After losing two consecutive fights for the first time in his professional career, Manny Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KOs) is in desperate need of a convincing victory to prove he still belongs among boxing's elite.
The 34-year-old Filipino superstar was unlucky to suffer a split-decision loss to Timothy Bradley back in June 2012, but he can only blame himself for last December's brutal knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez.
But a potential rematch with Bradley or a fifth clash with Marquez down the road depend on what Pacquiao does this November against American challenger Brandon Rios (31-1-1, 23 KOs). By the time fight night arrives on Nov. 23, Pac-Man will have had more than 11 months to recover from his loss to Marquez, but he will be more than two years removed from his most recent victory.
Despite all he's accomplished inside the boxing ring, Pacquiao's legacy has taken a major hit, and he's no longer oozing confidence or generating the same level of buzz he was two years ago.
The talk surrounding a potential mega fight between he and undefeated Floyd Mayweather Jr. has all but ended, and Bradley's recent victory over Marquez has helped to bury Pac-Man even deeper. The fact that next month's fight with Rios will be Pacquiao's first outside of the United States since 2006 also speaks to how far he's fallen.
While this bout is without question a must-win for Pac-Man, the way in which he wins or loses is just as critical to his status in the sport.
A lackluster or controversial win over Rios isn't going to catapult Pacquiao back into the spotlight or into the top pound-for-pound fighter discussion. However, an impressive knockout victory would absolutely propel Pacquiao back into the mix.
With a decisive victory to his name for the first time since 2011, Pacquiao and the experts could simply point to 2012 as being a rough and unfortunate year for Pac-Man. After all, the Bradley fight was clouded in controversy, and Marquez landed the perfect punch.
But there's an old saying that applies to Pacquiao's current situation: One is an accident, two is a trend and three is a problem. He's certainly trending way down at the moment, but it's unfair to say there's a serious problem with his boxing just yet.
If he struggles to beat Rios, there's a problem. But he could just as easily bounce back with a convincing win to get back on track and reaffirm his status atop the sport. His two head-scratching losses won't disappear, but they would become distant memories as boxing fans would be reminded of why there was so much hype surrounding Pacquiao 18 months ago.
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