Manny Pacquiao will be coming off the longest layoff of his incredible career when he steps back into the ring in Macau in November.
It’ll also be two years since the former pound-for-pound champion’s last victory.
There’s no reason to worry about any of those ominous signs, according to the genial Filipino congressman. His bout with Brandon Rios will just be the start of his comeback, not a retirement party.
"I want to prove that I can still fight, and my boxing career is not done yet," Pacquiao said Thursday in a ballroom jam-packed with international media at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KOs) was his usual serene, joking self in his last public appearance in North America before heading back to the Philippines, where he’ll start training camp in October. Pacquiao is training with Freddie Roach for only six weeks, not the usual eight, because Roach doesn’t want to burn out his fighter.
And for the first time in the 34-year-old Pacquiao’s career, that’s a legitimate concern. The eight-division champion is coming off losses to Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez, followed by roughly 11 months of inactivity.
"I have confidence in my ability," Pacquiao said. "If you really look at my last fight, my conditioning, my killer instinct was still there. Everything was happening until that punch."
Indeed, while Pacquiao’s loss to Bradley has been widely lampooned as a poor judging decision, his one-punch knockout loss to Marquez was much more persuasive. Seeing Pacquiao facedown and motionless on the Las Vegas canvas was sobering, but Roach remains publicly confident Marquez’s devastating punch is a hazard of their profession.
"Manny is a realist," Roach said. "If you don’t think you can get knocked out in this sport, you picked the wrong sport. He knows it can happen. It happened twice before I met Manny Pacquiao. He showed me those tapes. He wasn’t embarrassed by it. He knows it’s part of life in boxing. That’s why he deals with it so well. It doesn’t bother him."
Although Pacquiao is unshakably confident, Roach acknowledges he’ll have to discuss retirement with Pacquiao if the brawling Rios (31-1-1, 22 KOs) pulls an upset at the Venetian casino, the world’s newest boxing hotbed after a series of fight cards in its arena this year.
"I’ll even go so far as to say if I see flaws in training camp, I’ll tell Manny, `It’s over,’" Roach said. "The thing is, until we get there, we really don’t know. We can’t really guess. If he doesn’t respond to training camp, my No. 1 priority is to take care of my fighter, no matter what."
Pacquiao also will train without longtime strength coach Alex Ariza, who was recently fired by Roach. Despite the upheaval in camp and his typically chaotic personal life, Pacquiao seems confident he can focus on the fight long enough to take care of Rios and his ferocious, defense-deficient style.
"I didn’t choose an easy opponent," Pacquiao said. "I didn’t choose a tuneup fight. I chose to fight a good fighter. … I love to fight. I love to throw a lot of punches. I have to make sure I’m in 100 percent condition and the killer instinct is still there."
Rios dispensed his usual happy-go-lucky, profane personality to the Beverly Hills gathering, jokingly holding up his nameplate while posing for photos with Pacquiao and Zou Shiming, the Chinese Olympic gold medalist who will fight on the undercard. While Rios is among the sport’s most likable guys, Roach is more interested in the challenger’s crowd-pleasing style.
"He comes to fight. He wants to exchange," Roach said. "I think it’s a fight that he’ll make us look great in. He’s the perfect style for Manny Pacquiao."
After crossing the globe on a promotional tour that included stops in China, Singapore and the U.S., Rios is happy to be home. Pacquiao will check in at Roach’s Wild Card gym only briefly before heading home, where he’ll get to work on revitalizing his career.
"It’s really important to win this fight," Pacquiao said. "Not just win, but to win convincingly, either knockout or decision, as long as the fans are satisfied."