On Saturday, Nov. 23, Manny Pacquiao was successful in his return to the ring when he secured a unanimous decision victory over Brandon Rios. Live from Macau, China, Pacquiao won the WBO Welterweight title by dominating his opponent with an intriguing blend of power and precision.
The question on everyone's mind is simple: what does this victory mean for Pac-Man's future?
According to Dan Rafael of ESPN, the scorecards read 120-108, 119-109, 118-110 in Pacquiao's favor. Rafael reports that Pacquiao landed 281 punches while converting 38 percent of his attempts, while Rios tallied 138 on a 27 percent conversion rate.
It was another example of dominance and pure class by Pacquiao, who dedicated the fight to his home country of the Philippines.
So what does all of this mean?
Pacquiao is one of the most storied competitors in the history of professional boxing, and this victory displayed why. He took on a boxer who was aggressive throughout, and rather than allowing the trauma of a knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez to haunt him, he took control.
In turn, Pacquiao moved to 55-5-2 and salvaged his reputation as one of the best active boxers in the world.
Regardless of how this fight ended, Pacquiao's bout against Rios was essentially a tryout for a more high-profile opponent. The most plausible fighters for Pacquiao to face next are Timothy Bradley Jr., Adrien Broner and Juan Manuel Marquez.
The fact that Pacquiao dominated in his fight against Rios all but ensures that he'll be in a headline-stealing bout with long-term ramifications.
By fighting Rios, Pacquiao took on an opponent that would challenge him but didn't stand much of a chance at achieving victory. Pacquiao passed the test with flying colors, dominating for 12 rounds and rarely showing signs of weakness.
The next test will be for Pac-Man to go toe-to-toe with a genuine star.
The boxing community remains in anticipation of a fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Pacquiao, but that isn't the only option. Bradley Jr. and Broner are undefeated fighters on the rise, while the former and Marquez have earned victories over the Filipino superstar.
Rematches against those fighters would not only create extraordinary pay-per-view revenue, but it would offer Pacquiao an opportunity for redemption.
Broner is also an intriguing option. He enters his December bout with Marcos Maidana with an undefeated record of 27-0, and he currently owns the WBA Welterweight Championship, which offers the opportunity for unification.
If not Broner, Bradley Jr. or Marquez, then the ultimate question must be asked: what about Floyd?
Impact on Mayweather-Pacquiao
If Pacquiao were to face Bradley Jr., Broner or Marquez, there would inevitably be an intriguing clash of the modern day titans. For as promising as those bouts may be, there's no way around what remains as the preference of the boxing world.
Boxing fans want Mayweather versus Pacquiao.
It's hard to imagine that a victory over Rios has done enough for Pacquiao to move so far up the pound-for-pound rankings that a fight between he and Money is imminent. With all due respect to Rios, he was a tailor-made opponent for Pacquiao to defeat.
Who should Manny Pacquiao face next?
As a fighter who seeks contact, the boxing community essentially expected Pacquiao to earn a knockout victory over Rios. While he may not have ended the fight, Pac-Man maintained his dominance throughout the meeting.
Unfortunately for those who are anticipating a bout between Mayweather and Pacquiao, that doesn't make the dream any more realistic.
Mayweather is the pound-for-pound king of boxing. Regardless of whom he chooses to face, the pay-per-view revenue will be unparalleled, and the hype will equal that level.
As popular as Pacquiao may be, he simply hasn't done enough to prove he's ready to face Mayweather.
What Mayweather and the rest of the boxing community will need to see is Pacquiao earning a more significant win. He was coming off of a two-fight losing streak, but if he's able to defeat one of the previously listed fighters, then the dream of pitting Mayweather against Pacquiao would become legitimate.
Until then, Pacquiao's triumphant return has set himself up for a fight with a high-profile opponent. Just not Mayweather.