MACAU – Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios have acted like close friends enjoying a vacation for months now. They've explored the the Great Wall of China, visited Tiananmen Square and got along amicably considering they will try to inflict serious harm upon one another.
But the niceties have ceased days before their pay-per-view bout on Saturday (Sunday Macau time) in CotaiArena, as evidenced by the vicious round of racial and gay epithets and a melee just four days before the fight.
Frustrated by a gym scheduling mishap just past 11 a.m. Macau time on Wednesday, Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach asked Rios trainer Robert Garcia to end Rios' workout. Rios had run late due to media requests, but Roach thought the group was taking too much time and stormed into the gym, calling Garcia "a piece of [expletive]," which prompted the escalation of the incident.
Rios conditioning coach Alex Ariza then mocked Roach's Parkinson's disease several times. At one point, Ariza took a step forward and kicked Roach in the chest. As chaos broke out, Ariza said to Roach, "You're a [expletive] joke," and then used a gay slur.
The hatred between the two seemed vitriolic, and it was, but the inception happened long before the two camps were in Macau.
Ariza had been Pacquiao's strength and conditioning coach since 2008 and had been given much credit as Pacquiao jumped weight classes and defeated the likes of David Diaz, Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito.
Somewhere along the way, though, the relationship soured and Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach fired Ariza in August. Not long after the dismissal, Ariza was hired by Rios to train him for the fight against Pacquiao.
That twist has added a sharp edge to what had been a friendly rivalry.
Now, they're exchanging sharp words, making accusations against the other and generally increasing the tension between not only the camps but the fighters themselves.
"Ariza is just an [expletive]," Roach said. "He never did a thing for Manny. Manny always worked on his own. Alex just stretched him, and that was the extent of his job. I told Manny, 'You're paying this guy a lot of money just to stretch you.' What fighter in the world, what professional athlete, can't stretch himself?' And Manny agreed and said, 'I'm going to go back to the old way.'
"Alex is just a pain in the ass. My cornermen, Buboy [Fernandez], he used to cut off and go up in the ring. He cut Buboy off and would start yelling instructions over me. My cutman, Miguel Diaz, refused to work the corner if Alex was in the corner because he wanted to be the cutman also. If he would have just done his job, he would have been OK, but he wanted to do everyone else's job."
Ariza won't be in Rios' corner, but he will be seated near it. His presence there won't be missed by Pacquiao.
Ariza said he wasn't sure if Pacquiao will be impacted by his presence, but said he believes Pacquiao knows that Rios will be prepared for a grueling fight.
"I think [Pacquiao] got away from that type of training the last four fights," Ariza said. "I think there was a fear factor in the beginning when he was moving up in weight, even when he fought Diaz [at lightweight]. He was nervous going to 135 and then going to 147 and fighting Hatton, De La Hoya, Cotto. There was a fear factor and Manny was willing to try different things to build his body and to compete with these bigger, stronger guys.
"But when he got to the [Shane] Mosley fight, Shane was 40 years old and I don't know if the fear factor was there. Then we go to the third [Juan Manuel] Marquez fight and I think in his head he said, 'I've fought Hatton. I've fought De La Hoya,' and for whatever reason, he didn't respect Marquez as much. When he fought [Timothy] Bradley, he wasn't as consistent and wasn't fighting three minutes of every round. He fought in bursts and then got completely away from everything. Our advantages when we were dominating is that we were using a comprehensive, scientific strength and conditioning program. He gave it up for the old way and the old ways are proven not to work."
Ariza praised the way Rios has approached his training. Rios has had trouble making the weight in the past, but Ariza said that he gave him Tuesday off (Monday in the U.S.) because Rios was at 153 pounds and he didn't want him getting much lower than that until the weigh-in.
He said Rios has been totally dedicated and even went for swims in cold water in an outdoor pool in Oxnard, Calif., where he trains.
"He's given me everything he has and has totally bought into the program," Ariza said. "As a coach, that's all you can ask."
But Roach said he has someone in his camp who has been observing Rios and disputed Ariza's contention that Rios is on target to make weight.
Roach said his source saw Rios running Tuesday in a rubber suit. Rios had earlier mentioned that he hadn't used the rubber suit once.
"He's been in plastics every day, trying to make weight," Roach said. "He was in plastics [Tuesday]. I saw him. I have people [who saw Rios] and he ran, and he ran with that suit. He ran today in plastics. It's not amazing. He's a lazy, non-disciplined person."
Roach said he's still bitter at Rios and trainer Robert Garcia for a video they posted mocking the tremors he has as a result of having Parkinson's Disease. Rios apologized not long after the incident and had the video pulled down, but that didn't salve Roach's wounds.
Thus, Roach has been willing to fire at Rios more than he has at previous Pacquiao opponents. But Rios said Roach isn't telling the truth.
"Freddie Roach can say whatever he wants to say, but I had trouble when I was trying to make 135, man," Rios said. "Am I [having trouble making 147?] Does he know? Has he weighed me? Has he seen me train? Has he been to my gym? No. He's just speaking out of his ass.
"He's trying to hype [expletive] up, but I let him talk all he wants. He's trying to play mind games with a guy who loves to play mind games. He's picked the wrong guy to play mind games with, because I don't fall for that. I'm glad he thinks I'm having trouble making weight."
Pacquiao tried his best to stay out of it all. He smiled and made light of allRoach said the many members of Team Pacquiao celebrated when Ariza was fired, and said, "Every single person, every one, including Manny, is a hell of a lot happier now that Alex is gone."
When Pacquiao was told of Ariza's jeering words about his work ethic, he grinned broadly and winked at Roach.
"I don't have any comment about that," he said, laughing again.
The gamesmanship has begun in earnest, though. And that only means one thing.
Fight time is almost upon us.
(WARNING: The video below contains strong language)