The Manny Pacquiao era may end on April 12 in Las Vegas.
At least, it should if Pacquiao drops a second bout to Timothy Bradley.
It's an unfortunate reality that Pacquiao is aging and his skills continue to naturally diminish. It's an unfortunate reality that he was by all accounts robbed in the first bout. Ditto for the sad truth that not all fighters—even a legend such as Pacquiao himself—get to go out on top.
It is what it is. Pacquiao is now 35 years old while his career hangs by a sliver of a thread in a rematch against one of the sport's rising stars.
Pacquiao wilted after the loss thanks to a knockout at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez and a timid affair against an overmatched Brandon Rios.
Remember, trainer Freddie Roach told the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com) before the Rios bout that the two would consider retirement if he failed and Roach has the final say in when to hang up the gloves:
Freddie Roach said if the Rios fight "does not go well, we will seriously talk about his retirement," but he added Pacquiao was training well for the Nov. 24 bout in Macau.
"It's really hard to say until we see the fight, but I will be the first one to tell him to retire," Roach said in a teleconference Wednesday. "We have an agreement that as soon as I tell him that, he will retire."
Despite a win, retirement talk hasn't faded—and it shouldn't.
This is a 'must-win' situation on Saturday night, and if we don't win this fight we have to consider maybe retirement. So this is a big, big fight for him. We are in a 'must-win' situation, it's as simple as that. Some people think we are all done and we have to prove that we are not.
Top Rank founder Bob Arum echoed these sentiments to Ryan Songalia of Rappler:
Say Pacquiao enters the squared circle Saturday night and his jaw gives way. Say he's too aggressive and gets tagged one too many times en route to another decision. Say he flat-out gets beat as his speed and anticipation continue to fade.
Forget Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather. The conversation becomes Bradley-Mayweather. What fight can Pacquiao possibly book with an 0-2 record against Bradley and one official win in his last four bouts as he creeps toward the age of 36?
That's not to say Pacquiao won't remain a draw. His bout with a smaller name like Rios did well enough. At this point, though, it's about legacy rather than pay-per-view numbers and getting in the ring with the biggest possible name.
This isn't a career obituary for Pacquiao. He can still get in the ring and fend off Bradley as well as retirement with an aggressive, smart approach. Should he lose, however, it'll be time for some serious soul searching on his part.
The time to hang up the gloves, cleats or whatnot typically sneaks up on any athlete. Pacquiao is fortunate enough to see the writing on the wall.
A loss to Bradley isn't the poetic way to go out, but it has to be in strong consideration for the sake of salvaging his end-of-career narrative that may otherwise only worsen if he continues to fight.