He came. He saw. He conquered.
And now that Manny Pacquiao’s comeback fight with Brandon Rios—which he won by a near scorecard shutout early Sunday morning in China—is in the rearview mirror, the boxing world can go back to one of its favorite distractions from before the eight-division champ’s impromptu two-fight skid:
Forecasting whom Bob Arum will pull from his sleeve as the Filipino’s next foil.
The options—just as they’d been before Pacquiao lost debatably to Timothy Bradley and convincingly to Juan Manuel Marquez—are plentiful. And there’s sure to be no shortage of wannabes from 135 to 154 pounds who’ll stake a claim as the most logical next in line for the refurbished 34-year-old.
Arum said in the run-up to the Rios event that a victorious Pacquiao would fight twice in 2014, perhaps back in China or at a number of other possible locations—including AT&T Stadium (formerly Cowboys Stadium) in Texas or sites in Mexico or Canada.
He defeated Joshua Clottey and Antonio Margarito by lopsided decisions at the Cowboys’ facility in 2010 and has also fought in San Antonio twice, as well as other American venues in Nevada (15 times), California (three times) and Tennessee (one time). Outside the U.S., he’s fought in his native Philippines 35 times, in Japan once and in Thailand twice.
Here are a handful that we selected as possible foes—some more plausible so than others, given the reality of network rivalries, promotional conflicts and other signature boxing wranglings.
Take a look and let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Record: 55-7-1, 40 KO
Credentials: Held titles at 126, 130 and 135 pounds; defeated Pacquiao (KO 6) in 2012
OK, we’ve all heard the quotes and read the stories. Juan Manuel Marquez has moved on. Juan Manuel Marquez proved his point. Juan Manuel Marquez will never fight Pacquiao again.
No one’s going to call the 40-year-old Mexican a liar. And even if we were, we sure as heck wouldn’t do it to his face. But in a sport crammed full of revisionist call-outs and reneged retirements, would it really shock anyone six months from now if Pacquiao and his already four-time foil were on stage at a press conference promoting a finale called “Once and For All”?
What better way to prove the Filipino is all the way back than a convincing defeat of his most chronic rival? And what better send-off, in lieu of a gold watch, than for Arum to arrange a lucrative match for Marquez in Mexico City to reward him for years of meritorious service.
Unlikely? Perhaps. But impossible? No way.
Record: 45-0, 26 KO
Credentials: Title belts in five weight divisions; consensus acclaim as world’s best fighter
If you want to start a heated debate—and perhaps a full-on rumble—between boxing fans, toss out an opinion on who’ would win a superfight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao in their primes.
Then again, you can get just as big a battle going if you lean one way or the other when it comes to issuing blame as to why the big fight never came off.
But who knows?
Recent, recurring vibes emanating from Arum indicate the biggest match of a generation is still possible if both men want it. And considering the number they have each done on every other big name of their era—Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Marquez—it still makes complete sense, even if they’re both closer to retirement age than prime performance.
Until one of them hangs up the gloves for good, it'll always be tops on many wish lists.
Record: 23-2, 16 KO
Credentials: Reigning WBO 140-pound regular champion; floored Tim Bradley in 2012 loss
You’d be hard-pressed to find a fighter who had a better .500 year than Ruslan Provodnikov.
At this time in 2012, the 29-year-old Russian had beaten the likes of David Torres and Jose Reynoso while playing the not-so-big rooms in outposts like Airway Heights, Wash. and Corona, Calif. He was on the verge of being fed to Bradley for what was supposed to be a resume-padding walkthrough for the then-new WBO welterweight champ.
Instead, in 12 months and 22 violently grinding rounds since, Provodnikov has become the darling of the blue-collar, lunchpail set.
Seven months after pushing Bradley to the limit at 147, he beat the mettle out of Mike Alvarado in the favorite’s hometown to win a second-tier WBO belt at 140. As a result, he put himself on Arum’s radar when it comes to making a fight that’ll titillate fans and attract television cameras.
Trainer Freddie Roach would have to sever ties with one of the two men to make it happen, but even he concedes that the likelihood is there.
Record: 31-0, 12 KO
Credentials: Reigning WBO 147-pound champion; beat Pacquiao by split decision in 2012
In the days immediately following Bradley’s split-decision win over Manny Pacquiao, few were calling for a rematch of a fight that most thought the official loser had won comfortably. But as is so often the case in boxing, the script has been flipped.
Previously branded as a boring counterpuncher, Bradley turned fan favorite with a stirring defeat of Ruslan Provodnikov in his first defense of Pacquiao’s title. He then gathered back a satchel-full of street cred with a skillful exhibition against Juan Manuel Marquez in October.
Taken together, the wins have boosted him to a level he hadn’t even reached when he met Pacquiao the first time. He's now the most deserving candidate for an in-ring audience with Top Rank’s top star.
Now that he’s a top-five commodity in most legitimate pound-for-pound rankings and has established something at least resembling a welterweight resume, the versatile Californian seems to be at the top of both Arum’s and Pacquiao’s wish lists for a spring 2014 do-over.
And, given the acumen he showed in frustrating Marquez, he'll have a lot more believers the second time around.