By Joaquin M. Henson
It will be close to a year since his last fight when Manny Pacquiao returns to the ring to battle Brandon Rios in a 12-round bout at the Cotai Arena of the Venetian Resort Hotel in Macau on Nov. 23.
Whether or not the long layoff will tarnish Pacquiao’s armor with rust remains to be seen but from reliable sources, it appears that the only fighter to win world titles in eight different divisions has kept in shape and not allowed his weight to balloon during his respite from boxing to attend to the recent elections.
Pacquiao, 34, knows it won’t be easy mowing down Rios, 27, and realizes a loss will mean curtains for his career. Because he’s coming off back-to-back defeats to Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez, losing to Rios isn’t an option for the Filipino.
If Pacquiao hopes to regain his stature as one of the world’s best pound-for-pound fighters, he must beat Rios convincingly. A victory will set up either a fifth meeting with Marquez or the ultimate showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Marquez, of course, has to overcome Bradley on Oct. 12 and Mayweather must dispose of Saul Alvarez on Sept. 14 to keep afloat the possibility of a duel with Pacquiao next year.
Pacquiao’s sixth round knockout loss to Marquez was devastating last December and it has raised doubts on his ability to bounce back. When Ricky Hatton was poleaxed by Pacquiao in the second round in 2009, the Manchester brawler was never the same again. Pacquiao was knocked out cold like Hatton and could be psychologically scarred for life.
How Pacquiao recoils from the defeat will be the acid test of character. Hatton resorted to drugs in trying to survive the depression of his loss. Pacquiao got busy with the elections and kept his mind out of boxing. That’s the difference between Hatton and Pacquiao. Hatton has few options in life outside of boxing while Pacquiao has a wide range of possibilities.
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In a recent survey conducted by the authoritative London trade weekly magazine Boxing News, four boxing personalities were asked to assess Pacquiao’s future. Trainer Jonathan Banks said, “it depends on how he fights, it’s possible (to reclaim his past glories) but I’m not sure, he can win again but I don’t think he’ll be where he was when he was beating Miguel Cotto and those other guys.”
Heavyweight Dereck Chisora said, “I think he can do it, I expect him to get past Rios easily.” Another heavyweight Tony Thompson said, “I think outside interests are taking his focus away from boxing, he’s accomplished a lot in the sport and probably has other things he wants to do now.” Former British welterweight titlist Colin Lyne said, “Manny’s very hard-working, I think people have sussed out his style and how to beat him so he’ll go away and alter a few things for his next fight.”
Hatton couldn’t make up his mind on the issue. “Can he come back from that knockout?” wondered Hatton, quoted by Matt Christie in Boxing News.
“No. Well, he might do. People have been knocked out like that before and they’ve come back. Just look at Amir Khan, he’s suffered two bad stoppages and come back. But Manny’s got a lot more miles on the clock and he’s had a lot more fights at the highest level.” The Hitman hinted that the best of Pacquiao has gone forever.
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Hatton said Pacquiao’s performance against Bradley was an indication that retirement is looming. “I thought Manny won that fight but he looked like he’d lost a bit of something,” said Hatton “When you’ve had the amount of fights that Manny has had and going through the weights like he has, it can leave you all at once and that might be what happened with him.”
Pacquiao lost a split 12-round decision to the unbeaten Bradley although the consensus was he was robbed of a victory. The defeat to Marquez was a shocker. The Mexican appeared “souped-up” for the job, his body worked over by strength and conditioning coach Memo Heredia.
In the third round, a shot from long distance sent Pacquiao to the canvas. Fans were stunned because in three previous bouts, Marquez had never floored Pacquiao and now, a punch from outside did it.
Surely, Marquez was not the same Marquez in their last three bouts. This version was a much stronger and more dangerous fighter. In the sixth round, Marquez wasn’t even looking at Pacquiao when the Filipino, coming forward for the kill, rammed into a right straight on the button. Pacquiao fell face first and lay motionless for about a minute, raising a scare among fans.
“I was in Hong Kong at the time doing a boxing promotion and watched it over there,” recounted Hatton to Christie. “There was no enjoyment watching it whatsoever because it brought back a lot of horrifying memories. It made me think of how my family and friends must have felt seeing me get knocked out like that. All I could see was Pacquiao’s missus trying to get in the ring to see if her husband was okay. It was a bad knockout. It was horrendous. It was just like mine.”