First things first: I am not (as of this moment, at least) predicting a loss for Manny Pacquiao this Saturday against Miguel Cotto. But for argument's sake, let's say he loses to Cotto. What does it mean? What does it say?
For a fighter like Manny Pacquiao, it is anything but destructive to his career, no matter how it were to happen, if it were to happen.
Pacquiao, you see, is special. Always will be. He's special because he legitimately tests his limits. Special because he's a genuine fighter. Special because of what he hasn't done as much as what he has done.
He's done a lot. Even in this era of meaningless belt-gathering, winning titles in six divisions is amazing. A seventh would come Saturday. And when you look at how Pacquiao did it, it's even more incredible.
His first major title came in 1998, when he beat Chatchai Sasakul at flyweight (112 pounds). He burst onto the world scene with a stunning domination of Lehlohonolo Ledwaba to win the IBF junior feather weight (122) title in 2001. His 2003 demolition of Marco Antonio Barrera stunned many, and made him the rightful world champion at featherweight (126).
He and rival Juan Manuel Marquez collided for a second time in 2008 to decide not just Marquez's 130-pound WBC title, but the vacant Ring championship, too. And Pacquiao won a narrow decision in a great, great fight. Three and a half months later, he wiped out 135-pound titlist David Diaz.
And earlier this year, he made mincemeat of Ricky Hatton to become the junior welterweight world champion. Not one of those titles was cheap, save perhaps a bit for David Diaz, who is hardly among the worst recent paper titleholders.
Cotto's WBO welterweight title would be another amazing scalp. And all of this leads me to what Pacquiao doesn't do, never has done, and what is just as important in terms of legacy as all of his talent and skill and phenom status.
He doesn't protect his record. He doesn't whine about how unfair everything is. He's never complained or bickered or gone out of his way to hand-pick easy opponents.
Manny Pacquiao will add Miguel Cotto -- win or lose -- to a list of opponents that includes Ricky Hatton, Oscar de la Hoya, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, among many other tough opponents. And he's beaten every one of those men, too, with only a draw against Marquez and one loss in three fights against Morales since he's stepped up into the truly elite ranks of the sport.
Pacquiao, at 30, could never fight again and be a shoo-in Hall of Famer on every single level. He's helped put the Philippines on the map as one of the world's premier boxing powers, and his accomplishments ensure that generations to come in the Filipino community will look to the sweet science. He is a sports hero the likes of which American fans will never quite be able to comprehend. He is one of a kind.
Manny Pacquiao steps into the ring again this Saturday to give himself yet another great test. Even if his unbelievable run from 2003-present hiccups against Cotto, it won't mean he was overrated, overhyped, or made out to be something he wasn't.
Pacquiao has exceeded every expectation anyone has ever had. He's everything he's been said to be, and then some. And it may yet be a long time before we see anyone quite like him. No matter what happens on Saturday, if you're a boxing fan right now, you'd be foolish to not cherish Pacquiao and the chance to watch him fight.