The Macau Effect: Can Manny Pacquiao be The Fighter He Once Was Closer To Home?

Most of the analysis of Saturday night’s pay per view main event between Manny Pacquiao (54-5-2) and Brandon Rios (31-1-1) has focused on how the location of the bout, the Cotai Arena at the Venetian Hotel in Macau, China, will impact the financial success of the event. Not much attention has been paid to how the “exotic” (at least for U.S. based boxing fans) will effect the fighters themselves. Indeed, neither Pacquiao nor Rios has ever fought in China and, prior to a press tour occuring a few months ago, probably were never in the world’s most-populous country.

Boxers, we are told, are nothing if not creatures of habit. If so, the Macau location may effect the former eight division titleholder from the Philippines. Seven of Pacquiao’s last nine bouts have occurred at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada (with the other two happening at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas). Beyond that, 10 of Pacquiao’s last 12 fights have occurred in Las Vegas and his last 14 fights, dating back to 2006, happened in either Las Vegas or Texas. In the last 10 years, the Filipino Congressman has only fought in Asia twice: a 2004 fourth round knockout of Fahsan 3K Battery and a 2006 decision victory over Oscar Larios. Both of those fights occurred in Manila in Pacquiao’s home country but, otherwise, Pacquiao has fought exclusively in Las Vegas, Texas and California in the past decade.

Pacquiao’s last Asian fight may be notable to review for how he will perform in Macau. The fight was set up as sort of a homecoming for the fighter who had just scored the biggest win of his career: a 10th round knockout of Mexican legend Erik Morales in their rematch. Larios was chosen as the opponent because, as a former WBC junior featherweight titlist for over 3 years, he was a notable name but also a smaller fighter (a career 122 pounder while the fight with Pacquiao was at 130 pounds) whose best days were thought to be behind him (he was coming off a 3rd round knockout loss to Israel Vasquez in their third bout). Despite those deficiencies, Larios was able to hurt Pacquiao in the third round and get up from two knockdowns to last the 12 round distance. Many attributed the poor performance to Pacquiao being distracted by fighting at home.

Thus, the thoughts of distractions are large in the minds of fight observers as it relates to Pacquiao and this fight. When the Filipino fights in the U.S., he normally begins training while at home in the Philippines and then moves to Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in Los Angeles, California. For this fight, the totality of Pacquiao’s training camp is taking place in the Philippines. Lead trainer Roach only appeared for the final six weeks of the camp and, when he arrived, according to Ring Magazine’s Ryan Songalia, he had to adjust Pacquiao’s running schedule and to convince the Congressman to stop playing basketball. In addition to playing with his friends and relatives, Pacquiao is also still paying some attention to his congressional duties. As such, distractions could be a factor with Pacquiao. In fact, he will not arrive in Macau until five days before the Rios fight (though it should be noted that Macau and Manila are in the same time zone).

To add to the distractions theme, the Philippines suffered a horrendous national tragedy when Super Typhoon Haiyan struck the island on November 8, 2013. The resulting loss of life is estimated to rise anywhere from 2,500 to as high as 10,000. Although the typhoon did not strike where Pacquiao held his training camp, the Congressman and Filipino icon had to have been effected by it. Both Roach and Pacquiao’s main advisor, Michael Koncz, told reporters that Pacquiao wanted to break camp to observe the damage and visit survivors to lift their spirits. Roach and Koncz convinced Pacquiao not to do so because of the importance of the Rios fight for his career. Pacquiao was given some time off, a day, perhaps more, from training though.

As such, it is easy to see why the Macau location, particularly at this time, could effect Pacquiao. If it does, especially following a disastrous 2012 which saw Pacquiao “lose” a split-decision to Timothy Bradley and get knocked-out by Juan Manuel Marquez, the Filipino could be in a lot of trouble. That said, Rios has fought all of his fights in the United States and Mexico with most of his fights occurring in California, Nevada and the southwest (the only two fights that required extensive travel were a homecoming bout in Garden City, California and an undercard fight at New York City’s Madison Square Garden). He also held the majority of his training camp in Oxnard, California and only arrived in Macau last Monday giving him less than two weeks to get acclimated. So you could say that both fighters have some adjusting to do. The fighter who does just may be the one who gets his hand raised in the early morning hours in Macau.

There are two other things to consider when thinking about the Macau location and how the fighters will react. The first is that the fight will take place early in the morning local Macau time in order to allow the pay-per-view to air in primetime in the United States. The fighter who literally wakes up faster may be the winner. Translated into boxing terms, getting a fast start by being aggressive in the early rounds might be key here. Interestingly, both Pacquiao and Rios are notorious for being slow starters so this will take an adjustment on both fighters’ parts. The second other factor is that the crowd in Macau, which should be heavily Asian and Pacquiao supporters, has shown itself to be a fairly quiet crowd. Additionally, Pacquiao-Rios will occur after local hero Zou Shiming fights so the crowd may use up any loudness in that fight. This will be different for Pacquiao as he is used to fighting in front of raucous Mexican crowds in Las Vegas and Rios seems to thrive fighting before blood-thirsty crowds such as those at the Stub-Hub/Home Depot Center in Carson, California. That said, crowd noise will not determine who wins this fight. The fighters should do that themselves.

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