Boxing: Thriller on the cards as both Pacquiao and Rios have plenty to prove

Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao attends a training session at the Venetian Macao hotel in Macau, on Nov 21, 2013. Pacquiao is hoping to reclaim his chair at the top table in Macau on Sunday morning, when he faces American slugger Brandon Rios at the Co
Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao attends a training session at the Venetian Macao hotel in Macau, on Nov 21, 2013. Pacquiao is hoping to reclaim his chair at the top table in Macau on Sunday morning, when he faces American slugger Brandon Rios at the Cotai Arena. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MACAU - Manny Pacquiao is hoping to reclaim his chair at the top table in Macau on Sunday morning, when he faces American slugger Brandon Rios at the Cotai Arena.

Pacquiao's previous fight was in Las Vegas last December and it proved to be bright lights, big pity when the Filipino was knocked unconscious by Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez's thunderous right hand at the MGM Grand.

Despite widespread calls for him to quit, the 34-year-old power puncher opted to carry on in a bid to prove he still belongs among boxing's best.

After a long break, he has traded the gaudy, neon lights and casinos of Nevada, USA, for their equivalent on this small island and, like so many gamblers before him, is betting his future on what happens here.

After the stunning defeat by Marquez, and a disputed points loss to Timothy Bradley that came before it, Pacquiao simply cannot afford to lose this fight.

On the surface, it seems as though he should beat Rios comfortably, perhaps even quickly.

Pacquiao is more versatile, hits harder and has more experience thanks to a 54-fight career that includes victories across an astonishing eight weight divisions. He already ranks among the best fighters of all time, but Rios is extremely confident of consigning that career to the history books.

Leon Spinks wasn't thought to have a chance against Muhammad Ali in 1978 but he outpointed the legendary boxer in just his eighth professional contest. Sometimes it is a case of catching a fading great at the right time, and Rios could be about to do that in Macau too.

At 27 years old, the Texan is seven years younger than Pacquiao and is known for his aggression and fierce combinations to the head and body, especially in close.

There is plenty of friction between the two camps, but that should not matter on Sunday morning, when the pair face each other across the ring for this 12-round welterweight (67kg) contest.

Pacquiao carries the expectations of his nation on his shoulders, and seems as motivated as ever. He says he has accepted the knockout loss to Marquez as a part of boxing and is ready to seize this opportunity against Rios, who appears to have been selected to make the star attraction look good before eventually succumbing to Pacquiao's greater skills.

But this is boxing. It doesn't matter what Pacquiao says if his punch resistance has slipped. Rios will hit hit him hard and often enough to test that, for as long as it lasts. Pacquiao is looking for redemption and, as he starts favourite, he should get it.

Either way, the stage is set for an exciting fight and there isn't long left to wait to find out who will prevail.