BILL DWYRE

Manny Pacquiao, after the near-perfect punch that laid him out

The boxer's longtime trainer says it all came down to footwork, and they're considering a rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez this year.

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When last we left Manny Pacquiao, darling of the fight world, he was flat on his face, out cold in the corner of a boxing ring.

It was the night of Dec. 8, in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

It was such a startling moment that even the most rabid fans of Juan Manuel Marquez, who threw the punch that put Pacquiao in that situation, had to have a fleeting moment of dread that something really bad had just happened.

Freddie Roach, Pacquiao's Hall of Fame trainer, was just a few feet away and was horrified.

"My girlfriend's a doctor," Roach says now, "and she thought he was dead."

As chaos swirled around him, Pacquiao remained still. Roach estimates his fighter was unconscious for at least two minutes. But replays showed it was just over a minute. Photographers swooped in, and Pacquiao's best friend, Buboy Fernandez, and financial advisor, Michael Koncz, got into a pushing match with one of them.

"I had to apologize to a couple of photographers later, for yelling at them," Roach says. "I know the best thing is to clear the way so the doctors can do their job, but I shouldn't have yelled at them."

Soon, it was clear that Pacquiao was not dead, but the victim of a near-perfect punch by a boxer he was fighting for the fourth time and appeared to be beating decisively, when it all came to a shocking halt with one second left in the sixth round.

"I knew Manny was all right," Roach says, "when I told him in the dressing room that we better get him to the hospital to be checked. He said OK, but that he wanted to wash the blood off his face first. That meant he was thinking clearly."

Pacquiao returned to his hotel room, ate some soup fed to him by his mother, got up and shadow-boxed a little, asked his public relations chief to send a message to the media, saying, "I'm fine," and sat back down on the couch to watch a video of the fight.

How did it happen?

There will always be a multitude of theories. Roach's is that it was more about footwork than Marquez being better or even luckier.

"When you have a lefty [Pacquiao] fighting a right-hander [Marquez]," Roach says, "you have guys stepping on each other's lead foot more than righty-righty or lefty-lefty.

"We were concerned enough about that happening — because it had happened a lot in their other fights, and even could be used as a strategy by Marquez — to ask the referee to come to our dressing room before the fight so we could warn him to watch for that."

"But what happened was the opposite, and I didn't see it clearly until later, when I looked at overhead camera shots.

"Marquez didn't step on Manny's foot. Manny stepped on Marquez's foot. And when Marquez pulled it out, it sent Manny off-balance and forward — right into the perfect right hand.

"I wasn't ready for that. I had told Manny, when he steps on your foot, don't pull away. But the other way? I didn't see that coming."

What's the immediate future?

"I told Bob Arum [Pacquiao's promoter] that I didn't want Manny back in the ring as soon as April," says Roach, who adds that Pacquiao fought him at first on waiting that long. "I think a fifth fight with Marquez in September is the right fight. I think that makes more sense now than ever."

Arum says of Pacquiao-Marquez V: "That fight may be bigger right now than a [Floyd] Mayweather fight."

Marquez, of course, is in a great bargaining position and no deal has been reached. Plus, he is 39 years old, with 62 professional fights and 462 professional rounds.

Long-term future

Age and years of punishment are also a concern for Pacquiao. He is 34, and has had 61 professional fights and 371 professional rounds.

A popular theory in the immediate aftermath of this knockout was that this kind of out-cold damage would not allow Pacquiao to be the same quality fighter.

"He says he's fine, and I believe him," says Roach, who knows all too well the dangers of boxing too long. He did, and is now slowed by neurological damage.

"There are things I will be looking for in our next training camp," he says. "First, it is the footwork. I will be able to tell if he starts feeling for the canvas. I remember when I did. I'll look for any slight tremors. I remember watching Larry Holmes show a slight tremor when he was doing the mitts in training and I always thought that was a bad sign for his future. But so far, so good."

Roach says he will have Pacquiao spar considerably less and will also have a conversation with him about his reasons for continuing to fight. Pacquiao is a member of the Philippine congress, with a bright political future.

"If he says he needs to keep going to pay for the politics, I will tell him that's the wrong reason," Roach says. "If it is because he still wants to and loves it, that's the right reason."

And how closely will this boxing superstar listen to his longtime coach and mentor?

"Manny told me," Roach says, "that if I tell him it is time to stop, he will."

For the moment, it appears that, unlike that fateful night in December, Roach and Pacquiao are not yet ready to be down for the count.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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