By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) It’s easy to define a career and identify all the key moments once it’s over.
It’s a lot more difficult to do that when it’s still going on.
In the case of Manny Pacquiao, he could be at the point of his career where he begins a memorable comeback when he fights Brandon “Bam-Bam” Rios in Macau, China Saturday night. If he can beat the hard-punching Rios in impressive fashion, Pacquiao would like to take on Juan Manuel Marquez, the fighter that knocked him out with one well-placed punch last December.
If he gets that fight – or beats somebody of a similar status – Pacquiao would like to finish his career with a showdown against Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Rios will present himself as an excellent target for Pacquiao because he takes a lot of punches. However, he also throws some heavy shots, and he will come into the ring confident that he can do to Pacquiao just what Marquez did.
If Rios is correct, Pacquiao’s career will almost certainly be over. Pacquiao has not said that he will retire if he loses, but long-time trainer Freddie Roach will no longer stay in his corner if he thinks Pac-Man’s best days are behind him.
So, these are tense times for Pacquiao, who comes into the ring with 54-5-2 record. He is 34 years old, and the insiders really don’t know just how much Pacquiao has left in the tank.
He has lost his last two fights, but neither one of those bouts can stand on their own as just a simple loss. Two fights ago, he lost a split decision to Timothy Bradley.
At least that’s what the judges said. However, nearly every other observer said that Pacquiao won that fight easily and should have come away with a one-sided decision.
Then came the startling knockout loss to Marquez, the fourth fight between the two fighters. Marquez, looking stronger than he had been at any point in his career, knocked Pacquiao down early in the fight. However, Pacquiao came back to register his own knockdown and had taken charge in the bout late in the sixth round. It looked like he was on his way to registering a knockout of his own when he got careless and ran into Marquez’s hard right-hand punch and was knocked unconscious.
Pacquiao has been a dynamic fighter throughout his career. With a more reasonable judging in the Bradley fight and a less reckless attitude against Marquez, Pacquiao could be 2-0 in his last two fights.
That’s boxing and that’s life. Pacquiao can look back all he wants, but he can’t change outcome of either bout.
He can only look forward and see if he still has the talent to compete with the best fighters in the world.
Rios (31-1-1) is on the cusp of that group. He is the gatekeeper for Pacquiao at this point. If Pacquiao can win decisively, he can move on. If he can’t, Roach will tell him it’s time to hang up his gloves.
Pacquiao has many other endeavors. He is a congressman in his native Philippines and the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan that roared through his country is weighing heavily on him.
He was training in the southern part of the country when the typhoon caused so much damage in the north.
But as bad as Pacquiao feels, he cannot be at anything but his best when he steps into the ring with Rios. His opponent may not be of the class of Mayweather or Marquez, but he has plenty of knockout power.
There can be no more losses, bad breaks or excuses.
Pacquiao is back in the ring because he says he still has something to prove and he still has goals.
His heart may be with the victims in his typhoon-ravaged country, but he must put all that aside when the bell rings.
That’s the only way he will be able to be successful and move forward with his legendary career.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.