Assuming Manny Pacquiao gets past Shane Mosley on May 7, the looming question in the boxing world will be: Who's next? The Pacquiao pattern the last couple years has been a spring fight and a fall fight (around mid-November). Who will have the honor of being Pac-Man's November opponent?
Of course there's a bigger question in boxing, one inexorably tied to Manny's "next opponent" for the last couple years, one that will always be linked to Manny until that "superfight" with a ticking shelf-life gets made.
I will ignore that issue: Mayweather/Pacquiao is a total enigma that has already been beaten to death many times. Ruling out Floyd is the first step in deciphering the identity of the next character to grace the ring with the Filipino superstar. It does not appear likely to happen this November. I hope I'm wrong.
And considering the infamous Top Rank-Golden Boy feud appears to be on full boil, we can rule out that stable of fighters, including Amir Khan (who won't ever fight Manny anyway), Canelo Alvarez, Robert Guerrero, Marcos Maidana and the most Golden of them all right now, newly anointed Ring magazine No. 3 welterweight contender (behind only Manny and Floyd, one spot ahead of Mosley) and WBC champion Victor Ortiz.
It would appear that Bob Arum has no reason to break the impasse, from an economic standpoint, unless an extremely lucrative Mayweather fight is an option.
Juan Manuel Marquez is another enigma, still working out some contract issues with Golden Boy.
With Marquez and his contract status up in the air, and the only reliable rumors pointing to a Zab Judah fight in July, it's tough to pencil him in for a fall date with Pacquiao. Last year, Margarito was announced as Pacquiao's November opponent on July 23.
In light of Bradley/Khan and potentially Marquez/Judah taking place in late July, the Pacquiao team should of course wait for those results, as Bradley and Marquez would both be options to fight Manny if they win those fights.
Is Marquez/Pacquiao III a big enough fight for Golden Boy and Top Rank to make peace, if Juan Manuel stays with Oscar De La Hoya and company? I would think so. But that's a hard one to bank on.
Miguel Cotto would be the most likely Top Rank fighter to take on Pacquiao, but he appears destined to meet Antonio Margarito first, reportedly around September. Will he be able to come back two months later and fight Pacquiao in the biggest fight of his life? Not a chance.
The path for Cotto to fight Manny is to thoroughly trounce Margarito and hope that Pacquiao is free next spring. If Mayweather is still unavailable, Miguel Cotto will get his rematch then.
With all these guys out, who are we left with?
Manny Pacquiao may be the most thrilling, dynamic fighter in the sport, in his prime and we're left watching him beat up on a decrepit Antonio Margarito and probably do the same to a very likable but faded legend, Shane Mosley. Who's next?
Kermit Cintron, the newest member of the Arum posse, may end up being the guy.
He's still the No. 2 guy at 154. And it's a decent gage for a Sergio Martinez-Manny Pacquiao fight, which is still a pipe-dream, but a noble one. But...Cintron's latest effort was of course the fly-out-of-the-ring move against Paul Williams in a fight that made Bradley-Alexander seem satisfying.
It wasn't Cintron's fault, but it also wasn't the kind of electrifying performance you would expect from a challenger to the top throne in boxing. Victor Ortiz is more deserving right now than Kermit Cintron, and most people, Emmanuel Steward notwithstanding, find the notion of Pacquiao-Ortiz laughable.
The other option that will emerge is Timothy Bradley if he beats Amir Khan. He would definitely have a worthy claim, with a shortage of other options, to step in the ring with Pac-Man. How he would do in that ring is another story.
With his heart of a lion, I fear Bradley would take the beating of his life. After Khan's dreadful performance against McCloskey, I am almost leaning towards Timmy in the battle for 140 lb. supremacy. I have long believed Khan's total package and superior boxing skills would edge out Bradley over the course of twelve rounds.
After seeing that dud on Saturday from London and watching Erik Morales go toe-to-toe with Maidana, who badly wounded Khan in the last rounds of their scrap, I'm not so sure. Amir Khan is very mechanical, which is why his technique is so polished and sound. He doesn't often deviate from the script, and against a guy with the furious determination of Bradley, that could be his demise.
If Bradley topples Khan he will earn a ton of respect and become a unified champion, but perhaps more importantly, I think he's due to become a free-agent promoter-wise, probably the most attractive target outside of one of his own fighters for the crafty Bob Arum.
The dream option would be Sergio Martinez. They are two of the three best fighters in the world right now, and neither man is getting any younger. It would seem to be, while a complete physical mismatch, an action-packed battle for as long as it goes, and you cannot underestimate Manny's speed, the biggest tool for any little man.
While Sergio is exceptionally fast at his weight, he's never chased around anyone nearly as fast as Manny Pacquiao, nor as feisty, throwing barrages of little daggers at every turn. And Manny has a solid chin. And something beating inside his chest that's pretty large too.
How would he handle the power of a true middleweight? He took some shots from Cotto and Margarito, guys just a bit smaller than Martinez, and handled himself pretty well.
I don't think Manny should by any means feel pressured to make that fight happen. He may have simply reached his limit, weight-wise. Despite my not discounting Pacquiao out of a fight with Sergio by any means, I suspect Martinez would brutally stop the pound-for-pound king if they ever do meet. But with Manny Pacquiao, I also expect to be amazed.
If he engaged Sergio in a war and came out victorious, it would slam shut the mouths of Pac-Man's harshest critics (or Mayweather for that matter, if he beat Sergio). But as I said, it's probably a pipe-dream. Sergio is a much bigger man than Manny. A much bigger man with world-class skills. The combination of size, speed, and power would probably be too much for Manny to handle. But I'd certainly pay to find out.
So who will Manny fight?
Rule out the young Golden Boy fighters, they don't have big enough names for the feud to be set aside.
Now imagine the following scenarios, which are entirely possible, if not probable: Floyd Mayweather will either not fight, or fight a tune-up to go after Manny in the spring. Cotto is fighting Margarito. Marquez loses to Judah and Bradley loses to Khan. And assume that Pacquiao won't fight Sergio Martinez, as he still doesn't have a huge name, but he is a huge threat.
Who is left?
Will Zab Judah and Kermit Cintron be Manny Pacquiao's best options for November? Ugh.