- Kieran Mulvaney, Boxing
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MACAU -- Fight week allows observers only the briefest of glimpses, through slightly open windows, behind the curtain of boxers' camps. Sometimes, though, even those glimpses are enough to allow for a reasonable inference of conditions and contrasts in the rival corners.
Brandon Rios elected not to work out as usual on Tuesday morning, but he and his team hung out as promotional mate Evgeny Gradovich went through his paces, and while "The Russian Mexican" approached his business with a quiet diligence, Rios and friends, including trainer Robert Garcia, were more ebullient.
"You're going to hear all kinds of things from this guy," said Lee Samuels, PR maven for Rios promoter Top Rank, shaking his head with a wry smile. "Words, noises, everything."
Most of those words, Rios himself might have observed, began with the letter "F." He says he learned from watching himself on HBO's "24/7" that he says those words a lot. But amid the colorful language, there was a lot of joking, laughing, pulling of pranks and, at random intervals, Rios dropping to the floor to do push-ups -- the result, he says, of him losing a bet to strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza, the details of which seem hazy even to the bet's apparent winner.
Ariza concedes that the uninhibited, free-flowing atmosphere in Camp Rios is somewhat different to the one that surrounds his most recent and most famous employer, and that contrast was soon on display after the Oxnard, Calif., crew exits and Manny Pacquiao appears, greeted by a throng of cameras and microphones.
If Rios is completely devoid of filters, Pacquiao's utterances are sifted through a series of them -- to ensure accuracy of language, to avoid any semblance of controversy. Where Rios is voluble and loud, Pacquiao is reticent and quiet.
As he wraps his hands in readiness for his own workout, Pacquiao listens to each question posed to him by a small gaggle of reporters, takes each inquiry on board and seemingly rolls it around in his head for a few seconds, then offers a concise and suitably sanitized response.
And yet, for anyone looking for signs of intrigue, even PacMan's considered answers showed hints.
Asked what he thought about Garcia and Rios suggesting their best chance would come in the later rounds, Pacquiao offered only that such things were easy to say, and he smiled when it was suggested to him that it wouldn't necessarily be easy for his opponent to survive into those later rounds. Prompted to describe his foe's most dangerous attributes, he suggested that Rios might be better served to say less and save his talking for the ring. And when it is pointed out to him that Rios has said he hopes to send Pacquiao into retirement, the Filipino icon responded that only God can tell him when to retire. "Brandon Rios," he said, "is not greater than God."
It wasn't exactly Mike Tyson grabbing his crotch and launching into a profanity-laced tirade, but by Pacquiao's gentle standards, those were some major burns. And there are enough subplots to the contest -- Ariza's somewhat acrimonious departure from Team Pacquiao and subsequent partnership with Rios; the burgeoning rivalry between Garcia and Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach; and Rios being captured on camera a few years ago apparently mocking Roach's Parkinson's disease (and don't think Pacquiao, for one, has forgotten about that) -- to suggest that maybe, just maybe, there is a genuine needle between the two sides.
Sometimes, opposites attract. Sometimes, they're just opposites. And when opposites meet in the ring, the result is often an intriguing and even explosive clash. Boxing fans will be hoping for just that on Saturday night.
23dBrian Campbell, ESPN staff writer