Manny Pacquiao defeated Brandon Rios by unanimous decision at The Venetian in Macau, China on Sunday. The dominant win sets up the most intriguing bout in boxing today, a rematch against undefeated welterweight Timothy Bradley.
Why? Because the winner of Pacquiao-Bradley is clearly the top contender in the world for Floyd Mayweather.
Whom should Manny Pacquiao fight next?
Pacquiao and Bradley previously met June 9, 2012 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. There were no knockdowns in the fight. Both men made it to the final bell. What happened after was borderline criminal.
Judges at ringside scored the bout for Bradley by split decision in a bout that wasn’t even really close. Jerry Roth scored the bout 115-113 for Pac-Man, but CJ Roth and Duane Ford both scored a win for Bradley, 115-113.
According to CompuBox, the Pacquiao held the clear edge in all meaningful punch statistics. Pacquiao out-landed Bradley 253-159 in total punches and had a 190-108 edge in power shots, too. Moreover, Pacquiao out-landed Bradley in 10 of the 12 rounds. It was a clear win for Pacquiao.
Perhaps most telling from the CompuBox reporter:
Taking a deeper look at the stats and the judges’ scorecards, Pacquiao had a 22-8 edge in total punches landed in round 5 and Ross and Ford gave that round to Bradley. Pacquaio had a 27-11 edge in total punches landed in round 7 and ALL 3 judges gave that round to Bradley.
It gets worse. According to RingTV.com’s Lem Satterfield, an informal survey by boxing writer Ryan Maquiñana of various media experts had Pacquiao the winner 48-3.
But since then, the two men's careers have taken different paths.
In December, Pacquiao was knocked out cold by rival Juan Manuel Marquez. It was his second official loss in as many fights.
Meanwhile, Bradley’s career has risen to new heights. The tough boxer eked out a fight-of-the-year candidate by a close decision against Ruslan Provodnikov on March 16, 2013, then outworked Juan Manuel Marquez to earn a split-decision victory in October.
Bradley is now ranked No. 3 on Bleacher Report’s pound-for-pound list, while Pacquiao sits at No. 5. Both would be compelling matchups for Pound for Pound king Mayweather.
But who would be favored in Pacquiao vs. Bradley rematch? It’s hard to say.
Sure, Pacquiao looked better back when the two met in 2012, but Bradley’s workman-like win over Marquez was impressive. He fought slick, smart and clearly outfought the proud Mexican.
Moreover, Bradley still hasn’t tasted defeat. He absolutely believes he defeated Pacquiao in the first fight, and he is clearly nearer the peak of his career.
Sure, Pac-Man looked fantastic against Rios, but that’s exactly what Top Rank, Bob Arum and team had in mind when they pitted him against Rios. While a solid fighter, Rios isn’t near elite-boxer level. He stands right in front of his opponents, has slow hands and feet, and relies on punching power more than artful skill.
In short, Rios was made to order for a fighter like Pacquiao. It showed in the bout, as Pacquiao won virtually every round against Rios with fast and powerful hands.
Pacquiao made Rios pay all night long. He looked as fast as ever, and clearly won the fight, but would he do the same against the ever-improving Bradley?
That is the question, and that’s exactly why Pacquiao-Bradley is the most intriguing fight in boxing today. At his best, Pacquiao would defeat Bradley. But Pacquiao, 34, may have slowed just enough for Bradley to catch up him.
But is Pacquiao still close to his best? Is Bradley better now than he’s ever been before? Would either man really stand a chance against Mayweather?
These are the questions that must be answered with Pacquiao-Bradley 2. The winner would be the clear choice to face Mayweather in 2014, and boxing is badly in need of another superfight before the 36-year-old Mayweather calls it a career.
Kelsey McCarson is a boxing writer for The Sweet Science and Bleacher Report. Follow him @KelseyMcCarson.