Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios will answer a lot of questions this November. Rios is fighting for legitimacy. Pacquiao is fighting to prove he still can.
Up to this point, despite a fantastic record and a single decision loss to his name, Rios has been recognized as, at best, a second-tier fighter. The sort of acclaim he’s gotten before and after Pacquiao selected him to be his next opponent has been very telling – nobody thinks he can pull this one out on the strength of his own skills. Between shots at the way he fights and various questions about the level of competition he has faced thus far, in the eyes of his critics, this 27-year-old budding star has a lot to prove.
On the other end of the spectrum, Pacquiao has a lot to prove as well – just in a slightly different way. Whereas the guy fighting across from him is merely look to show that he belongs in the same ring with a bona fide legend, Pacquiao is attempting to justify his decision not to retire after last December’s Juan Manuel Marquez bout. Odds makers installed him as a three-to-one favorite over Rios essentially because of who he is and what he was once capable of, and all the eight-division champ wants to do at this point is reward that faith.
The real question now is: who wants the win more? Is it the up-and-comer trying to show everyone that he’s boxing’s next big thing, or is it the proven veteran who says he’s two years away from retirement and now needs to put his money where his mouth is?
Based on what’s been said thus far, Rios’ passion for what’s to come is noticeably greater than his opponents. While Pacquiao has been more concerned with talking about his faith and political career, as well as how he won’t be doing anything for this match that he hasn’t done for others, Rios has conceded that this is the biggest fight of his career. He has acknowledged that, for him, it’s all about doing it as big as possible on the biggest stage he’s ever been on.
"I'm nervous speaking in front of you all, but I am not nervous about the fight,” Rios said during a recent press conference. “Come November 24, I am going to be 100 per cent ready mentally and physically. I am going to show the world about me and show everybody who said bad things about me that I am going to be just a punching bag. I'm going to prove them wrong.”
Robert Garcia, his coach, echoed that sentiment.
"The whole world will be watching, he said. "I would like to thank Pacquiao for giving us the challenge for the fight. He's one of the best of all time."
At the end of the day, hunger can’t compensate for skill when one fighter’s talent is much greater than the other’s. However, that’s not the case here. Once upon a time, Pacquiao was far and away better than Rios – that’s not the case anymore. Rios has the chin, the strength and the desire to come out on top this November. And if Pacquiao doesn’t take him seriously, like media and fans have decided he shouldn’t, then he may be in for a huge surprise come year’s end.