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Bam-Bam or Mile-High for Manny

Manny Pacquiao will make his much-awaited comeback to the ring on Nov. 24 in Macau and the choice of his opponent is down to either Mike (Mile-High) Alvarado or Brandon (Bam-Bam) Rios. For the Filipino boxing icon, it doesn’t much matter whom he fights – whether Rios is more dangerous than Alvarado or vice-versa is immaterial.

Pacquiao would’ve preferred to face Timothy Bradley or Juan Manuel Marquez but his tormentors looked the other way. Instead of trying to prove their win over Pacquiao was no fluke, Bradley and Marquez decided to fight each other on Sept. 14 for what could be less money and not as risky a proposition. Top Rank chairman Bob Arum offered Marquez a $13 Million purse to extend his duel with Pacquiao into a quintology and Bradley $6 Million for a rematch. Neither Marquez nor Bradley agreed. The talk is both wanted more money but the speculation is they just didn’t want to be in the way of Pacquiao’s vengeful wrath.

Pacquiao will be a month away from turning 35 when the fight comes around, close to a year that he will not have fought. Whether age or ring rust will blunt Pacquiao’s competitive edge is something that must be addressed in training camp. The key is how much desire is left in Pacquiao’s heart. He’s got to be hungry to win again, to make a difference in the ring. The loss to Marquez was devastating particularly as the knockout blow came as Pacquiao was about to put an end to the Mexican’s misery last December. Lucky punch or not, Pacquiao fell face first on the canvas out cold and it was a grim reminder never to fight with reckless abandon.

Rios, 27, appears to be the leading candidate in the Pacquiao stakes. His style is tailor-made for Pacquiao because Bam-Bam likes to come forward, doesn’t retreat and won’t back down from engaging. Fight fans will pay tickets for an all-action, slam-bang affair. That’s why they stay away from bouts involving cautious and boring fighters like Bradley. Arum’s goal is to reestablish Pacquiao as the world’s most exciting ring gladiator and Rios, more than Alvarado, is a perfect opponent to deliver the message.

Rios has never fought heavier than 140 which he weighed in his last two bouts against Alvarado. He has a 31-1-1 record, with 23 KOs. A former world lightweight champion, Rios will be far outweighed by Pacquiao if they meet. Pacquiao scaled 147 for Marquez last December.

Rios hooked up with trainer Robert Garcia in 2003 and they’ve since been a team. It was Garcia who introduced Rios to his wife Victoria, a professional therapist who is nine years older. Rios once said his approach to boxing was influenced by his father Manuel who cuts up cattle in a slaughterhouse. “The first couple of rounds would be hard but I’d make my adjustments and I’d bring them down,” said Rios, referring to how he’ll fight champions like Pacquiao, Marquez and Floyd Mayweather Jr., quoted by Norm Frauenheim in The Ring Magazine. “If I say I’m going to knock you out, I’m going to knock you out. Simple as that. You hear a lot about warriors. But I’m really one. I don’t care whom I fight, just so as long as I get to fight. It’s really not about the money. I don’t do it to get paid. I do it ‘cause I really love it.”

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Alvarado, 32, is a boxer-puncher with a 34-1 record, including 23 KOs. He was stopped by Rios last October but won on points in a rematch five months later. Known as Mile-High because of his Colorado roots, Alvarado is the reigning interim WBO lightwelterweight champion. The heaviest he’s weighed for a fight was 148 in stopping Joshua Burns three years ago but since then, he hasn’t scaled more than 140 in his last seven outings. He, too, will be outweighed by Pacquiao in case they tangle.

Alvarado won his first five fights by knockout in the opening round, signaling an auspicious start in his career. One of his 23 KO victims was Colombia’s Breidis Prescott who stopped Amir Khan in the first round in 2008. “I’m a workhorse,” Alvarado once said. “I come to fight. I’m going to step right to him – pressure, pressure, pressure, fight until he doesn’t want to fight anymore. I come in and set the pace. If you don’t want to fight this pace, you only have one choice – fight back, open up, get knocked out or quit.” Despite his pronouncements, Alvarado is more known as a skilled boxer than a brawler like Rios.

Alvarado’s biological father was former boxer Ron Cisneros. He took his stepfather’s surname as a high school freshman. Alvarado’s first sport was wrestling and he won seven US titles as an amateur. Then came the fascination with boxing when he was 20. Alvarado went 36-5 as an amateur boxer and turned pro in 2004.

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