Manny Pacquiao hits the speed bag during a training session General Santos… (PAUL BERNALDEZ / AFP/Getty…)
Manny Pacquiao has been the most dynamic boxer of the last decade, but the most recent image many fans have of the star is of his being knocked out and flat on his face in his most recent fight.
Now, less than a month from his 35th birthday, can Pacquiao reverse the story Saturday night when he fights former world lightweight champion Brandon Rios in Macao, China, in an HBO pay-per-view welterweight bout?
"I forgot the last fight already and I've moved on," Pacquiao said in a telephone interview from China.
"That experience," Pacquiao said, of his sixth-round knockout loss in December to rival Juan Manuel Marquez, "is part of boxing."
Yet, Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 knockouts) has responded with major adjustments in his fight preparations.
First, he took the longest layoff of his career. Then, he expanded his normal two-month training schedule, at Hollywood's chaotic Wild Card Boxing Club, to three months near his home of General Santos City, Philippines.
More than once during his promotional tour for this fight, Pacquiao has been asked about the toll of age and the knockout loss.
"I'm not old," he responds. Pacquiao also dismisses being KO'd, saying, "It's happened before," referring to 1996 and 1999 knockout losses he suffered early in his career.
Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach said he's not worried about his fighter being diminished by the Marquez knockout, which left Pacquiao briefly unconscious.
"He looks as great as ever in the ring," Roach said. "If you look at that [Marquez] fight, he was having one of his best fights in a long time … things happen. Whether it's a lucky punch … if he had made it one second more, no one would be talking about a knockout.
"He's looked great in training. I know people are skeptical about his knockout, but Manny Pacquiao is a realist. I don't think it will affect him at all."
Pacquiao's star power is driving the betting action, with the Filipino more than a 4-1 favorite at MGM Resorts sports book over the 27-year-old Rios (31-1-1, 23 KOs). Bettors consider Rios a slower, forward-charging opponent, who's also moving up in weight.
"Manny's going to outbox him," Roach said. "You don't trade with this guy, just box, get in and out, and it'll be easy and work out perfectly. Good boxers win fights."
There are some unusual wrinkles to having this fight in China, where the bout will take place about 10 a.m. Sunday local time. Pacquiao will avoid the financial hit of paying U.S. taxes and his promoter Bob Arum will measure how a major boxing match can sell on pay-per-view when it's outside the U.S.
Regardless, the pendulum will swing dramatically for Pacquiao in Macao. A lackluster performance could send him to retirement. If he wins convincingly, it might revive the idea that, with a dedicated training camp, Pacquiao can fight again like the electrifying wizard who blitzed through Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito in a 36-month span.
"That's what I'm trying to do," Pacquiao said. "I did my best training to put on my best fight. I believe people will be happy with my performance.
"Rios is the kind of fighter that you cannot underestimate, but I'm faster than him and I also have the power advantage, so I think I have enough advantages."
Being Pacquiao means he's never free of distractions. And the boxer was pained by the deadly, devastating typhoon that swept through his country on Nov. 8 and has affected some 11 million people.
"What happened is it's given me more inspiration and motivation to win the fight so I can make them happy and inspire them all over my country," Pacquiao said.
Earlier this week, Roach got into a heated argument with Robert Garcia, Rios' trainer, and Alex Ariza, Rios' conditioning coach. Ariza, who used to work for Pacquiao, kicked Roach in the chest amid an exchange of racial and homophobic slurs and Ariza mocking Roach's Parkinson's symptoms.
The last time Rios and Garcia made fun of Roach, their training buddy Margarito was reduced to lying on a post-fight gurney with eye damage after a battering by Pacquiao in 2011.
"I told Freddie to forgive and they'll forgive you," Pacquiao said. "This is nothing personal, we'll just do our best in the ring. No hard feelings. Forgive. I'm praying for them."
That's what Pacquiao said before the Margarito fight too.
"After this fight, I'm excited to fight again in the U.S.," Pacquiao said. "By God's grace, I would like to continue to fight."