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A familiar ritual is about to begin for Manny Pacquiao. The Filipino superstar is about to embark on a promotional tour for his next fight, a Nov. 24 match in Macau, China, against Brandon Rios.
Pacquiao will, beginning later this month, do a media blitz in Macau then head to Beijing and Shanghai before coming to the U.S. He'll make stops in Bristol, Conn., New York and Los Angeles to end the tour.
Not long after, he'll begin training camp. It will be an important camp for Pacquiao, perhaps as important as any he's ever held.
It is no stretch to say that his career hangs in the balance.
Pacquiao is coming off back-to-back losses, to Juan Manuel Marquez and Timothy Bradley Jr. He lost a hotly disputed decision to Bradley, but was knocked cold by Marquez in the sixth round of the fourth bout between them.
Roach expects a knockout in the Pacquiao-Rios fight and said if it is Pacquiao who winds up being KO'd, that will be the finale of a Hall of Fame career.
Many years ago, as the relationship between Pacquiao and trainer Freddie Roach grew closer, Pacquiao promised Roach he'd walk away from the game when his trainer told him it was time.
Roach said he would recommend retirement if Pacquiao were knocked out by Rios in their pay-per-view bout.
"It's over, 100 percent [if Pacquiao is knocked out by Rios]," Roach said. "We have a deal. When I tell him it's over, he'll say it's over and that's it. He's pretty loyal with his words and if that happens, it will be the end."
Roach, though, isn't expecting to have to make that call. Pacquiao hasn't shown the signs of decline that has led Roach to tell numerous other fighters, including James Toney and Bernard Hopkins, that it is time to step aside.
Pacquiao will be a few weeks shy of his 35th birthday when he steps into the ring to meet Rios. He's at an age where it is common for fighters to begin to slip, but Roach insists he's seen none of it.
"None whatsoever, and I'd tell you if I did," Roach said. "The thing is, people look at the losses and they think the reason is that he's getting old. That's not the case, not from what I see. Look, we all thought he beat Bradley, so throw that out. And in the Marquez fight, I thought he was doing well and was looking like he was going to win by knockout when he made a mistake and ran into a shot.
"That happens. That's boxing. It didn't happen because his skills aren't the same as they used to be. It happened because he made a mistake. It doesn't matter what age you are, you can make a mistake."
The losses have all but destroyed the dream of the one-time mega-fight between Pacquiao and unbeaten rival Floyd Mayweather Jr.
One of the reasons that the fight was so appealing from late 2009 until the loss to Bradley in mid-2012 was that the men were clearly the two best fighters in the world, in whichever order one ranked them. Their contrasting styles made for the kind of classic matchup that comes along once a generation.
The losses have changed that and rarely is the question about a fight between them asked any more. Roach, though, insists it should still be viewed as a possibility.
Roach is as blunt and honest a man as there is in boxing and he concedes that Mayweather has been creating distance between them.
"I think the gap is widening, I don't agree with that," Roach said. "But that being said, I've told Manny, 'Knock this guy [Rios] out in good fashion and the Mayweather fight comes back real quick.
"Manny still wants the fight. We know that Mayweather turned it down, but the truth is this: Mayweather has four fights left after this next one [on Sept. 14 against Canelo Alvarez] and I'm not sure there are four guys in the world left for him to fight without Manny Pacquiao being one of them."
So, essentially, it's a high-wire act for Pacquiao over the next few months. He needs to avoid being knocked out, but the type of fight he'll engage in with Rios will lend itself to a knock out.
Pacquiao is unquestionably the more skilled fighter, but when two men with knockout power are standing in front of each other and firing off shots, anything can happen.
It's a risk, though, Pacquiao is going to have to take.
And Roach is typically blunt about how he views Pacquiao at this stage.
"Manny needs to show me a little more," Roach said. "That's why I think a tremendous performance at this point will help a lot. We're at a crucial point in his career. I don't see that he looks like he's getting too old. His work ethic remains great. I'm his friend more than I'm his coach, and I'm not going to let anything happen.
"The minute I think he doesn't have it, when I see that he's not the Manny Pacquiao of old, I'll tell him that's it. I don't think he's at that point, and I think you'll see him look good in this one, but this is a very important fight for him."
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