Manny Pacquiao is an active fighter.
He is not retired.
That may not please his wife or his mother, but Pacquiao does not have to leave boxing just because he walked into the stiffest punch of his career in his loss to Juan Manuel Marquez in early December.
There were many things to like about that fight. Specifically, Pacquiao took the fight to the powerful Marquez throughout. He won the first and second rounds and bounced back from a hard knockdown in the third round.
Pacquiao won the fourth round and registered his own knockdown in the fifth round. Before Marquez connected with his Sunday punch in the sixth round—with one second remaining—Pacquiao was winning that round as well.
Marquez had a battered and bruised face by the time the fight ended.
We're not about to make any argument that Marquez did not win the fight. He scored a brutal knockout. But we are saying that Pacquiao can still fight, and he can return to the ring in heroic fashion.
Pacquiao needs to work out a three-fight strategy to get back to the elite level. Right now he is the 15th-rated pound-for-pound fighter, according to BoxRec.com. That's good, but it's not elite.
A three-fight sequence could put him back at, or near, the top.
The first fight needs to be one that allows Pacquiao to feel good about himself again before he engages with the big boys of the sport.
Pacquiao needs to fight someone who can challenge him, but not a fighter who can dominate or register a one-punch knockout like Marquez did.
He needs to fight someone like Timothy Bradley or Brandon Rios. Pacquiao fought Bradley earlier in the year and appeared to grind out a one-sided decision. However, the judges did not see it that way and Bradley got the victory.
Rios (31-0-1) is an up-and-coming fighter who will challenge Pacquiao. However, if Pacquiao is still at the peak of his abilities, he should be superior to Rios.
A win against Bradley or Rios would put Pacquiao on track for the second of his three-fight sequence.
That would be the perfect time for Pacquiao-Marquez V. The score of this scintillating rivalry is 2-1-1 in Pacquiao's favor.
There are no guarantees that Marquez will remain an active boxer, He is 39 years old, and he cannot go on forever. While he appeared more powerful and stronger than ever before in his knockout of Pacquiao, he could decide to hang up his gloves.
If Marquez does not call it a career, he would owe Pacquiao another return match. The public would certainly eat it up.
If Pacquiao could finish the fight on his feet and get a decision over Marquez or knock him out, that would set the stage for the biggest fight of his career with Floyd "Money" Mayweather.
This is the bout that has been discussed for years. It seems that it is far more unlikely at this point.
However, if Pacquiao can string together two impressive victories, that should get the attention of Mayweather.
Pacquiao should be able to fight twice in 2013, and a bout with Mayweather would dominate the sporting world in early 2014.
This fight could be the crowning achievement of Pacquiao's career.
It would also be one of the top tests in Mayweather's career.
It will take three fights for Pacquiao to become a hero once again.
Pacquiao would likely be favored against Bradley or Rios, but he would be a clear underdog against Marquez and a heavy underdog to Mayweather.
Despite the odds, these fights would be huge draws and help Pacquiao make his legend even larger.