MACAO – Filipino great Manny Pacquiao will need to shrug off the distractions of a deadly typhoon and a physical clash involving his trainer as he heads into a make-or-break comeback fight against Brandon Rios Sunday.
The only man to have won world titles at eight different weights knows his career is on the line as he returns to the ring in Macau, just days away from his 35th birthday.
It is almost a year since Pacquiao was knocked cold by Mexican arch-rival Juan Manuel Marquez, a defeat that came six months after a controversial split decision defeat to American Timothy Bradley.
A third loss in a row, in the World Boxing Organisation (WBO) International welterweight title clash with America’s Rios on Sunday, and talk of his retirement would amplify into a roar.
Yet just 18 months ago, ‘Pac-Man’ was revered by many as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, having only lost once in 31 fights dating back to 1999.
Trainer Freddie Roach has admitted that if Pacquiao loses badly to Rios, a former lightweight world champion, he would have no hesitation in telling him to retire.
But defeat is the last thing on the mind of Pacquiao, who has a record of 54 wins, five defeats and two draws, with 38 KOs in a professional career spanning almost 19 years.
“Brandon Rios says he’s hungry to win this fight and I also say I’m hungry to win this fight because I’ve lost twice last year,” Pacquiao said.
However, the final days of Pacquiao’s build-up have been anything but smooth after Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) struck the Philippines, leaving about 5,500 people dead or missing.
Pacquiao’s training base in General Santos City escaped the storm but the Filipino congressman had to be talked out of interrupting his preparations to visit the disaster area.
“I’m doing my best to win this fight and give a good fight, especially with what happened to my countrymen,” he said.
“To all the people and the families who have been affected by this storm, the typhoon – this fight is for you.”
Pacquiao was also unimpressed by a bust-up between Roach and Rios’s camp, which ended with conditioning coach Alex Ariza kicking the 53-year-old Parkinson’s disease-sufferer in the chest.
As cameras rolled for a reality TV show, the two sides were heard hurling racial and homophobic insults and a torrent of expletives, while Ariza mocked Roach’s slurred speech.
“All I can say is both teams prepared for this fight. Let this finish in the ring and not in trash talk before the fight,” said Pacquiao.
“Let’s set a good example to all the people who admire boxing,” added the deeply religious fighter.
“All I can say is this is sports. This is nothing personal, we are doing our job in the ring. Anyone who has a grievance should forgive as the Lord forgives.”
Although Roach says Pacquiao’s intense eight-week training camp has put the 10-time world champion in his best shape for years, the ebullient Rios is confident.
“This is the best shape I have ever been,” said the 27-year-old, who has a 31-1-1 record but has never boxed at welterweight, or fought anyone of Pacquiao’s pedigree.
“I’m nobody’s tune-up fight,” added Rios. “I’m nobody’s punching bag – a punching bag don’t punch back. Sunday, you’re going to find out I’m not going to stop. I’m a monster when I get in that ring.”
Rios, who at five feet eight inches is nearly two inches taller than Pacquiao, is also unfazed by stepping up two weight divisions and 12 pounds in the past 18 months, saying 147 pounds is a “natural weight” for him.
Both fighters will have to cope with the unusual timing of around 11:30 am (0330 GMT) on Sunday, tailored to suit American pay-per-view audiences.
Win, and Pacquiao will seek a re-match with Marquez ahead of the dream meeting with Floyd Mayweather that fight fans have longed to see. Lose, and the end of his career draws nearer.