Manny Pacquiao: Manny Pacquiao isn’t the dynamo he was four or five years ago, when a series of spectacular victories brought comparisons to Henry Armstrong. He isn’t quite as quick or active as he was in his prime. Make no mistake, though: Pacquiao is still better than almost any fighter near his weight. He demonstrated that in a dominating performance against Brandon Rios on Saturday in Macau, China, a near-shutout victory that brought back memories of the Filipino star’s best work even though Pacquiao couldn’t knock Rios out. Rios isn’t a great boxer but he’s a good, smart pressure fighter who doesn’t know how to quit. And, from the beginning, he had no clue how to cope with Pacquiao’s speed, movement and all-around ability. It was an impressive performance for a 34-year-old fighter with a lot of mileage. Could this Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 knockouts) beat Floyd Mayweather Jr.? Probably not. At the same time, his first victory since 2011 was good enough to restart chatter about the elusive mega-matchup. Yes, Pacman will be sticking around for at least a while longer.
Brandon Rios: One shouldn’t be too critical of Rios, who did all he could before and during his fight against Pacquiao. He obviously was fit, evidence and that he worked hard in training camp. And he tried to do his thing, pressure his talented foe and rough him up in close quarters. Pacquiao was just too fast and too good for him. Rios (31-2-1, 23 KOs) never gave up, which is no surprise. No fighter has more pride. He obviously was frustrated in the late rounds, when it was clear he would lose. That’s what happens when you fight your heart and have almost nothing to show for it. Rios lost by scores of 120-108, 119-109 and 118-110, meaning he won only three rounds total on the cards. Rios should take heart, though. He earned a payday that can set him up for life. And losing to a fighter of Pacquiao’s caliber – even by a lot – won’t destroy anyone’s career. Rios remains a compelling contender and has many more high-profile fights in his future.
Carl Froch: Carl Froch demonstrated again against George Groves the qualities that have endeared him to so many fans: resilience, courage and determination. For that, he should be applauded. Let’s face it, though: He was outclassed by Groves and handed a gift victory by referee Howard John Foster, whose performance was disgraceful. Froch (32-2, 23 KOs) seemed to be baffled by Groves’ quickness and skills. His hands and reflexes seemed to be slow, as if the 36-year-old had gotten old before our eyes. And the fire that has defined him seemed to be missing. Indeed, it was Groves, not Froch who appeared to be the elite fighter. However, true to form, Froch battled through the unforeseen obstacles and found a way to climb back into the fight. Indeed, the tide seemed to be turning when the fight was stopped. Froch might’ve won by decision, as two judges somehow had a one-sided fight 76-75 (or four rounds apiece). Or he might’ve scored a legitimate knockout in the end. The point is that he gave himself a chance to win, which is a testament to his profound toughness.
BIGGEST LOSER II
George Groves: The nature of the defeat almost negates it entirely. We saw what we saw, a talented young fighter outbox one of the most respected champions in the world until Foster spoiled his coming out party. Of course, we didn’t know what we’d see from Groves. The 25-year-old Londoner had met with little resistance on his rise to title contention; he had never faced an opponent of Froch’s caliber. It took less than a round to demonstrate that he belongs, putting Froch down and hurting him with a hard right late in the first round. From there, Groves seemed to control the fight with his quick, accurate jab and many damaging right hands. He even got the better of most toe-to-toe exchanges, which was stunning to watch given Froch’s reputation. I had it 78-73 for Groves after eight rounds, or six rounds to two. Alas, Foster prevented Groves from also demonstrating that he had the resilience to withstand Froch’s assault, which he had earned in the fight. Groves was a winner in one sense, though: Clearly, another elite 168-pounder arrived on the scene Saturday night in Manchester.
Froch-Groves: I thought Foster was doing a poor job BEFORE the stoppage. I support his efforts to maintain control of a rough fight. However, he ended up between the fighters too many times just when things were getting heated. Get out of the way, man. Let the fighters fight. And then there was the abysmal stoppage. I get that his principal duty is to protect the fighters. Still, he must have a justifiable reason or reasons to stop a fight. Groves had taken a few hard punches but not anything resembling a sustained beating when Foster stopped the fight. He clearly jumped the gun, which is why the boxing world reacted with anger and disgust. This is the damage: Froch was not allowed to complete what might’ve been a remarkable comeback, Groves was not allowed the chance to survive, complete a coming-of-age performance and win two alphabet titles, and the fans were cheated out of what might’ve been 3½ unforgettable rounds. Shame.
Scott Quigg rebounded nicely from a shaky performance last time out by stopping Diego Silva in the second round on the Froch-Groves card. In October, Quigg (27-0-2, 20 KOs) had to rally to earn a draw against slick Cuban Yoandris Salinas. On Saturday, Quigg put Silva (29-3-4, 15 KOs) down twice, the second with a vicious right from which the Argentine couldn’t recover. … Thank goodness for the AWE network, formerly WealthTV. Those of us outside the U.K. were able to watch the Froch-Groves card online on a good, HD stream for a reasonable price. … I was most impressed with Evgeny Gradovich on a so-so Pacquiao-Rios undercard. Gradovich (18-0, 9 KOs) struggled to beat Billy Dib in March, eking out a split decision, but broke down and then stopped the Australian in the ninth round this time. The Russian, who trains with Robert Garcia in Oxnard, Calif., probably doesn’t have the ability or power to become a star but he is a very good all-around fighter who could win one or two major world titles. … Why did Tor Hamer (21-3, 14 KOs) quit in his heavyweight fight against Andy Ruiz (21-0, 15 KOs) on the Pacquiao-Rios card? Ruiz, a talented boxer, probably was on his way to a victory but Hamer didn’t appear to be in extreme trouble when he decided not to come out for the fourth round. …
Talented junior welterweight prospect Felix Verdejo (9-0, 6 KOs), of Puerto Rico, looked sharp in a six-round decision over Petchsamuthr Duanaaymukdahan (8-2, 1 KO), although the Thai fighter has very little ability. Duanaaymukdahan has 27 letters in his first and last name. I’m not sure he landed that many punches in the fight, which also was on the Pacquiao-Rios card. … RING cruiserweight champ Yoan Pablo Hernandez (28-1, 14 KOs) returned from a 14-month layoff to stop capable Alexander Alekseev (24-3-1, 20 KOs) in the 10th round Saturday in Bamberg, Germany. Hernandez, who missed time because of a broken hand, appeared to be battling fatigue when a big right ended the fight at 1:35 of the 10th. Hernandez was well ahead on the cards after nine rounds. The Cuban-German has 14 consecutive victories since he was stopped in three rounds by Wayne Braithwaite in 2008.
Photo by Chris Farina / Top Rank