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Rios' perceived slight a blessing in disguise

11/21/2013

Every big-time fight could benefit from a marketable hook or back story associated with each fighter. A pair of marketable names, dominant personalities and exciting in-ring styles wouldn't hurt the number of potential pay-per-view buys, either.

When it comes to Saturday's welterweight showdown between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rios from Macau, China (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET), the fight itself essentially features all of the above. But at its core, the fight promotion is still driven by the central themes surrounding each fighter: Will the veteran Pacquiao rebound from a devastating knockout loss against Juan Manuel Marquez, and can Rios, the all-action fighter with the crowd-pleasing style, establish himself as a star in the making?

The narrative to the fight has been pretty cut and dry without too many changes (the recent fight between camps notwithstanding), except for the fact that each time Rios has opened his mouth in recent months, the same sequence of quotes continue to surface.

Rios doesn't like being labeled as the opponent. He doesn't appreciate being considered a one-dimensional slugger for whom few are giving a legitimate chance. And most of all, he's none too pleased with the assertion that Pacquiao's team handpicked him due to his straight-ahead style.

Wait a second ... are we missing something here?

Any issue Rios might have with the perception of his talent, style or chances in Saturday's fight should probably be taken up with the person most responsible for getting his career to this point as a headlining fighter in an international pay-per-view: himself.

Rios is only in this fight because of how perfect his qualifications and in-ring characteristics matched up as the ideal opponent for Pacquiao, who enters fresh off two straight defeats for the first time in his career. Not only has this not been a secret to those close to boxing about how cleverly wrapped of a "get well" fight it was intended to be from the start, it was Pacquiao's camp themselves who have been transparent from the start about why Rios was chosen.

If he were any more dangerous as a technician or one-punch slugger, Rios simply wouldn't have been in position to cash in on the biggest opportunity of his career. Moreover, if he hadn't built his name in recent years on the provocation of violence and his caveman fighting style, he wouldn't have had the brand name to hold up the other side of the marquee.

Rios' one-dimensional style of straight-ahead brawling is the perfect compliment to Pacquiao's counterpunching from multiple angles, not just from the standpoint of giving PacMan the best chance to bounce back by playing to his strengths, but also from a marketing perspective for a fight expected to be entertaining regardless of how it plays out.

"If [Pacquiao] thinks that I'm going to be the same as [Antonio] Maragarito, he has something else coming," Rios told ESPN.com. "I'm not the same fighter like Margarito was. I'm totally different. I'm younger, I'm more experienced, I have a lot of amateur background. So I'll be ready."

There was a time Rios was considered more of a well-rounded prospect, offering a bit more boxing ability to offset his love for mixing it up. But it has come down to Rios being the one all too willing to simplify his own style to that of a go-for-broke pressure fighter looking to turn every single fight into a war.

Whatever the shift in philosophy has done to stunt his growth as a complete fighter (along with potentially shortening his career), it has provided him faster glory and a higher immediate ceiling thanks to his standing as one of the sport's top must-see attractions.

Although I don't begrudge Rios the opportunity to use the perceived slighting as motivation to, in his words, become the fighter who "retires Manny Pacquiao," a bit of proper perspective does need to be in order.

"People are always going to criticize and say I'm just a walking punching bag," Rios said. "It doesn't bother me. I just keep proving them wrong.

"I want to be a star in boxing. I want to be the new guy. I want to get paid like these guys are getting paid. I want to be like what they are. I want that. I want to experience all that."

Regardless of how he got here, Rios will have his chance to make that leap on Saturday. Now it's just up to him to take advantage of his opportunity.