MACAU – Manny Pacquiao is hardly a trash talker or the type to make bold, outrageous predictions. With many predicting his demise, however, an apparently insulted Pacquiao boldly predicts a knockout of Brandon Rios.
Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach was doing an interview, with Pacquiao seated next to him, and Roach mentioned that he felt Pacquiao would stop Rios on Saturday (Sunday morning Macau time) in the sixth round of their 12-round welterweight bout at CotaiArena.
That caught the attention of Pacquiao, who hasn't stopped anyone since Miguel Cotto in the 12th round in Las Vegas in 2009. Pacquiao beamed as he heard Roach say six rounds, but he clearly disagreed.
He stuck out four fingers, suggesting he'd knock Rios (31-1-1, 23 KOs) out in four.
For a guy whose career seems to be hanging in the balance, Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KOs) is more loose and confident than he has been in a while.
"Everybody wants to talk to me about the knockout [loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012]," Pacquiao said. "Everybody. But that's part of boxing. If you think you're going to box as long as I have and think you are not going to get caught, you're kidding yourself. It happens. Knockouts are a part of boxing. But what was happening before he connected [with the knockout blow]?"
What was happening was that Pacquiao was in command of the fight and had Marquez on the run. Pacquiao was battering Marquez around the ring and seemed on the verge of a stoppage, when he rushed in looking for the kill.
Marquez timed him perfectly and hit him with a counter right hand that landed flush on the chin and sent him face first to the canvas, out cold.
Now, 11 months later, Pacquiao is back, less than a month from his 35th birthday, on the only two-fight losing streak of his 61-fight career and battling the perception his skills are in decline.
The perception would be vastly different if the judges had gotten it correctly in his June 9, 2012, bout with Timothy Bradley, which virtually everyone who saw the match felt Pacquiao won. Judges, though, scored it a split decision for Bradley.
Then, had Pacquiao not run into the Marquez right, he'd likely have finished the Mexican great in the following round. Instead of being on a two-fight losing streak, he'd be on a 17-bout winning streak and the demand for a bout with the great Floyd Mayweather Jr. would be stronger than ever.
That's why, even though most everyone felt the loss to Bradley would be ignored because it was so obviously wrong, the judging is so crucial. It's added to a perception that Pacquiao is in decline when he is clearly not.
Pacquiao wasn't great by any means against Bradley, and some of that has to do to Bradley himself. But listen to what Bradley had to say about Pacquiao during a recent conference call when he was asked to analyze the Pacquiao-Rios fight:
"I came into the Pacquiao fight in the best shape of my life. I trained extremely hard for that fight. I remember it being around the fourth round and I was exhausted. After four rounds! I am in the best shape of my life and I am exhausted. Pacquiao drops so many feints on you and he keeps you so tense – he hits hard with both hands – you always have to be alert and it drains you as a fighter."
Those words aren't the words of a man who believes that Pacquiao is in decline.
And while no one can ignore the fact that Pacquiao was knocked cold, it was hardly a poor performance against Marquez.
"Manny is an aggressive, offensive-type of fighter," Roach said. "When you are aggressive, you open yourself up to being hit. Mayweather is a great fighter, but he's a very defensive fighter, and he thinks defense first, so he's not as open [to being hit], but he's not a very exciting fighter to watch, either.
"Manny loves to entertain and put on a show, and every fighter knows when you step into the ring and fight that way, there is a risk of getting caught. Manny got caught by a great shot."
But when a fighter is knocked out as violently as Pacquiao was, the effects frequently are felt long after the bout. It often makes a fighter more vulnerable to being knocked out again.
In addition, Pacquiao has had out-of-the-ring distractions that have upset him. Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines, and he's been trying from afar to organize relief efforts.
Then, his chief adviser, Michael Koncz, was twice hospitalized in Macau.
But Pacquiao insists he's ready to put on a show.
"For all of the people impacted by the typhoon, this fight's for you," he said.
He's been at his best in his career when the stakes were biggest and the lights were brightest.
With many counting him out, it would hardly be a shock to see him step up and deliver the performance of a lifetime.