-- LAS VEGAS -- It's hard to imagine that anyone who enjoys his work as much as Manny Pacquiao would even consider walking away from it.
It's even harder to imagine anyone who is as good at his job as Manny Pacquiao would choose never to do it again.
But that's what Pacquiao is asking you to believe after his convincing victory over Tim Bradley Jr. at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday.
More importantly, it sounds as if it's also what Pacquiao is asking himself to believe.
"I made a commitment to my family to spend more time with them after this fight,'' said Pacquiao, who started slowly after an 11-month layoff but rallied to drop Bradley twice en route to a comfortable unanimous decision.
However, when he was asked whether he could definitively say he would never fight again, Pacquiao showed his first real moment of hesitation all night.
"Right now, my heart is 50/50,'' he said. "I love my family, my wife and kids. Right now, my decision is to retire. Who knows, I might enjoy retired life.''
Yes, he might, and he might enjoy the life of a senator or perhaps eventually the life of the president of the Philippines.
But it's hard to imagine Manny Pacquiao enjoying anything as much as he enjoyed being in the ring with Bradley during their third meeting on Saturday. Or being in the ring with anyone else for the past 21 years.
You could see it in the smile he wore climbing up the ring steps to the thunderous chants of "Manny! Manny!'' from the heavily pro-Pacquiao crowd. You could see it in the way he pounded his gloves together in glee when the action started to heat up in Round 5. You could feel the enthusiasm as he bounced out of his corner each round, and you could sense that the more punches he traded with Bradley, the better he was enjoying himself.
And you knew deep down that the hiatus he's about to take from the only life he has known for the past quarter century would be very much a trial retirement.
In fact, out of the nearly 15,000 people in the arena Saturday night, it seemed as if Pacquiao was the only one who thought it was time for him to go. (I know, I retired him myself in a column on Saturday morning. I reserve the columnist's privilege to change his mind).
Asked if he thought Pacquiao should retire, Bradley hardly waited for the questioner to finish before saying, "No. Manny Pacquiao shouldn't retire.''
Bradley's trainer Teddy Atlas, who seemed to take the defeat the hardest of anyone in the building, was effusive in his praise, saying, "Give Manny all the credit, Manny was terrific tonight.''
Freddie Roach, who has trained Pacquiao for 15 years, started out saying all the right things about supporting Manny's decision, but finally couldn't help but express his true feelings when he said, "I would like to see him fight again, yes."
Bradley, who was credited with a win over Pacquiao in their first fight in 2012 and lost a clear-cut decision in 2014, said this was the best Pacquiao he had faced yet.
"He was smarter than in the other two fights,'' Bradley said. "He was very patient. He was just waiting on me to make mistakes. He was quick. I wasn't able to get to him. When he made a mistake, he would correct it really quickly. I was a step behind him all night.''
In truth, Pacquiao started slowly -- I gave Bradley each of the first two rounds, mainly because of Manny's inactivity -- and for the first half of the fight he rarely showed himself to be the perpetual motion machine he had been against any opponent not named Floyd Mayweather.
But a sharp exchange of punches in the fifth round, started by a sharp Bradley right-left that snapped Pacquiao's head back, seemed to awaken the old Manny. Suddenly he was firing punches in combinations of three, four and occasionally five -- Roach said he would like to see seven, eight and nine next time -- and it soon became clear that his superior strength and punching power would carry the night.
A half-pinch, half-push caused Bradley's gloves to touch the canvas for a knockdown late in the seventh and Pacquiao went on to floor Bradley again in the ninth with a counter left to the head. After that, there was only one guy in the ring having any fun, and you know which one it was. Pacquiao won going away, 116-110 on all three scorecards.
Afterward, he spoke movingly of his dirt-poor childhood in Manila, of living in the street and subsisting on nothing but water and hope, which he found in boxing. He spoke of his desire to continue helping the underprivileged people of the Philippines, this time as a politician.
But Pacquiao really lit up when asked to describe what he liked about boxing.
"I love the fights,'' he said. "I love preparing for the fight. My body feels OK. I can still give a good fight.''
And asked to describe his worst moment in boxing, Pacquiao looked as perplexed as if his questioner were speaking Swahili.
"Worst moment?,'' he said. "There is no worst moment in boxing.''
Does that sound like a man ready to walk away from it all?
Manny Pacquiao will give this retirement thing a shot, because he told his family he would, and he is a man of his word.
But don't be surprised if it turns out to be areal short retirement because it's hard to imagine Pacquiao enjoying his life of leisure nearly as much as he has enjoyed his life of exquisite pain.