By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Manny Pacquiao is about to find out the truth.
The truth of whether his decision to go back into the ring after getting knocked unconscious by Juan Manuel Marquez was a good one.
Nearly a year ago, Pacquiao was fighting Marquez for the fourth time and after suffering an early knockdown, he was ahead on points. He had answered Marquez’s knockdown with one of his own and he was dishing out a ton of punishment to Marquez.
But even though Marquez was bleeding, bruised and battered, he was still strong and dangerous. He delivered the best punch of his career to Pacquiao’s chin in the final seconds of the sixth round and Pacquiao was done.
He fell flat on his face and he didn’t move. It was the kind of punch that made the world stand still for a moment, and Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach was not sure if Pacquiao was alive or dead.
For an instant.
Luckily for the Filipino fighter, he got up and spoke coherently. He had not suffered a long-lasting brain injury that would turn him into a shell of his former self.
That’s where everybody breathed a sigh of relief.
By the time that breath was expelled, it was time for Pacquiao to either hang up his gloves or make a decision to go forward.
Pacquiao decided to fight again. It’s not clear exactly what has motivated him – money, love of boxing, redemption, fear of boredom – but Pacquiao is fighting again.
It looks like the choice of Brandon Rios is a smart one for Pacquiao. Rios is a good fighter who does not seem to belong in the class of the sport’s great names. He does not have the skill level or knockout power of Marquez, but he is a hard-charging, straight-ahead fighter.
Pacquiao will be able to hit Rio frequently. That will not be a problem because Rios is not one of those fighters who practices great defense. To this point in his career, Rios has been happy to eat one or two punches so he could throw his own.
Rios does not have one-punch knockout power, but he can hurt Pacquiao with an accumulation of blows. That’s where Pac-Man will get tested and that’s how this fight will get decided.
Pacquiao should have superior quickness going for him in this fight. He may be able to get in two or three punches before Rios lands one of his. Pacquiao’s punches are usually the type that stun and hurt his opponent, but you have to wonder if he still has that ability.
Pacquiao has to show that he is still skilled at the defensive aspects of the sport. He got knocked out badly the last time out and you don’t know how much that has taken out of him until he gets back in the ring.
In the past, Pacquiao didn’t have to worry about the accumulation of blows because he could move and avoid them.
Does he still have that ability?
If he does, this fight should turn out to be a moment of redemption for Pacquiao. His superior jab will allow him to build up points and an advantage in this fight. He should get an opportunity to deliver several heavy shots that will put Rios’ love of getting hit – those are his own words – to the test.
Pacquiao would like another shot at Marquez and then ultimately challenge Floyd Mayweather Jr. If he can’t beat Rios by a significant margin, those other fights will vanish into the night.
It will be time for Pacquiao to hang up his gloves and head back to his political career in his typhoon-ravaged homeland.
But if Pacquiao dictates the pace and dominates, boxing will get a much-needed shot in the arm and Pacquiao will get a chance to return to glory.
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.