Ideal Next Opponents for Each of Boxing's Top Stars

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2013

Ideal Next Opponents for Each of Boxing's Top Stars

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    With the dust beginning to settle on this weekend's big fights in Las Vegas, boxing fans' attention now turns to what's next. And not just for the two fighters who shared the stage on Saturday. After all Floyd Mayweather might be the sports biggest star,  but he isn't its only star. 

    The sport is full of stars, some old and some new, and there are few things more likely to spark discussion and debate than attempting to find an ideal opponent for each. But that's exactly what we will try to do here.

    From the realistic to the absolute pipe dreams, these are the ideal opponents for each of boxing's top stars. Who should Mayweather face next? Is there a single compelling matchup for Wladimir Klitschko?

    Let the debate begin!!

Abner Mares

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    Abner Mares launched himself to superstardom with an impressive stoppage victory over Daniel Ponce de Leon on the Mayweather-Guerrero undercard. It was his first fight at featherweight and netted him the WBC title and showed he can be a force at 122 pounds.

    Mares made the jump in weight after pursuing, but failing, to secure a bout with Nonito Donaire to establish super bantamweight supremacy.  With rumors of Donaire possibly also jumping up in weight, after his disappointing loss to Guillermo Rigondeaux, this discussion could be reignited.

    And why not? Mares vs. Donaire is still the most exciting fight in the lower weight classes. Doesn't mean it will happen but it's the best fight out there for Mares to continue his rise.

Timothy Bradley

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    Timothy Bradley will seek to finally cash in on his win over Manny Pacquiao when he faces Juan Manuel Marquez in September. It has been a rough year for "Desert Storm" who was out of the ring for nine months and suffered great criticism for getting a win most felt he didn't deserve. 

    This situation has obviously played out in less than ideal fashion for Bradley who sought out but was denied a Pacquiao rematch. That was obviously the biggest money and highest profile fight. 

    And despite Marquez's recent jump in status and popularity, he has never shown the ability to draw on his own and neither has Bradley. That's why this fight is exciting, but in an ideal situation, Bradley should be facing Pacquiao.

Nonito Donaire

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    It wasn't shocking that Nonito Donaire lost to Guillermo Rigondeaux at Radio City Music Hall last month. The shock was how one sided it was, given how impressive the "Filipino Flash" had looked in his most recent fights.

    Donaire was simply too inactive and never able to crack Rigo's defensive guard or force the fight into his comfort zone. The scorecards were far closer than the action in the ring and gave the impression this was a close fight when it wasn't.

    So where does Donaire go from here? A move to featherweight has been rumored for some time, and there the ideal fight would be Abner Mares. Mares holds a belt at 122 pounds, has a style more fitting to excitement and the two have unfinished business.

Wladimir Klitschko

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    The heavyweight division was once the glamour division in boxing. But that hasn't been true in quite a while. The lack of depth and any serious challengers have left us nothing but retreads, nobodies and no-hopers to face the dominant Klitschko brothers.

    In case you missed it, this past weekend Wladimir Klitschko successfully defended his titles for the 14th time, knocking out unknown Francesco Pianeta in the sixth round of another woefully lopsided affair.

    Unfortunately for fans, the ideal match for Wlad is older brother Vitali and both are on record as saying that will never happen. Other than that, there really aren't any compelling matches out there for either of the brothers.

Guillermo Rigondeaux

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    Even among those who felt Guillermo Rigondeaux would beat Nonito Donaire, there were few who felt it wouldn't be competitive. But it wasn't, as Rigo outboxed Donaire from Round 1 and didn't allow him into the fight save for a late knockdown.

    Lost in the defensive clinic put on by the Cuban former amateur standout is his ability to punch with power when he wants to hurt his opponent. For his next foe, he will want someone that can press him. And he will want that because action sells and even with the big win Rigo did nothing to enhance his marketability. 

    With most of the action now at featherweight, a jump seems logical and he would find an ideal match with Abner Mares. The Mexican warrior will press Rigo in a way Donaire didn't. He will attack and force Rigo to do the same.

    That fight has action written all over it.

Sergio Martinez

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    It might be a little early to write off Sergio Martinez after his less-than-impressive decision win over Martin Murray on April 27, but the writing is on the wall. He's 38 years old, will again miss the rest of the year with a knee injury and looked nothing like the fighter who easily handled Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. in September.

    You can blame it on age or the weather or the pressure of fighting home in Argentina. Or perhaps Murray is just underrated. But either way Sergio wasn't himself and likely doesn't have a ton of time left. 

    A rematch with Chavez has been discussed but now put off due to injury. But we saw that show once and it was very average at best. Besides, the biggest threat no longer comes from JCC but from GGG.

    Gennady Golovkin is a punching machine and possibly the next big thing at middleweight. It could be a passing of the torch type fight or the champ could turn back the clock one more time. Either way, bring it on.

Manny Pacquiao

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    Manny Pacquiao will return to the ring on Nov. 23 in China against Brandon Rios. It will be our first chance to see what he has left after a stunning sixth-round knockout at the hands of his rival Juan Manuel Marquez in December.

    In fighting Rios, he will face a hard-charging young slugger with heart and something to prove. It's not a cakewalk or tune-up by any means and poses significant risk of a third straight defeat.

    Even though we've seen it four times, there is no more ideal opponent for Pacquiao than Marquez. It provides a chance to avenge the most spectacular loss of his career and silence the naysayers who claim he can't beat his foe. 

    If both Pacquiao and Marquez win their fall bouts, no guarantee, this is clearly the ideal fight for both.

Juan Manuel Marquez

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    Juan Manuel Marquez accomplished a lot in his Dec. 9 victory over Manny Pacquiao. It was the first truly decisive outcome of the series and showed that Marquez is still elite at the age of 40. In many ways the outcome validated his career.

    He will face Timothy Bradley in September in a match of Pacquiao conquerors with the WBO welterweight title on the line. The fight carries some intrigue but could be a tough sell on pay-per-view.

    In some circles Marquez has been criticized for turning down a fifth match with Manny Pacquiao. The logic goes that the Pac-Man granted Marquez three additional cracks at the prize and the favor wasn't returned.

    Should both win their matches in the fall the public will demand a fifth fight. It will give Marquez a chance to show his win wasn't a fluke and Pacquiao a chance to even the score.

Andre Ward

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    Andre Ward is so good and so talented that he has run out of guys to fight. He has beaten virtually all challengers at super middleweight and holds a victory over the recognized light heavyweight champion. The lack of attractive fights is troubling and could become a problem when Ward returns from a shoulder injury.

    It's not even so much that Ward has beaten everyone—it's how dominant he's been. Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler are next in line to Ward at 168 pounds and beat both handily.  

    So how about a match with the elder statesman of the sport and its ageless wonder Bernard Hopkins? The two have said no in the past but in boxing things change and money talks. Hopkins showed he still has it in his March win over Tavoris Cloud and is still a very credible opponent. And that's something Ward needs. Let's get it on.

Floyd Mayweather

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    With his win over Robert Guerrero now in the rear-view mirror, the sport now awaits the next man to say he has the stuff to beat Floyd Mayweather. Whoever gets the opportunity will certainly feel they will be different than the 43 who have tried before them. But boxing fans will take a "believe it when they see it" approach. And you can't blame them.

    If the May Day PPV didn't meet its lofty buy expectations, it's possible that Showtime, who shelled out huge money to steal Mayweather from rival HBO, could insist on a fight with Saul "Canelo" Alvarez in the fall.

    Alvarez is one of the sports fastest rising young stars and has a huge fan following. Many consider him a huge threat to Mayweather because of his size and punching power. This match makes sense from a financial standpoint and would be Floyd's biggest challenge in some time.