Juan Manuel Marquez, left, and Manny Pacquiao exchange punches. (Eric Jamison / Associated…)
LAS VEGAS — Manny Pacquiao released a statement the morning after being brutally knocked unconscious by Juan Manuel Marquez at the close of the sixth round:
"I am fine. I am looking forward to a nice rest and then I will be back to fight."
Marquez, at 39, might never have an opportunity to walk away from fighting on such a high after his dramatic moment of vindication that followed three bitter decisions against Pacquiao: two losses and a draw.
Yet veteran promoter Bob Arum said he expects Marquez to return for a fight Arum believes is now the most wanted bout on the landscape: Marquez-Pacquiao V.
"It depends on how much money Marquez wants to make," Arum said Sunday, assuring the Mexican fighter's $6 million guaranteed purse from Saturday will be amplified because of his stunning performance. "Don't be naive. He'll be back."
Pacquiao, 33, was positioned to take a 57-55 lead on all three judges' score cards after battering Marquez in the sixth round and rallying from his first knockdown since 2003 in the third round to knock Marquez to the canvas in the fifth.
Then, Pacquiao came forward with a jab late in the sixth, and Marquez answered with what he called a "perfect punch," a devastating right counter into Pacquiao's jaw and nose that sent him slumping to the canvas, face-down.
Pacquiao remained there for seconds, with his alarmed wife, Jinkee, medical personnel and corner men racing to assist. Marquez climbed a neutral corner post and raised his arms in a long-craved moment of glory.
Pacquiao underwent a CT scan afterward, which was negative. He retreated to his hotel room, ate dinner and watched a DVD of his loss to "see what he did wrong," according to his spokesman.
The knockout may have represented the official death of the long-negotiated and anticipated Pacquiao showdown against unbeaten and now-unquestioned pound-for-pound king Floyd Mayweather Jr.
"The world wants to see these two guys fight again more than it wants to see Mayweather, fighting in his style," Arum said of the defensive-minded technician. "I can't predict that fight's dead forever, but I can tell you right now nobody's talking about Mayweather."
Mayweather announced last week he'll fight twice in 2013, the likeliest scenario being a spring date against Robert Guerrero and a September showdown against the sport's brightest young star, world super-welterweight champion, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez of Mexico.
In Saturday's post-fight news conference, boxing's power brokers anticipated a fifth meeting between the pair.
When someone asked Marquez about retirement, an HBO representative cracked, "Shhh. Who let him in here?"
"Everyone's asking me about the fifth fight," said Todd DuBoef, president of Top Rank, which promotes both fighters. "When you're entertained like that, how can you not make another?
"When you look at the body of work, it's the most engaging series of fights in the last 50 years."
Fans of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trilogy might argue that, but who else?
Pacquiao began the bout convinced he wouldn't be felled by Marquez's best punch after their three previous fights and the fact he remained standing against the strongest blows of 160-pound Antonio Margarito two years ago.
But things changed. Marquez's strength work under the eye of former steroid figure Angel "Memo" Heredia proved critical, with Heredia describing his altered fighter as "Hulk."
Pacquiao adviser Michael Koncz said his fighter "demonstrated his timing, speed, touch and power is still there, his best performance since [Oscar] De La Hoya. He just got too eager at the end."
Koncz said Pacquiao reported that he "felt no difference in Marquez's power from past fights. It was just a perfectly timed, dead-on, square punch that was like being in a bad car accident."
Countered Marquez, "I never thought he was going to beat me. He came at me good, but I was strong. I was not going to lose that fight.
"This was thanks to the work I did, the result of the training."
Questions linger about what happened during training since the Nevada State Athletic Commission failed to conduct one random drug test for either Marquez or Pacquiao in their camps.
The result of pre- and post-fight drug tests should become known by Dec. 17, according to the commission's executive director, Keith Kizer.
Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said he's interested in a fifth fight if Pacquiao is, but "it isn't my call to demand drug testing."
Pacquiao, asked in the ring about Marquez being his next opponent, said, "Why not?"
He previously told Top Rank he wants to fight in April so he can return to the Philippines and help campaign for his wife and friends running for elected office. Pacquiao, a congressman in that country, is running unopposed.