TWO SUPERSTAR ATHLETES: Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers (left) with the world’s best boxer Manny Pacquiao at the Wild Card gym.

It’s the curse of greatness that eventually, you are alone on the mountaintop.

For Manny Pacquiao, that moment is fast approaching, if not already here.

Juan Manuel Marquez may be the last worthy opponent for Pacquiao, the last one who will not be effusive in thanking him for a big payday, the last one who will not be overly friendly with the champ for giving him an opportunity just to be in the same ring with him.

The last one with an honest-to-goodness, deep-seated hostility towards the Pacman.

It has been Dinamita’s obsession to settle, once and for all, the questions that have been loudly asked in his head, most likely even when he sleeps. Is Pacquiao a better fighter, a more accomplished champion?

Some people have a hard time accepting reality.

Sadly, this fight comes a couple of years too late.

Things are no longer even between the two, and were only close to being that in their last fight.

In that bout, if you subtract the third-round knockdown Pacquiao dealt Marquez, it would have been a split draw, and the Mexican would still have been champion.

If not for that opportunity that the Filipino pounced in, would he have reached the heights he has reached that soon after?

And would Marquez have spent the last few years searching for an identity other than being a once-great champion whom Pacquiao defeated twice?

To be fair, Marquez had his shining moments after that emotional setback, too.

He brutally demolished Joel Casamayor, the feared Cuban executioner, in his first bout as a lightweight.

The bald former champion, who lorded his division for years, looked like someone carved his face with a butcher’s knife when Dinamita was done with him.

Next came two underwhelming fights with Juan Diaz.

In between came the farce against Floyd Mayweather, with Pretty Boy once again working around the rules to his unfair advantage.

The over-inflated Marquez was just not the same fighter, and put up a noble but ill-advised and mismatched fight.

Michael Katsidis was a good win for Marquez, but the Greek-Australian who fought in Cebu prior to meeting the Mexican, was not the spectacular fighter he was a couple of seasons before.

He was still hard-nosed, but this time, was outsmarted.

Sadly, it is the Mayweather fight that people remember, both for Floyd’s tactics and Marquez’s poor performance.

Years after their last meeting, a lot has taken place.

Will Marquez still be a physical match for Pacquiao?

Can he hurt Pacquiao as he did before?

Does he even have the speed to catch Pacquiao?

Or will he end up on the canvas, having blown his last chance to defeat his obsession?

Since their last fight, Pacquiao has been on to greater things, record-setting wins and titles.

The only often-ignored question about Pacquiao’s difficult, sterling wins are that they were catchweight fights wherein the bigger boxer was probably not be at his peak (but agreed to fight, anyway) and some of them were just after the money, some even sounding like grateful new hires just out of college.

Some acted like Olympic basketball players posing for pictures while guarding a member of the original Dream Team.

But again, that is the curse of greatness.

At his level, with his maturity, who else is left for Pacquiao?

The Mosley fight was a joke, and Margarito and Cotto came down in weight to meet Pacquiao.

As Michael Jordan asked after the Chicago Bulls’ first three-peat, what other motivation is there for Pacman?

Who else has the courage — and matching hostility — to fight him?

Who else would make it an indelible match, a real war?

Pacquiao’s clock is ticking, and he wants to keep busy in the time he has left.

He has too much pride to keep fighting on his way down.

He has done too much for the sport to tarnish his reputation that way.

But outside of Floyd Mayweather, who can find no way to control (fix) the outcome of a bout with Pacquiao, what other Moby Dicks are out there?

All the more reason Pacquiao-Marquez III will be important, and hopefully thrilling.

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