Lawyer Franklin ‘Jeng’ Gacal Jr and I chanced upon each other during our joint 35th Reunion on December 29.  Expectedly, our conversation centered on his favorite client, Rep. Manny Pacquiao.

It looks like it is almost certain Pacquiao won’t fight until after the May elections this year.

Although Team Pacquiao is definite the fighting Sarangani congressman will be back in the ring this year, it is also still clueless who will be his next fight.

Some are clamoring a fifth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez who knocked out Pacquiao cold in the 6th round last December.

Among the other names being floated is undefeated super lightweight Brandon Rios, a former lightweight champion.

Jeng however doubts if Rios is a wise choice for a comeback fight for Pacquiao.

“May suntok.  Baka hindi pa naka-recover fully si Manny,” Jeng said.  (Rios packs a punch.  Manny might not have yet fully recovered.)

But he agrees that Pacquiao was not thoroughly outclassed to be considered a wash out fighter.

In fact, Pacquiao was on his way to a resounding victory until he walked into the thunderous right of Marquez.

Kuha na ni Manny ‘yun sa (Manny would have gotten him the) next two rounds,” he said.

Indeed, Pacquiao got careless going for the kill.

Marquez was breathing heavily from the mouth after his nose was broken.  The Mexican was on queer streets the moment he dropped on his knees in the fifth round while Manny was again fresh after a freak knockdown in the third round.

In my November 17 and 21, 2012 pieces of this long-running column dedicated to Pacquiao’s boxing saga, I warned Team Pacquiao that Marquez will be waiting in ambush and he did just that.

Pacquiao was doing good in the first two rounds.  He was picking his shots from all angles as he used his lateral movements to keep Marquez off balanced.  Until a fluke overhead right from Marquez caught him in the third while he was backpedalling.  For the first time in more than seven years, Pacquiao hit the canvass.

That knockdown woke up the old ferocity in Pacquiao as he came back smoking in the third round where he administered Marquez yet another knockdown in their storied rivalry.  He became aggressive and had Marquez’ numbers after that.  In the sixth, he was going for the kill unmindful that there was no time left.  The rest, so they say, is history.

In the aftermath, many are calling on Pacquiao to consider retirement after that KO loss.  Nobody wants to see Pacquiao being battered again by Marquez or any other young and rising boxing sensation.  Like me, many hate to see him end up as boxing’s trialhorse or journeyman.  Of course, that won’t happen.  But unlike many, I was already calling on Pacquiao to retire the moment he joined politics or, more specifically, when he won as congressman from Sarangani.

Is Pacquiao already a shot fighter after the KO loss to Marquez?  No, by all means Pacquiao is not yet a washed out fighter.

Will Pacquiao be able to bounce back?  Of course he will.  But the window for yet another winning run like after his knockout losses to Rustico Torrecampo and Medgeon Singsurat or even the unanimous decision defeat to Erik Morales is slowly closing.

Pacquiao will need at least three convincing victories against quality opponents to prove that he can still duke it out with the rest of the guys.  Those three victories may not be easy to find.

But with Pacquiao, everything is unpredictable.