Chris Farina - Top Rank
Published Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013 | 5:25 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013 | 11:12 p.m.
MACAU — We're entering the thick of the holiday season, and Manny Pacquiao showed his spirit by turning the face of Brandon Rios a Christmas-ornament red.
Punching away tirelessly for 12 solid rounds and moving away from Rios' infrequent charges, Pacquiao won a unanimous decision over Rios in front of 13,301 wildly appreciative fans at Venetian Macau's Cotai Arena. The judges' cards showed a Pacquiao shutout, or close to it: Michael Pernick scored it 120-108, Lisa Giampa 119-109, and Manfred Kuchler 118-110. The Sun card (in the quasi-authoritative hands of me) had it 119-109
The fight was the biggest ever in Macau and the most significant boxing event in the region since Muhammad Ali stopped Joe Frazier in the 1974 "Thrilla in Manilla."
While the Ali-Frazier bout was one of the sport's true classics, the only legendary performance Sunday afternoon (Saturday night Pacific time) was by Pacquiao. He repeatedly hammered Rios with combinations and slippepd niftily outside of Rios's jab with swift lateral movement. Pacquiao had Rios hurt frequently. Swelling surfaced over Rios' right eye midway through the fight, and in the late stages he was bleeding from the left and his face was glowing pink from the punishment administered by Pacquiao.
Pacquiao looked polished in every facet of his performance, a dazzling show in the face of his most recent bout when he was knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez. He dedicated the fight to the citizens of his home country of the Philippines as it recovers from super typhoon Haiyan.
"This is a symbol of the comeback of my people from a national tragedy. For aall of the people affected by the typhoon, this fight is for you," said Pacquiao, who has said he is planning to visit the region soon after this fight. Of Rios, he said, "My opponent was very tough. I was winning the whole fight, winning every round. He is a strong fighter, a very tough fighter. This is still my time. My time is not over."
Rios was in shades afterward, a wise accessorizing choice, and repeatedly talked of Pacquiao's "askwardness," and stressed, "I am not a punching bag."
"Manny did a great job and is a great fighter, but the power I did not feel that much" said Rios, who seemed to have Pacquiao hurt once, in the fifth round. "I fought one of the greatest boxers in the world, next to (Floyd) Mayweather. I trained my butt off, I never got hurt. Never got stunned. The quickness just threw me off-guard.
Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said Pacquiao had a chance to put Rios away in the final round, but "laid off the gas a little. He felt, 'I've won the fight. Why hurt the guy?' His compassion got in the way a little bit." Otherwise, Roach said, "Manny fought the perfect fight."
Pacquiao wins the WBO International Welterweight Title belt and moves to 55-5-2. Rios is 31-2-1.
In the final undercard of the "Clash in Cotai" matching Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios, the sellout crowd is almost uniformly backing the Pac Man. Rios' cornermen might well account for the preponderance of his fan support inside Cotai Arena.
This is not whatsoever a surprise. Pacquiao is a popular figure and his fame has reached mythic proportions in his home country of the Philippines. He is dedicating the fight for the victims of super typhoon Haiyan, and plans to visit the region after dispatching (or he hopes and we expect) Rios tonight. Something to remember about Rios and his conditioning surfaced during HBO's "24/7" documentary that aired in the run-up to the fight. Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach called Rios "lazy," and added, "Lazy fighters don't beat Manny Pacquiao."
Who knows. But Pacquiao is not one of these lazy people. He is a punching machine, and every time his image is shown on the big screens around the arena, the fans go nuts. This is a tough, tough spot for Rios. The announced sellout crowd of 13,101 is against him. So are the odds and, most important, one of the all-time greats.
I have but two pet peeves: 1) Trying to cover a live event where there is no reliable Wi-Fi provided, and 2) People who list their pet peeves.
We're having Wi-Fi problems at Cotai Arena at Venetian Macao, which cost in the neighborhood of $2.4 billion to build and is among the most elegant, refined and advanced hotels in the world. And, at the moment, international media is unable to post live updates using the arena wireless network because it is, to use a term likely coined by Bill Gates, "wonky." We're connected via Ethernet, which does allow us to to operate in a functional capacity, but if this connection fails I am either sending a telegraph or calling Sarah, the phone operator from Mayberry.
Cotai Arena is said to either seat either 15,000 (its listed capacity) or 12,000 (what Venetian president Edward Tracy says when describing the arena). It should be filled for the event today, and I say today because in Macau the pay-per-view broadcast of the "Clash in Cotai" starts at 10 a.m. Sunday, with the main event beginning at around noon. Accounting for the vast time difference is one of the chief challenges, along with figuring out Wi-Fi technology, for those promoting the fights. Tracy says he expects the fight to break even, but know that the entire hotel's profits are not accounted for when figuring out the bottom line for the "Clash in Cotai." Ticket sales and PPV numbers are those by which the fight is officially measured, but the Venetian stands to increase its gaming and retail business by, at the very least, 30 percent this weekend.
At the center of all this kinetic energy, Cotai Arena is versatile, comfortable and clean. Similar to MGM Grand Garden Arena and Mandalay Bay Events Center, it is built inside, and is thus enveloped by, the resort. If you switched the Grand Garden seating colors from green to blue (or the Mandalay Bay Events Center seats from beige to blue), it's that same sort of spectator experience.
We are expecting a highly modulated crowd, very pro-Pacquiao. Officials with Top Rank Boxing, including company founder Bob Arum, are saying they really don't know who will win, but if Pacquiao loses there will have to be a recalibration of the Venetian/Top Rank strategy of staging major fights in this region. Pacquiao is, at the moment, the sport's biggest draw in Asia. A loss by him would be most inconvenient, to put it mildly.