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Pacquiao breaks camp 120604 004aFirst of all, I’ve never seen anyone get knocked out the way Manny Pacquiao did against Juan Manuel Marquez last December. Talk about a face-plant, I thought he was dead. It was scary. It’s even scarier that Pacquiao woke up –after smelling salts–with a smile on his face. “That’s sports,” he said afterwards.

There is false hope in sports. Hope of resurrection or resurgence or hope of money and fame. Pacquiao already has riches and an entourage to go with it.

That entourage was large before his fourth fight with Marquez. They led cheers in the ring with pumped fists but they weren’t in the ambulance with Pacquiao ( seen above, with trainer Freddie Roach, in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo)after the fight. Only his wife, yes, the one woman HBO showed vividly crying her eyes out for her beloved unconscious husband was in the car ride with Pacquiao en route to the hospital to get a brain scan.

Apparently Pacquiao left the hospital with a negative Catscan, meaning there was no neurological damage from the Marquez blow. Yeah, sure, we’re supposed to believe that.

Man, that knockout was creepy. The brain takes a pounding in the boxing ring like we don’t know.

Amir Khan told me he does not remember anything that happened after the big shot he took from Marcos Maidana in round 10 of their December 2010 bout. He doesn’t remember the punch. He doesn’t remember the rest of the fight. And he doesn’t remember the post fight interviews or anything that happened in the locker room afterwards.

Crazy.

And you wonder why those that practice the boxing “hit and don’t get hit” philosophy last longest in the sport.

Every punch a fighter takes to the head only adds to the pounding. You know excessive shots can’t be helpful to the skull, or a fighter's career for that matter.

Just one year ago Pacquiao was arguably considered the best fighter in the world. Today his career has plenty of question marks. People already doubted Pacquiao’s commitment to boxing, because of his involvement in politics among other things, and now his ability to take a punch is in question.

What happens if Pacquiao takes another big shot? Who knows?

One thing for sure, if there is any hope to resurrect Pacquiao’s boxing career then he needs to win his next fight against Brandon Rios in Macau, China, on November 23 the same way he lost his last one, by knockout.

He needs to erase the memory of his face-plant in the ring, or destruction, or whatever else you want to call it.

But is he motivated to make a comeback? Maybe he’ll play it safe against Rios. What happens if Pacquiao’s motivation is gone?

Well gone is his invisibility and gone is the notion that he is one of the world’s best three fighters. All that changed after one memorable punch. (At least it was memorable for us.)

Angelo Dundee, the Hall of Fame trainer for Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, once told me, “Motivation is a misused word. Fighters are great professionals. They prepare themselves to not let a loss happen again. They’ll try to improve on whatever they did before. Sometimes, a loss is a win because you learn something from it. That is the important thing.”

On the surface, here’s what we know about Pacquiao’s next fight.

Rios is a curious choice for Pacquiao’s return. Not a safe one. The Mexican slugger loves to bang and embraces contact. Rios is a pressure fighter and prides himself on making fights exciting, and Manny has most success with brawlers that are willing to engage.

Some of Pacquiao’s recent opponents, like David Diaz and Antonio Margarito, came straight to him and he tore them apart.

All of Rios’ fights are rough, as proven in the two recent battles against Mike Alvarado in which Rios went 1-1. He doesn’t have a counter-punching style like Marquez. He enjoys a give-and-take war. After the shocking loss to Marquez, Pacquiao could not have asked for a better opponent than Rios, some argue, to showcase his speed, footwork, and wide-ranging punches.

But we don’t know how much that Marquez knockout loss affects Pacquiao mentally. If Dundee said fighters prepare themselves to never lose again, how much is Pacquiao willing to prepare?

Despite his recent downward spiral, Pacquiao is still one of the hottest fighters in boxing. If Pacquiao loses to Rios, he might walk away from the sport. Meanwhile, a win can propel him back near the top of the pound-for-pound list.

The Rios fight is not about pride for Pacquiao. It’s about returning to the top. A poor showing against Rios can create more doubt around Pacquiao’s future in boxing. Or, dare we allow ourselves to ponder the sad possibility…A loss, particularly a conclusive one, could easily mark his final entry into the squared circle. Fans of Manny, and what he means to the sport, have to be hoping that Mr. Dundee’s wisdom about learning from losses applies in this case.

Twitter Contact: @raymarkarian

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