Manny Pacquiao: Will He Ever Be a Top 3 Fighter Again?
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Even before Manny Pacquiao's spectacular knockout loss to rival Juan Manuel Marquez in December there appeared to be signs of slippage inside the ring.
He had lost his previous fight as well, though quite undeservedly against Timothy Bradley, and seemed to lack the killer instinct in the ring that had defined his meteoric rise to the top.
When combined with Pacquiao's increasing involvement in the politics of his homeland, The Philippines, many began to speculate how much longer the icon would remain near the pinnacle of the sport.
All it took was one dynamite right hand from Marquez to topple Pacquiao not only from that pedestal but to force questions about whether he would ever be effective in the ring again much less a top flight fighter.
The questions that surround Pacquiao, whether he will return at all and if he'll be able to regain his spot near the top, are very relevant and have two very different answers.
It would seem that the Pac-Man and his team have decided that the image of a broken, unconscious fighter is not the last they want to leave in the eyes of the fans. So a return is inevitable but an opponent has not been selected.
Bob Arum seems hell bent on securing a lucrative fifth bout with Marquez but the Mexican champion recently declared a lack of interest in rekindling the rivalry having finally secured an elusive win.
In boxing money talks and if there is enough of it on the table we will almost certainly see the two fighters clash again before the end of the year.
But would a fifth fight, even if it results in a spectacular win, return Pacquiao to the discussion of the top three fighters in the sport?
Currently he ranks somewhere in the second half of the top 10 on most lists, ESPN ranks him sixth and The Ring Magazine seventh, and would have to pass fighters such as Sergio Martinez, Nonito Donaire, Adrien Broner and Marquez.
Possible? Yes. Likely? No.
At 34-years-old, coming off an incredible knockout and already with questionable commitment to the sport, it's hard to see how Pacquiao can surpass fighters who are younger, have greater drive and opponents around them that can bring out the best in them.
Boxing is a funny sport. A fighter can go his entire career without ever suffering any significant damage, eat one huge shot and never be the same again.
Just ask Roy Jones Jr. who saw his era of light heavyweight dominance end with a perfect timed Antonio Tarver left hand.
Prior to that night Jones had rarely even been tagged with many significant punches, much less knocked nearly out of the ring.
But after that spectacular punch he would return but as a shell of his past glory.
Is that going to happen with Manny Pacquiao? It's too early to tell.
Nobody is saying he will be exactly the same as Jones, who came back into the boxing ring gun-shy and unwilling to let his hands go, but he will almost certainly be different.
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