and the four biggest sanctioning bodies in the sport - the aforementioned WBC and WBO, as well World Boxing Association (WBA), and International Boxing Federation (IBF).
Saturday night’s show was only the second boxing pay-per-view presentation this year for HBO (following last month’s Timothy Bradley-Juan Manuel Marquez fight), and is just the fifth notable pugilistic pay show of the year - the lowest total in decades - when including Showtime’s two Floyd Mayweather Junior bouts (against Robert Guerrero and Saul Canelo Alvarez), and an Integrated Sports presentation of Gennady Golovkin against Nobuhiro Ishida in March. Despite the network pulling out its usual stops: four 24/7 specials, a face-to-face sit-down interview between the fighters, live airing of the weigh-in, significant advertising, etc., how much the bout really tickled the fancy of the buying public is questionable, and remains to be seen.
During his career, Pacquiao has main evented seventeen pay-per-view shows. Eight of those events have done a reported 700,000 buys, or more - with five of those surpassing one million. Going into last night, only the most positive of pundits predicted the show could do anywhere near a million, with most others thinking far less - including possibly dipping below 500,000 buys - which would be numbers not seen for a Pacquiao performance since before his December 2008 victory over Oscar De La Hoya ascended him into superstar status.
That shining star has faded significantly in North America since 2009, when Pacquiao vanquished De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, and Miguel Cotto, in a span of twelve months, and ended with almost unanimous approval as the sport’s top fighter, for the third time in four years. While his career continued to roll along strong into 2011, with wins over Joshua Clottey, Antonio Margarito, and Shane Mosley, many casual fans became apathetic when a superfight against Floyd Mayweather Junior didn’t materialize.
Instead, what did materialize were constant allegations from Mayweather’s camp about the use of performance enhancing drugs, which Pacquiao repeatedly denied. That November, in the third meeting between the two, Pacquiao won a controversial decision over generational rival Juan Manuel Marquez, which many fans and media believed his Mexican counterpart had won. In June of 2012, Pacquiao suffered a highly controversial decision loss to Timothy Bradley, his first defeat since 2005. A fourth fight with Marquez, in December, ended with Marquez’ first win in the series (against two razor-thin decision losses, and a draw), and saw Pacquiao knocked out in spectacular fashion, for the first time since 1999.
While his star has faded in the States, since he was one of Time magazine’s People of the Year for 2009, Pacquiao’s fame in Asia remains very much intact. Nowhere more so than his beloved home country, which is still reeling from the after-effects of devastating typhoon, two weeks ago, that killed 5,235 people (a number which is still feared to rise much higher), as well as injuring and/or displacing many thousands more.
Seemingly, if it were up to Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum, the Filipino phenomenon would become a Far East exclusive. Before the bout, the Top Rank kingpin repeatedly touted Macau as the new gambling mecca, talked about promoting fights in Russia and Singapore, as well as citing the massively growing Chinese market, and 80 million possible homes that are reportedly wired for pay-per-view. Arum also noted that his client doesn’t have to pay taxes on nearly 40% of his earnings for the fight, as he would have to as a foreign athlete who performs in the United States.
Suggested retail on Saturday's pay-per-view was $59.99 for standard definition, and $69.99 for high definition. The televised festivities began at 7:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, with replays of the HBO 24/7 hype specials. The undercard began airing at 9:00 PM EST, with the opening bell for the main event tolling around 11:40 PM EST (4:40 AM, Sunday, Greenwich Mean Time/12:40 PM, Sunday, Chinese Standard Time). The main announcers for the card were Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman, and Roy Jones Junior, with Harold Lederman and Steve Weisfeld adding commentary on scoring.
Through its website and mobile app, Top Rank Incorporated offered four additional undercard bouts, which also began at 7:00 PM EST, and featured Colonel Bob Sheridan (going on his 49th year of calling fights) on play-by-play, with pre-taped features presented by Crystal Poncher. During his fights, Sheridan announced that legendary former HBO color analyst Larry Merchant would be joining him, but that didn’t occur. Later, Merchant joined Box Nation for its coverage of the show. The monthly pay-TV service held the rights to the bout in Ireland and the United Kingdom.
In the semi-main event of the show, Evgeny Gradovich left no doubt that he was the IBF featherweight (126-pound) champion, once again defeating former champion Billy Dib, when his corner was forced to throw in the towel during the ninth round at the 1:10 mark.
This was a rematch from March 1, that saw the undefeated Russian claim the title via split decision in a bloody and physical fight. Once again, Gradovich was relentless in battering Dib, using controlled aggression, which saw him completely out-box his Australian opponent, as well as overwhelming him with relentless fury. Gradovich remains undefeated at 18 (9)-0 (0), and makes the second defense of his title.
Dib who had made 3 defenses of the IBF belt before losing it to Gradovich, now falls to 36 (21)-2 (1)-0, with one no contest. He was warned for repeatedly having his mouthpiece fall to the canvas, and nearly lost a point in the fifth round.
One of the reasons he couldn’t keep it in was due to the barrage of punches he took, as 181 of the 203 punches Gradovich landed were to the face, and only 28 of those were jabs. The rest were power shots, for which the 28-year old had no answer for, as the fight went on, other than just to try and cover up his face with his arms.
Gradovich, fights out of the La Colonia Gym in Oxnard, California, under the tutelage of current Boxing Writers Association Trainer of the Year Roberto Garcia. A former super featherweight champion, Garcia also trains his younger brother, The Ring magazine featherweight champion Miguel Angel Garcia, “The Filipino Flash” Nonito Donaire, and last night’s main eventer Brandon Rios.
Freddie Roach-trained Mexican heavyweight Andy Ruiz Junior ran his record to 21 (15)-0 (0) when his opponent, Tor Hamer, chose not to come out of his corner to start the fourth round.
The doughy-looking 24-year old, who represented Mexico in the 2008 Olympics, but didn’t medal, weighed 257 ¾ pounds - down 40 from the 297 ½ he weighed when he debuted in March of 2009. Starting slow, and eating a few hard shots to the head after Hamer dug to his body, Ruiz was finally able to get into a groove in the third, using his deceptive hand speed to land combinations to the head of the 2008 national Golden Gloves champion, visibly sucking out all of the fighter’s spirit by the end of the round.
It’s the second time in four fights that Hamer has quit on his stool within four rounds, against a prospective contender - who also happened to compete in the 2008 Olympics - doing the same against Ukrainian bronze medalist Vyacheslav Glazkov in December 2012.
Immediately after the bout, Hamer’s promoter Lou DiBella seemed to fire his fighter, via Twitter, stating: “That is an embarrassment @TorHamer. Time to become a pilot. Sorry to the fans. That is not #DBE.” With the loss, the 30-year old New Yorker’s record falls to 21 (14)-3 (2).
With the win, Ruiz adds another secondary title - the IBF’s North American Boxing Federation championship - to the WBO “Inter-Continental” belt he held coming into the bout, which opens the door for him to be ranked in the top ten of the IBF. He’s already ranked that way by both the WBO and WBA.
Looking much more confident in his third professional bout, 2008 Olympic gold medalist Zou Shiming won a unanimous decision (60-54, on two judges scorecards, 60-52 on another) over Mexican Juan Tozcano, in a six-round flyweight (112-pound) bout. The Chinese fighter busted Tozcano open underneath his right eye, and handed him his first professional loss, dropping his record to 4 (1)-1 (0).
Shiming finished the bout looking solid, though hardly spectacular, against a fighter whose opponents combined record, coming into the bout, was 2-21-3. He now raises his record to 3 (0)-0, since his debut in April, and, after the show, promoter Bob Arum claimed Shiming would be fighting for a title next year. But, at 32 years old, questions still remain over how much of an impact he can make on the international scene, despite training with Freddie Roach, and sparring with Manny Pacquiao.
In the opener of the pay-per-view telecast, 140-pound Puerto Rican prospect Felix Verdejo raised his record to 9 (6)-0 by sweeping all six rounds, on all three judges scorecards (60-54), against Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan, 8 (1)-2 (0), of Bangkok, Thailand. In the sixth round, Duanaaymukdahan was docked a point for low blows.