But what would happen if Pacquiao were to lose the fight? Would it be time for the Filipino star to hang up the gloves?
The answer really depends on how he loses.
Before the epic knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, Pacquiao lost a decision to Timothy Bradley that was roundly criticized by pretty much anyone who watched the fight other (than this guy). If the same thing happens again here, or even if he loses a close decision that could go either way, then he should continue fighting.
If he is able to withstand 12 rounds of Brandon Rios punching him in the face, then the effects of the Marquez fight haven’t lingered. It will further prove that his skills have eroded, but it will at least prove that the knockout he suffered was just a perfect shot fired on a bad night.
If this fight had taken place just a couple of years ago, Pacquiao probably would have stopped Rios. His speed and movement would have been too much to handle. But he's slowed down just enough that the fight is more interesting now, and tougher to call.
But a Pacquiao loss by close decision wouldn’t end his career; it would merely signify an end to his long reign as an elite fighter.
He doesn't have to be elite to sell tickets. He's a worldwide star because he's one of the more entertaining fighters to come around in recent memory, and he genuinely cares about putting on a show for fans. He'll still be able to do that and make plenty of money in the process, even if it's at a slightly diminished level.
However, if Pacquiao is knocked out again, then it's time for him to step away from the ring. The Marquez fight was one thing—he was caught on the button by one of the deadliest counterpunchers in the game. But if Rios does the same thing to him, he will have reached a point where it would be dangerous for him to continue.
When Antonio Tarver knocked out Roy Jones in their rematch in 2004—as shocking as it was to see—it wasn’t the end for Jones. The end came a few months later, when Glen Johnson took him to Snoozeville all over again. A pattern was established, one where a once-elite fighter could no longer handle the punches thrown his way.
If Pacquiao can’t stay on his feet against Rios, fighting on would be a bad idea. His defense has never been exceptional, but his incredible offensive bursts have more than made up for it. But if his once-granite chin is now suspect, then he’ll be a health risk every time he fights.
Rios can punch extremely hard, and he’ll no doubt land his share of shots on Pacquiao. We’ll be able to tell right away if Manny can handle the blows. Judging from his past fights, he should be able to take them; he took Margarito’s best and kept on going.
If he doesn’t take the punches well, it’s a clear sign that he’s too far removed from his former self to continue his career.
Money might always be an issue for Manny Pacquiao; that will happen when your assistants have assistants. He’ll probably be forced to keep boxing even long past his expiration date. He may not be there yet, but he’s obviously closing in on the end of an illustrious career.
Winning this fight simply means more huge fights for him, but losing the fight signifies something entirely different—that the end is closer than we realized. Rios will be a difficult fight; he’s not going to be an easy out for anybody at this point.
But even if Pacquiao has stepped just outside of his prime, he’s the better fighter. He’s too fast, too accurate, and he hits too hard for the plodding Rios to be able to keep up all night. But if Rios does drop and stop Pacquaio, he needs to call it a career.
Continuing would prove nothing—he’s done remarkable things and will go down as one of the best to ever fight. The only thing it would do is tarnish a legacy that has been built by punching power and sheer fury.
Manny Pacquiao may have one more great performance left in him, or perhaps he has several more. But if Brandon Rios becomes the second straight fighter to knock him out, Pacquiao’s friends and family should convince him to shut it down. If he is stopped, hopefully they’ll succeed in getting him to walk away.
Too many fighters don't turn away until it’s far too late.