Rios fit, says Pacquiao has slowed

Brandon Rios is seemingly much healthier at welterweight and working with strength coach Alex Ariza. Chris Farina/Top Rank

MACAU -- Alex Ariza may have made his most public mark on fight week so far with The Kick Heard ‘Round the World, but for Team Brandon Rios, Ariza's biggest contribution came long before then, and the evidence of it was in the form of the light food that Rios was eating in his suite as he spoke to a small group of reporters on Monday.

Rios is, of course, infamous for struggling to make weight. Indeed, he failed to do so for two consecutive lightweight title bouts, against John Murray and Richar Abril, in 2011 and 2012. Not surprisingly, his performance in both those contests was sluggish, and many observers believe he was fortunate to escape with a points victory against Abril.

This week, though, the hollow-cheeked prefight Rios of fights past has been replaced by a man who is apparently healthy, happy and on weight. And although it surely helps that Saturday's bout with Manny Pacquiao will be contested at the welterweight limit, Rios trainer Robert Garcia gives most of the credit to Ariza, the strength and conditioning coach whose switch from Team Pacquiao to Camp Rios is one source of the underlying tension between the two sides.

"Now that we have brought in Alex Ariza, we learned the importance of eating, drinking water and resting," Garcia said. "Before that, we all thought that making weight was not drinking water for four or five days before a fight, not eating for four or five days before a fight. That's how I did it, that's how [my former promotional mate] Fernando Vargas did it, that's what my brother Mikey did, that's what Brandon was doing. But now it's the opposite. Brandon is eating three or four times a day now. He's drinking one of these" -- Garcia holds up a bottle of water -- "every couple of hours, up and until Friday, the day before the weigh-in. That's one thing we learned. And resting: That's another thing that makes a really big difference."

His fighter's improved condition is one reason for Garcia feeling optimistic about this weekend's contest. Another is what he perceives as terminal decline in Pacquiao's skills.

"We know that Pacquiao has been a great champion, considered perhaps one of the best in history," Garcia said. "But we've seen the last two years, the last two fights, there are some differences, there are some changes, and especially his last fight when he got knocked out. We don't know -- nobody knows -- how that really affected him. We've seen other fighters -- and I would say nine out of 10 are never the same -- but we don't know."

It's a theme echoed by Rios.

"Pacquiao, in his last fight, wasn't as fast as he was in previous fights," he said. "I think he has slowed down a lot. You could see that his legs were cramping up as well. I don't know what's going on. Maybe it's his age. It's amazing: When the body says it's time to go, it's time to go."