Manny Pacquiao’s 21-year boxing odyssey will draw to a close here Saturday with the Filipino icon aiming to cement his legacy as one of the greatest fighters in history with a decisive farewell victory over Tim Bradley.
The 37-year-old Pacquiao (57-6-2) says his third battle with American rival Bradley at the MGM Grand Garden Arena will be his last fight before he hangs up his gloves to pursue a political career in the Philippines.
The non-title welterweight showdown will be Pacquiao’s first since his unanimous defeat to Floyd Mayweather in last year’s money-spinning “Fight of the Century”, a bout which left the eight division world champion $150 million richer.
Pacquiao will earn another $20 million on Saturday for the final instalment of his trilogy with Bradley, who stunned the Filipino with a controversial split decision victory in 2012 before losing the rematch two years later.
While stating Saturday’s fight will be his last, Pacquiao has been careful to leave the door open to the possibility of a return to the ring.
– National hero -“I cannot say that I’m not going to come back,” Pacquiao told reporters this week, explaining that his mindset may change once he faces up to life without the sport that has made him both fabulously rich and a national hero.
“I cannot say right now what is the feeling of retiring in boxing. I’m not there yet. I don’t know how I’ll feel when I hang up my gloves,” he added.
Those closest to Pacquiao, including his long-time trainer Freddie Roach and the veteran promoter Bob Arum, believe he may yet return.
Arum said Pacquiao could be persuaded to prolong his career if he scores a spectacular victory over Bradley, who has twice gone the distance with the Filipino slugger.
“I think if he wins this fight well, he’s going to find a way to continue,” Arum told AFP.
Roach has been in Pacquiao’s corner ever since the Filipino arrived at his Wild Card gym in 2001 looking for a trainer as he prepared to embark on the US phase of his career after fighting entirely in Asia up to that point.
– ’15 years of greatness’ -“It’s been 15 years of greatness,” said Roach, who hopes Pacquiao will fight on but acknowledges that family pressures may mean his decision is final.
“His family has been pushing him to retire for a couple of years now and that’s why I think it might come true,” Roach said.
“They want him to spend more time with his children. You know what? Maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.”
Pre-fight preparations were overshadowed by controversy in February when the devoutly religious Pacquiao described homosexuals as “worse than animals”, remarks that prompted several sponsors to sever agreements with him while also drawing widespread outrage from gay and lesbian activists.
Pacquiao is adamant that the saga did not disrupt his training. “There were no distractions,” said Pacquiao, who has expressed a desire to sign off in style.
“It’s really important for me to win this fight, to win convincingly,” Pacquiao said. “It’s part of my legacy.”
Bradley (33-1-1) said he is preparing for an onslaught from Pacquiao.
“He’s going to come out like a bat out of hell and try to take my head off,” Bradley said.
Bradley teamed up with veteran trainer Teddy Atlas for his most recent in November, which ended in a ninth round technical knockout of Brandon Rios.
Atlas and Bradley have been poring over tapes of Pacquiao’s defeat to Mayweather last year, and his crushing knockout by Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012 as they attempt to concoct a gameplan to beat the Filipino.
“Those are two guys that gave him some problems and obviously there’s a reason for that,” Atlas told reporters on Thursday.
But Atlas is under no illusions about the scale of the challenge represented by Pacquiao.
“When you’re competing against someone as good as Manny — he wins a fight because of pure talent,” Atlas said.
“The combination of speed and power that he has is uncommon. He’s a freak.”