Arturo Gatti's greatest legacy lies not in his status as a Hall of Famer or even the fabulous wars that earned him four Fights of the Year in a seven-year span. Rather, Gatti's most important contribution is boxing's equivalent of "accident forgiveness." At one time a single loss would disqualify a fighter from any more appearances on premium cable or pay-per-view, certainly not as a headliner for headliner money. But Gatti's losing efforts were so spectacular -- as were their TV ratings -- that the paradigm shifted. Now the rule of thumb is "it doesn't matter so much if you win or lose, but rather how you fight the fight."
Manny Pacquiao hasn't officially won a fight since November 2011 while Rios lost his last fight against Mike Alvarado, yet both are headlining a pay-per-view card. That's because they are two of the best action fighters in the game and in boxing, action means money. The potential pyrotechnics of Pacquiao-Rios, not their records, is what matters to boxing fans as well as TV executives and they can thank the man called "Thunder" for that. Pacquiao's nearly a 4-1 favorite.
Statistical factors that may influence the outcome include:
Heat-Seeking Missiles: When it comes to aggressive punch selection, Pacquiao and Rios are among the sport's leaders. The average welterweight throws 58.2 punches per round, of which 33.7 -- or 58% -- are power punches. But Rios and Pacquiao (particularly Rios) are more predatory. In Rios' last six fights, he averaged 73.8 punches per round, of which 53.5 -- or 72.5% -- were hooks, crosses or uppercuts while in Pacquiao's last nine fights, he averaged 69.4 punches per round, of which 41.6 -- or 61% -- were power shots. They don't just throw, they land. Rios landed an avg. of 20.4 power shots per round in those six fights, while Pacquiao landed 19.7 per round in those nine fights. That's #2 & #3 among CompuBox's Power Punches Landed per Round Leaders (Santa Cruz is #1 with 29 landed per round- against softer opposition than Rios & Pac). Pacquiao's power accuracy in those fights was also spectacular as he connected at a 47.3% rate, above the welterweight average of 38%. More bad news for Rios: his opponents landed 39.5% of their power shots. Pac's opponents landed 33.4% of their power punches.
Is Pacquiao Really Slipping?: "The Pac Man's" record may read 0-for-2 but the statistics tell a far different story. Against Timothy Bradley -- a fight only judges C.J. Ross and Duane Ford thought Bradley won -- Pacquiao prevailed 253-159 in total connects and 190-108 in landed power shots, plus he was the far more precise puncher (34%-19% overall, 24%-11% jabs, 39%-28% power.)
Bradley was more active (69.9 punches per round to Pacquiao's 62.6) and he fought all three minutes while Pacquiao took portions of most rounds off, but Pacquiao landed the harder, more eye-catching punches and seemed an easy winner to most observers.
Additionally, Marquez's historic one-punch knockout last December obscured the fact that Pacquiao had achieved his best form since the Antonio Margarito fight two years earlier and was dominating Marquez statistically. Although Marquez got in the last word, the final stats showed Pacquiao had out-landed Marquez 94-52 overall, 26-11 jabs and 68-41 power despite throwing only 10 more punches overall (256-246). Moreover, Pacquiao was more accurate (37%-21% overall, 24%-11% jabs, 46%-27% power) and one could say he was beating Marquez at his own slow-down game, for Pacquiao achieved these numerical advantages while throwing only 42.7 punches per round to Marquez's 41.
The final results couldn't be worse for Pacquiao but the statistics suggest that he, at least up to this point, isn't too far away from his best.
Work Hard, Fight Hard: When Rios is in good shape and makes the weight comfortably, he peforms well. Since this is Rios' debut at 147 he should have no problems. When Rios made 135 more easily in his title-winning effort against Miguel Acosta and his title defense against Urbano Antillon, he landed a combined 38% of his total punches, 29% of his jabs (eight percentage points higher than the 21% lightweight norm) and 43% of his power shots. But when he failed to make weight against John Murray and Richar Abril, those numbers slipped to a combined 36%, 23% and 38%.
The first Mike Alvarado fight saw Rios at his high-octane best, for over six-and-two-thirds rounds Rios averaged 81.4 punches per round -- of which 81.3% were power shots -- led 144-132 in landed power punches and was more accurate (30%-22% overall, 17%-12% jabs and 33%-31% power). But Alvarado was more than equal to the task as he unloaded an insane 117.1 punches per round -- nearly double the junior welterweight average of 60.2.
In the rematch Rios couldn't quite revive the magic because Alvarado boxed him more. Rios averaged 68.6 punches per round to Alvarado's 71.7 and from round seven onward Alvarado out-landed Rios 115-84 overall and 81-58 power. That led to Alvarado out-landing Rios 261-241 overall and 84-59 in jabs, offsetting Rios' 182-177 lead in power connects. If Pacquiao is to win, he should use his superior speed and boxing ability.
Prediction: Pacquiao, who will turn 35 next month, is coming off a career-long 350-day layoff and a devastating KO loss. Despite that, Pacquiao has a better skill set both offensively and defensively and is far more proven at 147 while Rios is making his welterweight debut. Pacquiao by a grueling decision that would make Gatti proud.