Let's just wait and see
Throughout the buildup to Manny Pacquiao's welterweight showdown with Brandon Rios on Saturday in Macau, a lot of has been written and said about what happened to Pacquiao the last time he was in the ring.
That, of course, was in December 2012, when he was on the wrong end of a brutal one-punch knockout at the end of the sixth round against his great rival, Juan Manuel Marquez, in what was the 2012 knockout of the year and fight of the year.
Pacquiao has officially lost two fights in a row (although I and most others do not consider the split-decision loss to Timothy Bradley Jr. to be remotely legitimate since Pacquiao got robbed in one of the worst decisions in modern boxing history). So a great deal of hot air has been spewed about whether Pacquiao should retire if he loses to Rios, as if losing three fights in a row means the end of one's career.
Pacquiao and trainer Freddie Roach have been asked about it often in recent months, and Roach has been frank, saying that if Pacquiao loses to Rios or if the trainer sees slippage, he will talk with Pacquiao about retirement. But Roach, rightly, has not said flat out that Pacquiao should retire if he loses. And I agree with him.
Even if Pacquiao does lose to Rios, to most it would mean only two real losses in a row because of the Bradley farce.
I understand that Pacquiao is 34 and the fight with Rios will be the 63rd of his career, so the end is certainly near. Pacquiao is not going to be Bernard Hopkins and fight into his late 40s.
But I think it is absurd to spend so much time discussing a possible retirement before a fight nobody has even seen unfold yet. We just have no idea how the fight with Rios will go.
When a fighter loses, how he loses is important. Let's say Pacquiao gets ripped off again -- should that spell retirement? Of course not.
Even if the PacMan loses a legitimate decision, it does not necessarily mean he should retire. Remember, Rios is a good fighter, too. Pacquiao is not fighting some journeyman. A loss would mean Pacquiao would slide further down the rankings, but that doesn't mean he won't still be good enough to beat a lot of other good fighters and make tremendous amounts of money doing it.
If Pacquiao does get knocked out again, sure, some will call for his retirement. But again, it depends how the knockout happens. What if it happens because of a cut? What if Pacquiao gets stopped because of a superficial injury? That would not spell retirement.
And remember one thing -- all this talk of a possible Pacquiao retirement if he loses might instead be a conversation about the continuation of Pacquiao's historic run, because those last two fights easily could have gone the other way.
In my view, Pacquiao schooled Bradley. Not only did Pacquiao deserve to claim the decision win and keep his welterweight world title, but he deserved a wide decision, and I am definitely not alone in that assessment.
Let's also look at the Marquez fight. While the knockout is the most memorable moment, do you remember what was going on before the huge punch that ended the fight? Pacquiao was taking Marquez to the woodshed. Pacquiao was winning the fight and seemingly was on the way to a knockout win, and sooner rather than later.
The Pacquiao who soundly outboxed Bradley and the Pacquiao who was hammering Marquez did not suddenly lose his ability because two out of three judges stole the Bradley fight from him or because Marquez caught him with a great punch in an otherwise excellent performance by Pacquiao.
Before everyone gets caught up talking about a possible Pacquiao retirement, just take a deep breath and calm down. Watch the fight with Rios on Saturday night, see how it goes, and then maybe -- just maybe -- there will be something to talk about.
Three straight defeats? Time is up
Boxers are typically the first to know when the glory of their prime has secretly reached its expiration point.
Sadly, they're also, more often than not, the last ones willing to accept or act upon this crucial development.
So consider it nothing short of a refreshing change to see trainer Freddie Roach being so outspoken during the past few weeks about what his advice would be to Manny Pacquiao if he gets into trouble against Brandon Rios on Saturday and suffers another defeat.
As a fighter, Roach went against the advice of his legendary trainer and mentor, Eddie Futch, who advised his pupil to retire. Roach went on to lose five of his last six fights, and he doesn't want to see Pacquiao suffer by going down the same path.
If Pacquiao, who turns 35 in December, comes out of Saturday's welterweight showdown in Macau with a third straight loss on his Hall of Fame resume, I would join Roach's sentiment in hoping the Filipino icon strongly considers calling it quits.
On the one hand, Pacquiao's recent defeats can be taken somewhat with a grain of salt considering he was robbed on the scorecards against Timothy Bradley Jr. and was, for all intents and purposes, likely on the way to his own stoppage win before Juan Manuel Marquez landed the perfect shot.
But Pacquiao has also endured a tremendous amount of punishment throughout his career, which began one month after his 16th birthday in January 1995. We often take that fact for granted simply because he has typically given more than he has received. But even in largely one-sided bouts during his almost unprecedented climb up the scales (think Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito), he took a generous amount of counter fire from bigger opponents.
The fact that Pacquiao, a former flyweight titlist who debuted at 106 pounds, is still competing today as one of the most dangerous welterweights in the world is a testament to his desire, will and extraordinary skills. But with a style so dependent upon speed and explosion, there will be no hiding when his status as an elite fighter has been permanently compromised.
It will happen sooner rather than later. In fact, even though Pacquiao is such a heavy favorite in Saturday's fight, there are many who believe we're already there, and that Juan Manuel Marquez's thunderous right hand that put Pacquiao to sleep in their fourth fight last December was the unavoidable tipping point.
We won't know whether that sentiment is accurate until some point in the early rounds against Rios. But what can't be easily overlooked is just how outright scary Pacquiao's one-punch destruction by Marquez actually was.
In a sport in which knockouts happen, the impact of Marquez's perfect punch could be written off as something that comes with the territory. But make no mistake that Pacquiao, who had been stopped twice before that in his career, endured a consequence of some form -- whether mental, physical or both -- from absorbing such a catastrophic blow in what was already a hellacious two-way fight.
If Pacquiao loses by knockout against Rios or suffers legit damage in a close defeat, the call for his retirement will be justified. It's the same scenario if Pacquiao drops any form of a decision not soaked in outright controversy.
To be honest, a fighter of Pacquiao's elite standing shouldn't lose to a guy like Rios who is moving up in weight, regardless of how much the Mexican-American fighter's relentlessness and ability to absorb punches makes him dangerous.
As much as one might justify Pacquiao's carrying on simply out of a love for the sport, the harsh realities of staying past your welcome have littered the sport's headlines too often in recent months.
Pacquiao has a long life ahead of him, with financial opportunities and career aspirations outside of boxing that most exiting fighters could only dream of. If Saturday's fight ends in a third straight defeat, there's no better time than now to walk away.