By Loren Goodman
Despite the early hour of the post-fight press conference—just past lunch—all the stars were still out over the site of Manny Pacquiao’s triumphant return to the ring at the palatial Venetian Macao Resort Hotel and Casino.
Manny Pacquiao (55-5-2, 38 KO), who handled his hardnosed younger opponent Brandon Rios (31-2-1, 22 KO) with cool composure and pugilistic expertise, winning twenty-seven of thirty rounds on the three judges’ scorecards, opened the press conference with a humanitarian gesture. Before answering questions about the fight, he put a black marker to his trainer Freddie Roach’s punch mitts and chest protector, explaining, “I’m signing these for the people who were affected by the recent typhoon in the Philippines.”
Indeed, in reflecting on his dominant performance before a large contingent of media from all over the world, Pacquiao—rising in victory from the ashes of two consecutive defeats—seemed to be talking not just about himself and his boxing team, but his country, the Philippines, and all the people in it: “I’m so happy and thankful to God. He answered my prayer that we will rise again. I’m praying God will guide me and give me strength to give excitement to the fans of boxing. Thank you to the media and press—because of you, I’m here. I’d also like to thank Bob Arum, because of him we are in Macao. Thank you to Mr. Tracy at the Venetian, to HBO, to all the networks that support this fight and all my countrymen—when I say this fight is for you, I mean all my countrymen who were affected by the disaster. I’m happy God answered my prayers.” Promoter Bob Arum, who was praised by media representatives from the Philippines for having donated one million pesos to the relief effort himself, called for further action: “Anything we can do for the courageous people of the Philippines who suffered that terrible calamity.”
When asked how difficult it was it for the superstar boxer and Sarangani province congressman to remain in training camp and not return home when the disaster hit, Pacquiao responded, “Very hard. When the disaster hit the Visayas area, I wanted to go back and help, but I had to stay in camp. I wanted to help and bring relief goods then, but I think now is the time.” One cannot underestimate the power of the symbolic relief he provided for his homeland with his comeback victory today.
Several reporters reiterated questions as to why Pacquiao took his foot off the gas in round twelve, when he appeared to have Rios in trouble. Roach’s initial response (while Manny was still undergoing post-fight drug tests) was “he said there’s no reason to hurt the guy. He showed his compassion.”
Pacquiao’s response confirmed and illuminated Roach’s: “I did not want to get careless, so I gave him a chance to finish. I did not do that because I was tired, but because boxing is not about killing. So why should I be careless like the last fight with Marquez? There is no reason to be careless. So I just followed the instructions from my corner.”
Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach expressed how devastated Team Pacquiao had been by the KO loss to Marquez, and made several comments on how they shifted their strategy for the Rios bout, and how pleased he was with Manny’s execution of it: “Manny is a realist. He knows if you get knocked out, there is no future. But he executed perfectly tonight. I thought he fought a great fight. He boxed well, his defense was good. Rios couldn’t deal with his speed. We had a great game plan, going to the right, staying away from Brandon’s big right hand. And he executed perfectly. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Rios is a tough, tough guy—he took a lot of shots, I don’t understand how he stood up. Manny is back, but he was never really gone. He’s a great workhorse and champion.” Roach stated that he would like to see Pacquiao fight two or three times in 2014. Asked to asses Manny’s chances against Floyd Mayweather based on today’s performance, Roach stated: “I think they are good. Mayweather’s legs aren’t quite the same; he’s getting older. I think we’d do well with him.”
In response to several questions about doubts raised by his KO loss to Marquez, Pacquiao had the following to say: “Before the Marquez fight, people were saying “Manny is not the same as before, he is not as aggressive.” I told them I can still be aggressive, but it depends on the opponent—with Marquez it is not always good to be aggressive, because he is a counter puncher. I decided that I was going to use my boxing skills, and I think I proved myself. I’m happy that God gave me the strength.
Another reporter followed up: “Before this fight someone said you are already a has-been and should retire. What do you say now?” Pacquiao: “I told them it is not my time yet—my journey will continue, and we will rise again. So thank God for everything.”
Brandon Rios and his trainer Robert Garcia—despite the heated tensions and scuffles leading up to the bout—admitted Pacquiao’s superiority and had nothing but respect and well-wishes for Pacquiao and his camp.
In Rios’ own words: “I trained my heart out. Manny is quick. I did train for quickness, but he is so quick. No disrespect. I trained my butt off, I did my best. I can say one thing: I never got hurt in the fight, he never stunned me. He just took me off guard… the quickness. I had a quick sparring partner, but Manny was quicker. My first mega-fight, I’m glad it was in front of you people. I’m not hurt. I could probably go another five rounds. Good job everyone in the Pacquiao camp, congratulations. But we’ll come back better and stronger.”
Though Pacquiao went to the body more than in previous fights, Rios claimed he was never surprised or hurt by Pacman’s body attacks. “As I said, I was never hurt. But what got me was the awkwardness and speed. I haven’t fought a southpaw in a long time.” Asked which punch was Pacquiao’s best, Rios responded: “he got me a couple times with the straight left, that was his best punch. I don’t know if the cut was from a punch or headbutt.” Taking a moment to compose his thoughts, Rios revised his opinion: “His best punch was his quickness, that’s what it was.”
While Rios claimed never to have been hurt, his response when asked why he did not try harder for the knockout when clearly behind on points late in the fight revealed his own caution: “Every time we got close, he didn’t want to exchange, so he just grabbed me. I wasn’t trying for the knockout, cause I’d probably get knocked out myself.”
Interestingly, although Pacquiao admitted that Rios hurt him in the fifth round, Rios appeared not to have been aware of it.
When asked to compare Pacquiao’s performance against Rios today with his performance against Antonio Margarito in 2010, Robert Garcia avoided making any comparison, simply stating, “He did great. I think we saw the best Pacquiao today. He is a great person. We respect him for everything he has done in an out of the ring.”
The combatants who engaged in a rematch for the IBF Featherweight Title also proved themselves disciplined warriors and perfect gentlemen. In response to questions about his impressive title defense (TKO 9), “The Mexican Russian” Evgeny Gradovich emphasized his intense training practices in Oxnard, California leading up to the bout: “A lot of people said I would knock him out, but I prepared to go all twelve rounds. I prepared very hard. So maybe I deserved the TKO. I didn’t expect it, but I prepared hard and am happy.” A Gradovich team member with a noticeable Russian accent then briefly took the microphone to further emphasize the intensity and spirit of Gradovich’s training: “I just want to mention that Gradovich gives his heart when he trains. When he steps in the gym, the gym comes alive.”
Introduced by Bob Arum as “a gallant fighter—he wasn’t successful tonight, but he fought courageously, like a true Australian,” Billy Dib took his turn at the mike. Wearing sunglasses to conceal the significant damage he sustained during his rematch with Gradovich, Dib was gracious in defeat: “Without God none of this would have been possible. I was given an opportunity by God to showcase my talent on HBO. Two men came to fight. Only one could win, and Gradovich did. I give him all the credit for his victory. Everything in life has a reason behind it. God has other plans for me. I thank you all for coming out tonight.”
Arum then introduced the man who forced Tor Hamer (who did not appear at the post-fight conference) to quit on his stool at the beginning of round four. “Trying to become the first Mexican to become the heavyweight champion of the world. He’s on his way. Please welcome Andy Ruiz, Jr.!”
The baby-faced Ruiz—whose trunks were emblazoned with the words ME VALE MADRE (“I DON’T GIVE A DAMN”), emotionally expressed his thanks to all the members of his team and the people of Macao, and stated: “people are always going to underestimate me, and I want to show them what more I can do.” When asked if he was ever hurt by Hamer, who appeared to have won the first two rounds, Ruiz replied, “Yes, Tor hit me with a few shots, a few right hands. But this is boxing, you’re going to get hit and get hurt. It took me a while to warm up, but once I hit him to the body, I think he felt that, and that’s what made him quit. I’m from California, and all my family and loved ones are in California, and I want to thank them and send my love to them. I want to be the heavyweight champion of the world.” In response to a question about Hamer failing to come out for round four, Ruiz—who emerged with the NABF and WBO International belts—had this to say: “As long as I win, a victory is a victory. And if he quits, it gives me confidence, it means my punches really hurt. I didn’t think he would do that, cause he gave me a good fight early on. But if he continued, I think I would have stopped him in the next round.”
One reporter in the crowd then asked if he would like to fight Tyson Fury, to which Ruiz immediately responded, “Yes! Who wouldn’t want to see two big heavies fight? He’s really big in England, were he’s from, and I think they would really enjoy seeing a fight between us.”
Arum then introduced former 2012 Puerto Rican Olympian Felix Verdejo as “the next Puerto Rican superstar”—a boxer who will follow in the footsteps of Felix Trinidad and Miguel Cotto.
Verdejo expressed his love for the people of China and thanked them for their hospitality. Up against an awkward and spirited fighter from Thailand, Verdejo stated that he felt he had done pretty well in the fight, considering that he hurt his left hand in the first round “from hitting the guy so much. But if I just take some Tylenol, I can fight tomorrow. He really was a difficult opponent. I hit him a lot, as you all saw. But I think it was a learning experience, and I used my boxing skills. I represent my island, and I think I did it in a good way.”
Felix’s next fight will be December 14th on Unimas on a show in Puerto Rico, co-promoted by Top Rank and Miguel Cotto Promotions.
When asked if he thought Verdejo had improved since his last bout, Arum responded: “He needs to know how to get rounds under his belt. And when I see that he can, I’ll have him go twelve rounds with anyone at 130—except Mikey Garcia. Verdejo is a phenomenal boxer.”
The press conference actually began with Bob Arum’s announcement that—in accordance with the promoter’s plans to continue developing boxing in China—the four Chinese boxers who fought and did so well on the card would speak first.
Thus, the only boxer from Macao to appear—slick-punching Super Welterweight Kuok Kun Ng, also known as the “Macao Kid”—spoke first:
“I’m very proud and glad about this victory, and proud that I can make the people Macao proud, and show them that they can be winners too.”
Next up, from just across the bay, was Super Flyweight Rex Tso of Hong Kong, who started off in English, then switched to Cantonese: “Thank you Venetian, Top Rank, for giving me a chance on the big fight undercard. Hope you all enjoyed the fight and I hope to fight here again.”
Bob Arum then introduced a newly-signed Chinese prospect, undefeated lightweight I.K. Yang, whom he stated had done “a great job tonight, and worked hard preparing in Manny’s camp.”
Yang: “First I want to thank Top Rank and my agent for giving me this opportunity to show you what I got. Obviously I want to do more, and I think I can do even better next time. Thank you, everybody! So to be sitting here with all four Chinese boxers, today with all four wins, we showed the world that Chinese can box; hopefully this will be the start of great things to come!”
Bob Arum brought the last of the four Chinese boxers to the microphone with the following introduction: “He fought on our card on July and now this big card and I think anybody who knows anything about boxing can see the great improvements he’s made in transitioning from an amateur to a pro. And as I told everyone, he will be fighting for a world title in 2014. He’s the face of Chinese boxing—please welcome Zou Shiming.”
Zou Shiming: “First, welcome media friends from around the world. I want especially to thank the Venetian and Bob Arum for giving us this opportunity. I have to say today is one of the most exciting experiences for me, and it’s very impressive. I want to thank Top Rank for putting on such an exciting event. I also want to give a special thanks to Manny and his team for having us at his training camp in the Philippines, and congratulate him on winning. This is the result of hard work.
I’m also so excited and happy that the four Chinese boxers had the opportunity to participate. It’s a great event for Chinese boxing, and I’m glad we all got the “W.”
Last but not least, I want to thank all media around the world—you showcased Chinese boxing to the world—I hope you have a great time and wish you safe travels. I look forward to your continuous support and hope to see you here again.”
In response to a questions about what Zou has done (and will continue to do) to adjust from the amateurs to the professional ranks, he responded: “The first thing I need to change is my perception. Amateurs are all about winning and getting the gold medal, but being pro is about being exciting while winning, and I hope I can change in that way. Freddie and Gavin, my team, has been working on the strength and power of my shots. Today hopefully I showed the beginning of a new foundation. There is still a lot to learn from great boxers such as Manny. But I can do much more, and there is a lot of improvement I can make.”
Another reporter asked: “It looked like you were sitting down more on your punches, throwing four and five punches before you moved—is that something you focused on in training camp?
Zhou, who had his previously undefeated opponent Juan Toscano of Mexico badly bleeding and in trouble in the last round, answered: “Yes. That has been the thing Freddie and conditioning trainer Gavin have been working with me on during the last few months.”
When asked how he would rate his performance today on a scale of one to ten, Zou replied: “If as a rookie in my third pro fight, eight. But as a future champion, only five. I wanted a knockout, so I have to watch Manny’s fight more to learn how to do this.”
In closing, Bob Arum sincerely expressed his gratitude to the members of the media who traveled all the way from the United States to provide coverage of the bouts.
While Freddie Roach made very clear his preference for Manny’s next opponent being Marquez, Arum said they would have to get together and decide as a team over the next couple of weeks. In any case, the date for Pacquiao’s next fight is set: April 12, 2014, at a venue in the United States.
In response to questions about future international Top Rank promotions, Arum continued: “We are looking forward to at least three shows in Macau, and one in Singapore. We also hope to start up small shows all around China to help develop boxing in China. We are also partners with Akihiko Honda and Ryota Murata of Japan, and hope that he will be able to fight here in Macao. We also have Russian partners, and are planning on doing things there. Every closed-circuit seat was sold out here in the Venetian, so we couldn’t have been more successful.”
When asked if he could reveal the total budget for today’s boxing event, Arum drew smiles from all in attendance with his reply, “In excess of thirty million dollars. It’s almost like making a major motion picture. Except unfortunately we open and close on the same day.”