MACAU (AFP) – Philippine boxing great Manny Pacquiao is harbouring thoughts of running for president in his beloved homeland when he finally hangs up his gloves, he revealed to AFP in an exclusive interview.
Giving his strongest hint yet that he will push to the top of the political tree when he finally retires from the ring, the "Pacman" -- a hero and congressman in his home country -- admitted he had considered the presidency of the 95 million-strong nation.
When pressed on whether he had thought about shooting for the top job, the softly-spoken 34-year-old replied "Yes".
Drawing parallels between his pugilism and politics careers, the former world champion in eight weight divisions said: "When I started boxing, of course I was planning, you know and thinking about getting to become a champion. So when I enter politics it's the same thing.
"But, you know, it's far away," he said, adding: "It's God's will."
Before that, however, Pacquiao whose record stands at 54 wins, five losses and two draws, must concentrate on his latest bout -- a post breakfast-time tear-up with US fighter Brandon Rios, kicking off at the Venetian resort-hotel in Macau at 10:00 am on November 24.
The unconventional start time is for the benefit of the lucrative US pay-per-view audience, who will be settling down to watch the fight mid-evening on Saturday, as top US promoter Bob Arum attempts to elbow his way into the China market.
And viewers will not be oblivious to the fact that it is probably make or break time for Pacquiao's boxing career.
Despite his last fight ending in a disastrous knockout, when Juan Manuel Marquez caught him with a huge right hand that saw the Filipino crumple to the canvas -- his second successive defeat -- Pacquiao refuses to entertain the notion that he will lose a third straight bout, or retire.
He said he was "100 percent" sure he would beat Rios (31-1-1), giving him one more chance to regain his credibility -- and potentially another shot at a world title.
"He's OK but I can say he's a greasy fighter and he loves to fight inside, he loves to fight toe-to-toe," he said in an interview on Saturday as he kicked off a promotional tour for the Rios battle.
"This is going to be a good fight -- more action in the ring. Hopefully he won't run away."
Pacquiao insists he is as fit as ever, will focus on not leaving himself open to Marquez-style punishment, and has ignored calls from friends, family and media commentators, fearful for his health, to call it a day.
Once regarded as the world's best pound-for-pound fighter, he dismisses the possibility of defeat at the hands of the much younger -- and possibly hungrier -- US opponent.
"There's a little bit of pressure for this fight but I believe in myself that I can still fight and improve," he said. "I still can knock somebody out in the ring.
"I never think negative. I only think positive," Pacquiao added, conceding that his nearest and dearest were desperate for him to bow out of the fight game.
"Especially my mother," he admitted. "My mother doesn't want me to fight any more, she doesn't like it," he told AFP. "She wants me to focus on serving people."
His trainer too, the legendary Freddie Roach, has categorically stated that if he loses to Rios it will be the last time he sets foot in the ring.
"If he loses, I will tell him to retire," he was reported as telling ESPN.
Pacquiao's preparation for the fight will begin in the Philippines next month, with "light training for conditioning" seeing him run in the morning and hit his gym in the afternoon, before he steps up the work rate to put himself through weeks of gruelling workouts.
Acknowledging he is no longer a young fighter -- but confident he will be in as good a shape as ever -- he said: "Of course, my mind is still there but I have to adjust a little bit of something in my body because I'm 34 years old. It's different than if you compare it to when I was 25 years old.
"I need to focus this training camp to maintain the speed, specifically the footwork."
And the one question that has for years dogged Pacquiao -- whether a dream clash with undefeated five-division world champion Floyd Mayweather will ever happen?
"I've stopped thinking about him because I don't think he will fight me. I've been waiting four years already," he said.