If everything goes according to the script that’s been set out, Manny Pacquiao should know his next foe by the end of this coming weekend.
On Saturday night, longtime Pacquiao rival Juan Manuel Marquez returns to the ring, facing former 140-pound champion Mike Alvarado in a WBO eliminator for the right to become mandatory challenger for the welterweight crown.
Pacquiao regained that title in April, settling an old wrong against the then-undefeated Timothy Bradley Jr. by capturing a deserved unanimous decision at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
The fight, which was more competitive and exciting than the first affair, was nonetheless a bust at the box office. ESPN.com reported that it generated fewer pay-per-view buys than their first bout.
But is that a good thing?
Both potential opponents have obvious pros and cons.
Pacquiao and Marquez have engaged in one of the highest-profile rivalries in boxing history. Their feud has spanned four fights, more than a decade and a fifth bout has been discussed since the night of Dec. 8, 2012, when the Mexican legend’s missile right hand in Round 6 knocked his foe out cold.
The fight was clearly the best of the series.
Both men hit the canvas, attacked with abandon, and Pacquiao seemed on the verge of his own decisive stamp when Marquez turned the tables with one sudden, devastating punch.
The shocking nature of the ending reverberated throughout the sports world, generating massive buzz in social media, spawning dozens of Internet memes and calling into serious question whether or not Pacquiao would be able to recover and fight another day.
It’s very easy for fans to get lost in the shock of that moment—even as some time has now passed—and forget all that came before it.
The 36 rounds that preceded Pacquiao-Marquez IV were an oft-jumbled mess. Many were devoid of any compelling action, and you can count on one hand the number that were decisively won by either man.
Now, that’s not to say that a fifth bout wouldn’t have its fair share of intrigue. The storylines would practically write themselves.
Could Marquez pull it off again?
Would Pacquiao be gun-shy given what happened to him last fight? Could he finally put his own decisive mark on the rivalry, proving he can beat Marquez without controversy?
And then there are the historical implications of this fight.
Marquez is a four-division world champion. No Mexican fighter in boxing history has ever won titles in five weight divisions—something he would accomplish by getting by Alvarado and then taking down Pacquiao for a second time.
He’s also a big draw, with legions of rabid Mexican fight fans behind him. That might be the most important part of this equation.
Pacquiao’s rematch with Bradley exceeded the first fight in many ways. The fight itself was more exciting and competitive. Pacquiao showed that he could still best a world-class opponent, and Bradley proved he belongs in the ring with the finest pound-for-pound fighters in the sport.
But it just didn’t sell, at least not on PPV. The fight came in somewhere between 750,000 and 800,000 buys, and however you slice it, those numbers are a big disappointment.
ESPN.com (h/t MMA Payout) indicates that in his two most recent contests with Marquez, Pacquiao was over 1,000,000 buys—1.25 million for the third bout and 1.15 million for the fourth. That's a number he hasn’t sniffed since.
You can bank on that magical mark being eclipsed should the two men meet again, especially given the circumstances that surrounded their last fight as well as Marquez’s fanbase and proven ability to draw.
Unlike Bradley and Brandon Rios―the last two PPV foes for the Pac-Man—Dinamita is a draw on his own. Not only will he pack the arena, but he’ll also help line the pockets of Pacquiao and the suits at Top Rank by driving sales on television.
Sounds like the perfect case for a no-brainer fight, right?
Again, yes and no.
Even the best shows can get stale. They jump the shark. They lose the magic.
For all the storylines, many of which are truly interesting and compelling, we’ve seen this show before.
We’ve seen it four times, and short of Round 1 in the first fight—where Marquez was down three times before rallying for a disputed draw—and Round 6 in the fourth fight, very little has separated these two men.
It just doesn’t feel fresh anymore. It feels routine, boring perhaps, and that’s never a good thing when it comes to a major boxing event.
So what about Alvarado? What does he bring to the table?
As a foe for Pacquiao, Alvarado has one major advantage. He’s a tough, dangerous former world champion, but most importantly, he’s new.
Four of Pacquiao’s last five fights have come against the same two men—Bradley and Marquez—and the fifth was a comeback affair against the terribly overmatched Rios.
You can easily make the case that the Filipino’s sagging PPV numbers are a function of a fanbase tired of seeing the same fights over and over again.
Alvarado solves that problem, for sure, but that’s unfortunately where the pros end.
A win over Marquez—the only way he lands the Pacquiao fight—would obviously give him an instant injection of credibility at the top level of boxing, but how many fans are clamoring for this fight?
Alvarado is an exciting fighter, and he wants to be great. However, he seems like one of those guys who will always operate just a notch or two below that true elite level. He’s not going to move the needle on PPV, and his two losses have come against fighters who attacked him with a relentless vigor.
Even in a somewhat diminished state, Pacquiao still attacks with the best of them. He can be overwhelming, popping fast, crisp punches with ferocity from different angles.
His offensive attack is light-years more refined than the crudeness of both Rios and Ruslan Provodnikov, and both of those guys not only got to Alvarado, they stopped him.
As reported by Yahoo! Sports' Martin Rogers, Arum—who promotes Pacquiao, Marquez and Alvarado, among others—recently made news by railing against high-profile mismatches at the top of PPV cards. It might be unfair to call this a mismatch, but many fans simply won’t view the Colorado native as a threat.
That means Pacquiao-Alvarado would be an eminently tough sell, and it would likely find itself in Macau as a way of mitigating the need for solid PPV numbers in order to maximize revenues for the fighter.
Talk about some doom-and-gloom prognostications, right?
But these are the realities of the sport, and they’re not changing any time in the near future—if ever.
Given the obvious pros and cons of each potential fight, you’d have to think that Pacquiao and his team are pulling hard for a Marquez victory on Saturday night. While the match has its flaws, which we’ve covered extensively, it’s a still a much bigger fight with far fewer pitfalls.
Is it the best option? That depends on your perspective.
If you want drama, a chance at history and the revisiting of one of boxing’s great rivalries, then this is your fight.
If you want something new, Marquez certainly isn’t the guy. That marker falls squarely in the Alvarado column.
If you want something both new and compelling, though, you should be looking in the direction of the Siberian Rocky—even if that doesn’t seem in the cards just yet.