Manny Pacquiao returned to form in 2013 with a one-sided shellacking of former lightweight titlist Brandon Rios on November 24 in Macau, China.
Coming back to the ring after a year-long layoff following a Round 6 knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez on December 8, 2012, the Pacman, against a tough but overmatched Rios, was once again everything fight fans want him to be—blindingly fast, deadly accurate and absurdly powerful.
Now that he’s back in the win column, Pacquiao seems to have set his sights on fighting either Timothy Bradley or Ruslan Provodnikov next.
According to Bad Left Hook’s Scott Christ, Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum and manager Michael Koncz were hammering out a decision and a deal earlier this week:
It's down to two: Timothy Bradley or Ruslan Provodnikov will be the opponent for Manny Pacquiao on April 12, when Manny returns to the ring on HBO pay-per-view and comes back to Las Vegas most likely. Promoter Bob Arum will meet in Los Angeles with Pacquiao's chief adviser Michael Koncz tomorrow, and the two hope to finalize a deal.
While a deal hasn’t yet been announced, it seems very likely Pacquiao will indeed pick either Bradley or Provodnikov for his next bout.
Both potential matchups would garner immense interest.
Bradley defeated Pacquiao in a heavily disputed 2012 fight most everyone else in the world saw as a clear Pacquiao victory. Could Pacquiao get his revenge over a Bradley who seems to have improved even more as a fighter since the two last met? Or would Bradley once again appear unwilling or unable to trade with the faster and more powerful Pacquiao?
Meanwhile, Provodnikov is a former Pacquiao sparring partner who’s now made a name for himself as a brutalizing brawler. He was edged out by Bradley in a Fight of the Year contender in 2012 and has the ability to knock a man out with a single blow. Provodnikov knocked out tough guy Mike Alvarado last year in front of the Coloradoan’s home crowd. But could Provodnikov outslug the preeminent offensive fighter in the game? Or would Pacquiao annihilate him the way he has just about every other brawler he’s ever faced?
Both narratives are easy sells to the boxing public and would be slam-dunk promotions for Top Rank. But which fighter would actually give Pacquiao a better fight?
While Provodnikov might offer a more scintillating showcase of two fighters with great offenses who absolutely love to fight, the truth of the matter is that he would fair quite poorly against Pacquiao on fight night.
Despite the adage, one does not actually fight fire with fire, trying to outslug Pacquiao while standing in his punching range is a fool’s errand.
Sure, the rounds would be fun for however long they lasted, but Pacquiao is just too fast, too strong and too skilled for a fighter like Provodnikov. He’d cut Provodnikov into pieces and stop him, or he’d dominate almost every round on his way to a one-sided 12-round decision win.
But Bradley offers so much more.
First, Bradley has established himself as one of the best welterweights in the world. He’s ranked No. 2 at 147 according to the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (TBRB). Pacquiao is ranked No. 4.
Moreover, Bradley is rated highly on most legitimate pound-for-pound lists. The TBRB ranks Bradley No. 3 in the world behind only Floyd Mayweather and Andre Ward. Pacquiao is ranked No. 5.
Despite close and controversial fights, Bradley remains undefeated and most recently completed one of the more outstanding years in the sport. Wins over Provodnikov and Juan Manuel Marquez made him a viable Fighter of the Year candidate as well as showcased his skill as an elite competitor.
More importantly, though, his continued growth as a fighter, shown most recently in his dispatching of the dangerous and cagey Marquez, have made a rematch with Pacquiao one of the most interesting fights in boxing that can be made.
While Pacquiao most assuredly got the better of Bradley in everyone’s eyes but the judges last time out, the Pacquiao that would fight Bradley in 2014 is not the same man as the 2012 version. This Pacquiao has suffered a devastating knockout loss. This Pacquiao is older, slower and less powerful.
And Bradley isn’t the same either. Where he appeared tentative at times during the 2012 bout, this version of Bradley would have a plan. This one would be ready.
All in all, the only fight that makes sense for Pacquiao right now is Bradley. In fact, it’s the fight that makes the most sense for everyone else involved, too—Bradley, Top Rank and, most importantly, fight fans.
Kelsey McCarson, a member of the TBRB, is a boxing writer for Bleacher Report and TheSweetScience.com.