In boxing today, you can broadly categorize fighters into two distinct categories.
You're either Floyd Mayweather, or you desperately want to fight him.
Getting a chance to square off with boxing's pound-for-pound king is the surest ticket to fame and fortune that exists in the sweet science. It's the equivalent of hitting the lottery, and for virtually all fighters, it represents a chance at a record payday and a record level of exposure to a mainstream audience.
It's a win-win situation, until you add your name to the list along with the other 44 men (he's 45-0 but beat Jose Luis Castillo twice) who have tried and failed to snatch the coveted zero from the resume of Grand Rapids, Mich.'s favorite son.
But before all that happens, at least you get a nice, fat check and the chance of a lifetime.
With four fights remaining on his exclusive deal with Showtime, Mayweather has already announced plans to fight twice in 2014—reportedly May 3 and Sept. 13—and then tie up his business with the network with two more contests in 2015.
After his dominant victory over Saul "Canelo" Alvarez this past September, he once again reiterated his desire to walk away from the sport at the conclusion of his current contract, but should he remain undefeated, it's hard to see how he doesn't stage at least one more fight.
That would put him at 49-0, and there would be a certain allure to finishing up a career with 50 victories against no defeats.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The calendar is about to turn to 2014, and the Mayweather sweepstakes are already well underway. We've heard plenty of speculation in recent weeks about who the potential lottery winners could be, but not enough about who they should be.
We should only need one disclaimer here before moving forward.
Enough has been written about a potential Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao clash to last more than a few lifetimes. You will find no more of that here, but instead, the focus will be on bouts that actually have a chance of happening in the new year.
In all likelihood, Mayweather will enter 2014 having to choose between former junior welterweight champion Amir Khan and newly crowned WBA welterweight champion Marcos Maidana for his first of two dates in May.
He even took the time over the holidays to use social media to troll Maidana:
Can I please order a one-piece with a biscuit? No sides. pic.twitter.com/nG7QtdBbAj— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) December 26, 2013
Just imagine what Amir "Con Artist" will get if his name gets picked in the Mayweather sweepstakes pic.twitter.com/WL4rBB1UU3— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) December 26, 2013
And even Pacquiao for good measure:
… Now you’re telling me I got to eat Juan Marquez’s leftovers? Let me talk to the IRS about this… pic.twitter.com/Tmf9oqTbFP— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) December 26, 2013
Showtime executive vice president Stephen Espinoza—who pulled off the coup of the year when he snagged Mayweather from HBO—recently said he expects an announcement sometime in mid-to-late January, and that no foe has yet been selected.
He did, however, specifically mention both Maidana and Khan as distinct possibilities.
Up until Dec. 14, it seemed that Khan had a lock on the fight, but given Maidana's impressive performance in defeating Adrien Broner, Mayweather himself has pointed him out as possibly having jumped the line for a shot at him.
And the reality of the situation is that he should have.
Maidana is a tough customer, and he turned in the performance of his career in lifting his first title at welterweight and the second of his career from "The Problem."
In terms of recent performances alone, Maidana is a far more credible opponent than Khan. He's won four straight fights—since dropping his welterweight debut against Devon Alexander in early 2012—and did so against quality opponents.
In that stretch, he defeated Broner and survived two absolute wars with Josesito Lopez and Jesus Soto Karass.
You can, correctly, argue that none of those guys are remotely close to the orbit of Mayweather, but those victories were impressive nonetheless. And he overcame a great deal of adversity to win all of them.
With Maidana, you'd also have the added elements of it being a unification bout—both men hold belts at 147 pounds—and Floyd looking to avenge his protege's first loss. You know, show the kid how it's done.
Unlike Canelo, and potentially Khan, the Argentine's biggest potential drawback is his lack of demonstrated ability—thus far—to bring a loyal fan following along with him to his fights. That could obviously change in the wake of his recent championship win, and Argentina is known as a country that supports its fighters.
If business is conducted on the merits, you can't go wrong with arguing for Maidana getting the first bite at the "Money" apple in May of next year.
But—assuming Floyd gets past the rugged Argentine—who gets the second shot?
Logic would dictate, if Maidana is the first challenger, that Khan would be the next.
Looking at it from a purely marketing standpoint, there is an awful lot to like about the 27-year-old Brit. He's a household name—both in the United States and internationally—he has a huge fan following and he has the brash personality that would make for an intriguing promotion.
As for his in-ring credentials, however, things start to get a little—possibly a lot—dicey.
Khan has lost two of his past four fights.
He dropped a controversial decision to Lamont Peterson—which, in truth, had it not been for shady officiating, he probably would've won—and then got shelled by Danny Garcia.
In his two fights since, he's beaten the unheralded Carlos Molina (not the current junior middleweight belt-holder) and barely survived against a Julio Diaz who hasn't been a major factor since 2007.
In the latter fight, Khan was dropped in the fourth round and captured a narrow decision.
None of that says he's ready for Mayweather.
Based on hype and reputation, there was a point where this had dream fight written all over it, but in the right here, right now, you cannot make a compelling case that Khan is a credible foe.
He was originally scheduled to face Devon Alexander for the IBF Welterweight Championship in December, but he pulled out of the fight, presumably to lessen the risk and chase Mayweather.
That bout instead went to Shawn Porter, who beat Alexander and captured the title. Had that been Khan instead, he might have placed himself in position to better argue on the merits that he deserves this shot.
It's interesting that a fighter like Mayweather, who values in-ring accomplishments and weighs a fighter's worthiness, would attempt to sell this as a credible option at this stage.
Now, none of that is to say that Khan can't become credible. He can, and he can do it in a hurry.
But to do so, he'll need to go through an old foe and settle a score.
What Mayweather should do is fight Maidana in May, and on the undercard—or as its own headlining Showtime fight—Khan should get a second shot at Garcia, the reigning junior welterweight champion, with the winner securing a September pay-per-view date with the pound-for-pound king.
If Khan is able to even the score with Garcia—in what would have to be considered a pretty significant upset—then he would become an infinitely more credible opponent. "Swift" is one of boxing's fastest rising young stars, and he's been mentioned as a possible future Mayweather foe as well.
Garcia has been unwilling to join the chorus of Mayweather call-outs in the past, and he has instead maintained that he wants any and all good fights, whether that means Floyd or not.
But the groundswell for him will only get bigger as the potential list of credible opponents dwindles. He's the current junior welterweight champion—and clearly showed he's the man at 140 pounds by beating Lucas Matthysse—and he has all sorts of star potential.
A rematch with Khan has been discussed for a while now. It makes perfect sense to stage that fight, while at the same time, significantly raising the stakes.
There are no losers, and the winner gets to cash in a lottery ticket by taking part in the biggest event of the boxing year in the fall of next year.