-- LAS VEGAS -- Twenty-one years ago, Manny Pacquiao was a hungry teenager living in abject poverty in the Philippines. There were nights spent sleeping in a cardboard shack in the streets and days spent picking through garbage cans for scraps of food.
He turned to boxing as a means to survive, figuring he could make at least a few dollars to help himself and his family get by. For his pro debut, he traveled by boat for three hours and earned around $20.
From those harsh days to where he is now is virtually unfathomable. The kid who turned pro at 106 pounds -- at such a light weight because he couldn't afford to eat -- went on to become a global icon.
Pacquiao has earned hundreds of millions of dollars, set the boxing record for winning world titles in eight weight classes between flyweight (112 pounds) and junior middleweight (154) and stamped himself as one of the greatest fighters in history.
Outside the ring, although there have been some controversies, such as his recent comments against gay rights, he is known as a compassionate, humble and hugely charitable man with a devotion to helping Filipinos less fortunate than he is, including his role as a two-term congressman who is now running for his country's senate in the May elections. Many view him as a serious candidate for Philippines president someday.
"He's just a great story," Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said this week. "A rags to riches story. A kid from the streets of the Philippines, lived in a cardboard shack. Worked his way up, comes to the United States and becomes one of the biggest fighters of our time.
"I was in boxing for a long time before Manny arrived. I remember all the Filipino (fighters). Some of them were good. Some were OK. None of them were great. Manny is great."
Now, after a 21-year boxing career, and having accomplished more than he could have imagined, Pacquiao appears ready to walk away from the sport to focus on his charity work and political career.
He will fight rival Timothy Bradley Jr. for the third time in a 12-round welterweight bout on Saturday night (HBO PPV, 9 p.m. ET) at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, also site of their first two bouts, in what Pacquiao claims will be his career finale. He has waffled on the topic throughout the promotion, but there does seem to be a sense of finality when Pacquiao speaks, often nostalgically, about his career.
He culminated the retirement talk at Wednesday's final news conference when he said from the podium that "this is my last fight" and then spoke about his desire to continue helping the poor in his country.
A few days earlier, the 37-year-old Pacquiao, who will earn another $20 million to Bradley's $4 million, was not so sure.
"After this fight I have already said that my mind is to focus on my job," Pacquiao said. "If I win a senate seat, I have a big responsibility and I need to focus on that. I cannot say right now that I am going to retire. I don't want to say that because I don't know what the feeling is when you leave boxing. I will give it great thought when I return home.
"My mind right now says to retire, but we don't know."
Arum, who celebrated his 50th anniversary as a promoter last month, has promoted a who's who, including Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather. He's seen his share of short-lived retirements, so he has refused to promote Saturday's fight as Pacquiao's finale, knowing there is a good chance retirement won't stick.
"Manny told me that he was going to retire after this fight, but I have been around this business for 50 years and a lot of fighters can't walk away, so I am not advertising that this is going to be Manny's last fight," Arum said. "It could be, but then it may not be. He said he's going back to run for senate and if he becomes a senator, he'll have to decide whether to devote full time to the senate or he can work in a continuous boxing career. But again, that is going to have to be something that's he's going to have to decide. But one thing, I am not selling this fight as Manny's last fight, so if he does come back after this fight, don't say I deceived anyone."
Freddie Roach, a Hall of Fame trainer in large measure because of his almost accidental union with Pacquiao, who literally walked into his Hollywood, California, gym one day 15 years ago looking for a trainer, said he and Pacquiao have briefly discussed this being his last fight but have mostly focused on preparing for Bradley.
"He told me he's going to retire and I told him I think he still has some more fights left in him if he wants, and he did ask me about training if he goes into the Olympics, if they let the pros in the Olympics, and I said of course I will," Roach said. "That's as far as we got. We didn't talk about any fights after this. We are just concentrating on this fight right now.
"I do think Manny has more quality fights in him. His power, speed, work ethic are still superior to most others."
Roach and Arum, like millions of boxing fans around the world, will miss Pacquiao when he is gone from the ring.
"We have been together for a long time and I will go to all of his birthday parties in the Philippines and we will be friends for life," Roach said.
Arum said he would look back on his remarkable run with Pacquiao with as much fondness as any part of his career.
"Fighters retire, but the life of boxing continues," he said. "If Manny does retire, I'll concentrate on Terence Crawford, Jessie Vargas and Gilberto Ramirez and Oscar Valdez and Jose Ramirez, Jesse Hart and a whole host of other guys, and Nonito Donaire. I will look back at it like when I promoted Muhammad Ali and George Foreman -- that it has been a tremendous experience and I'm grateful for it, but life goes on. One thing is for sure -- I ain't retiring. You are going to have me around for another 50 years."
Whether Pacquiao (57-6-2, 38 KOs) truly retires or not, there is the matter of the fight with Bradley (33-1-1, 13 KOs), 32, of Palm Springs, California, who split the first two fights with him, both welterweight world title bouts that were also at the MGM Grand.
Bradley's 2012 split decision win ranks as one of the most controversial decisions in boxing history, as virtually everyone not only had Pacquiao winning but doing so easily. He won the 2014 rematch in similarly dominant fashion and got the unanimous decision.
Going into Saturday's trilogy bout, Pacquiao is coming off a loss to Mayweather 11 months ago in their record-shattering fight in which each made nine-figure paydays. Mayweather fought once more and then retired -- for now -- and Pacquiao appears to be following him out the door. But Mayweather's retirement fight came against Andre Berto, a faded former titleholder and big underdog.
Pacquiao is facing Bradley, still an elite fighter now buoyed by his union with new trainer Teddy Atlas. And Pacquiao is also coming off a long layoff and surgery to repair a torn right rotator cuff he said he injured in the fourth round against Mayweather.
Pacquiao said that with the layoff and surgery his shoulder is fine and won't be a factor against Bradley.
"With the long layoff in boxing, I feel better right now. I feel fresh," he said. "A long layoff is a good thing because I was able to spend more time with my family and concentrate on helping the Philippine people."
Pacquiao said he will do that even more in retirement, which just might come late Saturday night.
"The time feels right for winding down my boxing career. We will see," Pacquiao said. "I am training like it is my last fight. I want to give everyone a memorable fight. I am all about the here and now, the present."