The last time Robert Garcia sent one of his fighters into a ring with Manny Pacquiao, Antonio Margarito was reduced to lying coldly on a gurney, ice packs covering his battered body, one of his eyes permanently damaged.
Now, Garcia is in the final weeks of training former world lightweight champion Brandon Rios (31-1-1, 23 knockouts) in Oxnard for the 27-year-old’s first pay-per-view main event, versus Pacquiao Nov. 23 in Macao.
“Three years ago, we had a big opportunity with Antonio Margarito,” Garcia said. “I hate to say it, maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I am now.”
While Garcia agrees there are similarities in the forward-fighting styles of good friends Margarito and Rios, he says he’s optimistic the outcome will be different because of changed circumstances.
“Margarito is close to 10 years older than Brandon,” Garcia said. “Three years ago, Pacquiao was knocking out and beating everyone up.
“Brandon is younger, hungry to get to that level. Margarito had just suffered a very bad loss to [Shane] Mosley and had all that hand-wrap controversy going on in his head. All of those things we have to put in place and know … that since then, Pacquiao has lost two fights. He should’ve knocked out Tim Bradley and was knocked out bad by [Juan Manuel] Marquez. All those things can make a big difference. … We think it’s the right moment.”
Rios caused a stir before Pacquiao-Margarito by appearing in a video mocking the Parkinson’s effects that Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach suffers through.
Roach said earlier this year that he has moved past the episode, but some close to Pacquiao suggested his extended punishment of Margarito was related to the fighter’s involvement with the ridicule.
Rios fought on that same Texas Stadium card under Pacquiao-Margarito, scoring a technical knockout of Omri Lowther a fight before winning the lightweight belt.
“I respect him, love him like a brother, but me and Margarito are different,” Rios said. “He did things to hurt Pacquiao, and I saw things we’re going to counter off. But I’m not thinking about revenge, this being a grudge, or that I’m mad. If I went in there mad, I’d get knocked out.
“Margarito had his own style. Over the years, Pacquiao has slowed down. He’s not as quick as he was. He doesn’t move around, he has leg cramps. He’s been in wars, after the Marquez fight. So we’re going to approach it different.”
Roach has described the fearless Rios as the ideal opponent for Pacquiao after his December knockout loss to Marquez. Rios, Roach reasons, will continue to rush Pacquiao and get pounded.
Rios objects to the idea he’ll be nothing but a walking punching bag, crediting Garcia and his ex-trainer father, Eduardo, who formerly directed Fernando Vargas’ career, for crafting a smart fight plan.
“Stay calm, don’t go in there like an animal when I get punched,” Rios said Eduardo Garcia told him. “You’ve got 12 rounds. Pacquiao is very dangerous, especially in the first rounds, you’ve got to be very careful. I’ve been following instruction. I feel great.”
Rios said his most pressing question before the bout is whether Pacquiao is damaged goods or not.
“We don’t know if he’s done or if he’s ready and still the same Pacquiao -- that Marquez just caught him with the perfect shot, because that can happen to anybody,” Rios said. “We’re going in there to be ready, they’re going to see the real Brandon Rios.
“Marquez has tested his chin already. And we know he can’t take a good punch. And I can hit hard, so I guess I’m going to test his chin again.”