No one near the welterweight division can hit as hard as Manny Pacquiao.
No one near the welterweight division can take punches better than Brandon Rios.
The prospect of an action-packed fight between the two is why the 27-year-old Rios (31-1-1, 23 knockouts) landed the main event against Pacquiao on Saturday night in Macao. The bout is also expected to answer if Pacquiao, 34, still has punching power after his stunning knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in December.
“To everyone who thinks I’m an easy opponent for Pacquiao, a walking punching bag, this is my fight,” Rios said recently while training near his home in Oxnard. “I want it. I’m ready. I’m young. I’m not going to let it slide through my fingers.”
Confident and fearless — that’s Rios, who cultivated those attributes while growing up in Garden City, Kan.
Rios says his toughness comes, in part, from his father, Manuel, who for more than 25 years has worked in a Kansas slaughterhouse. “He’s the one who cuts the cows in half,” Rios said. “I used to work there a long time ago. Crazy. You walk in, you step in a puddle of blood.”
Rios had a difficult adolescence, to say the least. He was kicked out of high school for frequent fights and Rios said he has lost count of his arrests for fighting, stealing or drinking. “I’ve been in trouble all my life, it seems,” he said.
In 2004, after being ousted from school, Rios was competing in a USA Boxing tournament. He was scouted by trainer Robert Garcia, who was familiar with the tough kind of kid who gravitates to boxing. Garcia’s father had trained a similarly troubled Fernando Vargas, who became a light-middleweight champion.
“I was like, ‘That’s the way I was, why not give him a chance?’ ” Garcia said of Rios. “Especially when we saw potential.”
Garcia invited Rios to move into his Oxnard home, which Rios’ dad encouraged. Rios warmed to Garcia’s family and became like a kid brother to the trainer.
After turning pro, Rios, while on a trip home to Garden City, tracked down a man who had offended his girlfriend. Rios broke the man’s jaw and the boxer was jailed for three months. He also paid $15,000 for the victim’s medical damages, Rios said.
His mother and brother told Rios he’d amount to nothing. His dad held firm, recognizing boxing was the best career path for his son.
Garcia stood by him too.
“There’s things in a fighter I look for: dedication, heart, power. Brandon has all three,” Garcia said. “Maybe he’s been in trouble with the law, maybe we’ve had to bail him out a few times … But when he’s in the gym, he trains his [butt] off.”
About three years ago, Rios began to settle down. He got married and with his wife, Vicky, had two children. Rios also became world lightweight champion in February 2011 by knocking down Miguel Acosta three times.
Weight problems caused Rios to relinquish that belt. But he stepped up impressively with a signature seventh-round technical knockout of then-unbeaten junior-welterweight Mike Alvarado in an October 2012 slugfest.
Alvarado won the rematch by a narrow decision in March by avoiding Rios’ toe-to-toe style. But when it came time for Pacquiao to select his next foe, the brawler Rios was the choice.
Rios, who will get a $4-million purse for fighting Pacquiao, brought his father to China for the fight and says he is ready for the big stage.
“I’m very outgoing, outspoken, ghetto,” Rios said. “Money don’t change me. I know who I am, know where I came from. I was born to be a fighter. And guess how far I’ve got because of fighting?”
MGM Resorts sports book in Las Vegas lists Pacquiao as a 4-1 favorite, with most thinking Rios can’t deal with Pacquiao’s punching speed.
“He’s just a tough guy and tough guys don’t win fights,” Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, said of Rios.
Rios has been knocked down in only one bout, though, and said he loves making fights tests of wills. He often leaves himself open to take an opponent’s best punch and continues to throw them himself.
“Marquez has tested Pacquiao’s chin already, and we know he can’t take a good punch,” Rios said. “I can hit hard, so I guess I’m going to test his chin again.
“A lot of great fighters have been in a lot of wars. Certain fighters can’t take it. I can. This is what I love to do. This is my destiny.”