Manny Pacquiao's legacy is on the line in his rematch against Timothy Bradley; a loss could majorly alter the narrative around his career.
All history is rooted in narrative, but boxing history is especially so. Fans need a way to string together discrete fights that took place months and even years apart, crafting a coherent through-line for a career basically out of thin air.
Pac-Man was supposed to be the greatest of his era. Through his third bout with Juan Manuel Marquez in 2011, he had a 54-3-2 record with 38 knockouts. He has been a world champion in eight different divisions of boxing, and he is the only fighter to have ever done so. The Boxing Writers Association of America named him the Fighter of the Decade for the 2000s.
But his most recent performances are starting to cast doubt on the sterling credentials that preceded them.
Let's start with Pacquiao-Marquez III with a decision that arguably should not have gone Pacquiao's way.
Ring Magazine readers dubbed the fight their "Robbery of the Year," with 43 percent of voters feeling Marquez's loss was the biggest scoring injustice of 2011. Per Doug Fischer, reporters present at the match largely felt the same way:
Press row disagreed with the official verdict. In a poll of 20 ringside boxing writers conducted by Golden Boy Promotions publicist Bill Caplan, 12 thought that Marquez won the bout, seven scored it a draw, while only one had it for Pacquiao (by one point).
Though the Compubox credits Pacquiao with throwing 142 more punches and landing 38 more, the majority opinion is that Marquez didn't get enough credit for his counterpunching.
The controversy brought Pacquiao's ability into question. This victory was dubious, and he still hadn't met in the ring with Floyd Mayweather, believed to be Pacquiao's only true rival prior to the third Marquez fight. Afterward, that was no longer true.
Not that Timothy Bradley beat Pacquiao outright back in 2012. In fact, the split decision in Bradley's favor was so shocking that, per Ring's Lem Satterfield, the Nevada attorney general had to actually investigate to see if corruption was involved in wresting Pac-Man's welterweight belt away from him.
Pacquiao first called for Pacquiao-Bradley II after, per an Associated Press report (h/t Fox Sports), a WBO panel reviewing the fight video unanimously determined that Pacquiao had won. Since the WBO lacks the power to overturn decisions, the only recourse was a rematch.
That's what Marquez determined, too. And Marquez made it clear just how much a rematch could change things.
There was no doubting how strong Marquez's counterpunch was when it leveled Pacquiao in their fourth meeting. It was the first time he had lost by knockout since 1999 and only the third time in his career.
Historical revisionism is at stake in a rematch. If Bradley wins on April 12, it won't prove he was the better fighter when he and Pacquiao first met, but it will make Pacquiao seem worse.
Someone who's supposed to be an all-time great wouldn't have three losses in four fights—all still without having faced Mayweather. Pacquiao would be floundering not even against the very best competition, but the next cut below it.
Heading into this Saturday's fight, Ring's pound-for-pound rankings have Mayweather first, Bradley third, Marquez sixth and Pacquiao seventh. Out of all of them, he is the underdog.
And if he goes out and proves himself to be the inferior fighter, we'll have to look back at his history and wonder if he was really as great as we thought he might be.