At 34 years old, Manny Pacquiao realizes the clock is ticking on his boxing career. Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KOs) has lost two fights in a row, and while no one begrudged him the absurd Timothy Bradley decision, the devastating knockout at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez looked like the type of punch that would put the Filipino superstar's career to sleep.
A year removed from that huge blow, much of the hoopla surrounding Pacquiao's upcoming fight against Brandon Rios (31-1-1, 23 KOs) entails his potential retirement.
Even his trainer, Freddie Roach, has told the Associated Press (h/t USA Today) that retirement will be a serious consideration if Pacquiao loses again:
Freddie Roach said if the Rios fight "does not go well, we will seriously talk about his retirement," but that Pacquiao was training as well as ever for the Nov. 24 bout in Macau.
A third successive defeat would put his career at the crossroads, and while Roach said performance levels were more important than results, he acknowledged serious thought would have to be given to the future of "Pac-man" if he does not return to his best in Macau.
And yet, hidden in that ostensibly somber statement, there seems to be an acknowledgement that a year away from the ring has refreshed Pac-Man.
Pacquiao spoke with Bad Left Hook about an uptick in speed and power since resuming his training, and at least publicly, Roach is selling the notion that his fighter has one last hurrah in him:
On paper, a bounce-back certainly seems reasonable.
First, let's remember that Rios is coming off his own defeat, a March 30 unanimous decision to Mike Alvarado. Indeed, Rios' go-for-broke punching style might prove problematic for Pac-Man if he connects, but Pacquiao should enter this fight with confidence knowing that he should be at an advantage for the majority—if not all—of the fight.
Pacquiao's speed will be his biggest asset, and his movements in general are far sharper than Rios'. So long as he remains highly alert, he should be able to sidestep the huge punches from Rios that could put the presumably fragile veteran in some trouble.
At the same time, however, the 27-year-old Rios fights with a brazen, straightforward attack—a style that should allow Pacquiao to control the fight.
What is the likeliest result of Pacquiao-Rios?
Pacquiao appears supremely motivated to get his career back on track. With the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com) reporting that he has dedicated the fight to the victims of the Philippine typhoon and Pacquiao looking rejuvenated in his training, it seems reasonable to expect his best fight.
For a legendary fighter on his last legs, the circumstances are coalescing like a Hollywood script.
Pacquiao has more doubters than ever and his opponent is brash, young and dangerous. But given both the pragmatic advantages in the ring and the intrinsic motivation, bet against Pac-Man at your own peril.