Boxing


Larios, Pacquiao ready to Thrill in Manila

27.06.06 - By Ryan Songalia: On Saturday night, Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao and Oscar "Chololo" Larios will meet in a highly anticipated twelve round contest in the junior lightweight division. Former three division champion and pound for pound elite Manny Pacquiao of General Santos City, Philippines is looking to prepare himself for his third encounter with Erik Morales, while Larios is looking to spring a huge upset and gain some much needed momentum following his heartbreaking loss to archrival Israel Vasquez last December. While many in the public consider this to be a tuneup fight for Pacquiao, Larios of Guadalajara, Mexico is a very dangerous opponent perfectly capable of ruining the homecoming party for the Filipino icon. Make no mistake about it, this is a serious fight and an audacious move by the Pacquiao camp.

Manny Pacquiao, 41-3-2 (33 KO), is ranked by most boxing pundits as one of the top three pound for pound fighters in the world. Fighting for the first time in the United States, Pacquiao made a huge splash in 2002 when he upset IBF Super Bantamweight champion Lehlohonolo Ledwaba, demolishing the well respected titlist in six rounds. Following a handful of impressive title defenses, Pacquiao still did not receive the praise and esteem that he felt he deserved. All of that changed one night in November of 2003, when he squared off with Mexican legend Marco Antonio Barrera. A 3-1 underdog in that fight, Pacquiao swarmed and humiliated his foe for eleven one-sided rounds, forcing his opponent's corner to rescue their fallen charge. Following that bout, Pacquiao and then promoter Murad Muhammad announced a brave and daring fight schedule, declaring that Pacquiao was seeking to defeat the top three featherweights of the last decade, Erik Morales, Marco Antonio Barrera, and Juan Manuel Marquez..

Pacquiao, holding true to his word, faced Juan Manuel Marquez in his next assignment. After knocking down the featherweight titlist three times in the first round, Marquez came back bravely and salvaged a draw. Unable to secure a rematch with the man he fought to a stalemate with, Pacquiao turned his attention to the only man in the trifecta of Mexican warriors he had yet to face: Erik "El Terrible" Morales. When they met last March, both fighters staged one of the best fights of the decade, a toe to toe encounter characterized by vicious punches being traded in close quarters. When they announced the decision, Morales was declared the winner by a slim margin. Ten months later, they did it again in Las Vegas, only this time Pacquiao was the one with the last laugh. After battering his adversary for ten rounds and grotesquely rearranging Morales' nose, Pacquiao's overwhelming power and workrate finally overcame Morales, dropping him twice in the tenth round and inflicting the first knockout loss of Morales' long career.

After contemplating his options, Morales elected to exercise a rematch clause, thus enabling him to complete the trilogy with his latest rival. Before they meet again later this year, Pacquiao decided to take a fight in between, against former 122 pound champion Larios. What makes this fight so compelling is that it pits two world class fighters with high punch outputs against each other in a high stake scenario. Typically, before a major fight, a fighter will face a perfunctory opponent with little of spoiling his plans. That does not describe Larios.

Oscar Larios, 56-4-1 (36 KO), is the former WBC Super Bantamweight champion. Larios won his first world title in 2002, after blitzing former conqueror Willie Jorrin in the first round. In spite of his success as a champion, Larios was unable to capitalize on his new trinket, having fights with Barrera and Pacquiao fall through in recent years. He finally began to break out in 2004, garnering attention with his all action style. In December of last year, Larios faced off with Israel Vasquez for the third time to declare a universally recognized champion of the 122 pound division. However, Larios suffered the biggest setback of his long career. In the first round, Vasquez's superior punching power caught Larios out of the gates, dropping Larios early. In the third round, a hard right hand from Vasquez created a deep, malignant fissure that compelled the ring doctor to stop the fight, awarding Vasquez a third round technical knockout.

Larios is seeking redemption against Pacquiao. Defeating Pacquiao would erase the disappointment against Vasquez, and then some. Larios has been seeking that one fight that would stand out and catipult him to the upper echelon of the sport, and it is unlikely that he will get a better opportunity than against Pacquiao.

Larios is going to be moving up two divisions, from 122 to 130, for this fight. While many think it is an unwise decision to jump so precipitously in weight, it should no cause much of a problem. Larios has always been very big for the junior feathwerweight division, the fact that he is 5'8 and routinely gains ten or more pound over night would suggest that it is time to move up in weight. Pacquiao is also a former junior featherweight champion, so there will not be too big of a size disparity once they enter the ring.

The biggest disparity, and the one that Larios will have to be wary of, is in the power category. Pacquiao is the biggest puncher in the division, having scored dominant knockouts of Barrera and Morales, two of the most durable fighters of their generation. Larios has been stopped three times in his career, including in his last fight. Pacquiao suffered two knockout losses early in his career, but of recent has exhibited a strong ability to take a punch. The hand speed advantage also is in favor of Pacquiao, whose left hand is one of the most dangerous weapons in the sport today. Where Larios's best asset lies in his boxing ability, he has shown in past fights that he is capable of jabbing and moving effectively, fighting from the outside when it is not in his best interest to fight an aggressive fight.

The way this fight will unfold is almost a by gone conclusion. Pacquiao, a typically fast starter, will try to get to Larios early before he gets going. "We know him very well and the plan is to jump on him very early like Israel (Vasquez) did in the last fight against Larios", remarks Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach, who has been in the opposing corner against Larios on several occassions. For Larios to be effective, he will need to utilize his reach and height advantage, which against a guy who comes as hard and fast as Pacquiao, is easier said than done.

Pacquiao's increased effectiveness with his right hand will also be instrumental to his game plan. Prior to the second bout with Morales, Pacquiao had been criticised for becoming almost obsessed with his left cross, his signature punch. In his fight against Hector Velasquez, Pacquiao displayed some variety by getting some good work done with his right hook, a punch that he has underused in the past. Pacquiao will need to use a similar game plan when he gets in the ring with Larios. I am predicting a Pacquiao knockout somewhere in the first half of the twelve round bout, but as we know anything can happen in boxing.

This fight will take place at the Araneta Coliseum in Manila. The match was initially slated to be broadcast on HBO, but the network pulled out due to safety concerns. Shortly after Pacquiao defeated Morales, rumors of an imminent coup de tat attempt by rebel factions in the Philippines concerned HBO, convincing them to pull out of the fight. Pacquiao, who had promised his countrymen that he would fight in front of his people, decided not to change the location and instead worked out a deal to have the fight televised on pay per view instead of on HBO.

Pacquiao is considered to be a heavy favorite in this fight, but it would be unwise of him to look past Larios. Having lost in his last fight, Larios has renewed hunger and is eager to regain his status among his peers. Larios' manager Rafael Mendoza is confident in a Larios victory, stating "We're ready to fight. We came here to win". What Pacquiao should keep in mind is the example of the man he is preparing to face next, Erik Morales. Last September, they both fought on the same card in preparation of their rematch. While Pacquiao scored an impressive knockout victory, Morales was on the downside of a one-sided decision loss to Zahir Raheem. If Pacquiao takes Larios too lightly he will be making a big mistake.

The undercard will feature several Filipino fighters, a move that will attract a large Pinoy audience. Among the fights that will take place is former 115 pound champion Gerry Penalosa versus Mexican southpaw Tomas Rojas in a ten round bout. Also featured will be Filipino prospect Jimrex Jaca, a well regarded featherweight from Cebu City, Philippines. His opponent will be Hector Javier Marquez, an experienced veteran who is looking to play spoiler. Highly touted Rey "Boom Boom" Bautista was scheduled to appear on the undercard as well, but following a trip to the hospital instigated by a case of the flu, he has pulled out of the show.

Should all go according to plan, Pacquiao will face Erik Morales for a third time. Before that business is to be considered, Pacquiao must first deal with Larios. When Pacquiao enters the ring on July 2, he will be doing so in front of his adoring "kababayan", a notion that inspires him to succeed. Pacquiao will not only be fighting for himself, but for his countrymen and fans. Galvanized by the support of his people, the Pacman is hoping to gobble up "Chololo" Larios.

Ryan Songalia is a syndicated boxing columnist. If you have any questions or feedback, his e-mail address is mc_rson@yahoo.com . His myspace address is http://www.myspace.com/asian_sensation201

Article posted on 28.06.2006



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