COMMENTARY | After his one-sided unanimous decision victory over Brandon "Bam Bam" Rios on November 23, Manny Pacquiao is back in the headlines and a once frozen career is back burning brighter than ever. Fan buzz, once again resurrecting Mayweather-Pacquiao talk, indicates that the Pacquiao brand is not only rejuvenated, but that the eight-division world champ has quickly returned to his spot as one of the sport's two biggest forces.
And while Pacquiao was favorably matched against Rios to highlight all of his best assets, it was hard not to see that spark of greatness within him as he pummeled his foe at will. It was hard not to have flashbacks to a prime Manny as he darted in and out of the pocket, picking apart his game challenger and seemingly in love with his work. He's a little bit older, a little bit wiser, closer to the end than the beginning, but Manny Pacquiao is still a main stage player in the game and will remain so for the next several years.
Barring some sudden, unexplainable decline or a personal decision to end his career on his own terms, Pacquiao has at least three elite-level years in him. Here's a look at how Manny ideally (and realistically) should spend his next thirty-six months in the sport:
First and foremost, Pacquiao needs to settle some old scores before moving on to fresh ground and new challenges.
Right now, it seems as though a rematch with Timothy Bradley would be the ideal revenge fight for a Pacquiao looking to erase an absolutely nightmarish 2012.
Back in June of 2012, Bradley won Pacquiao's WBO welterweight title via highly-controversial split decision. The boxing world unanimously condemned the putrid decision rendered by two of the three judges and waited for the Filipino icon to right the wrong with an immediate rematch. However, despite a rematch clause being in place, the return bout never materialized and Pacquiao would go on to fight Juan Manuel Marquez later that year.
Pacquiao needs to take care of this bit of unfinished business with a Bradley bout in the first half of 2014.
After that, a good place to go would be in pursuit of a fifth encounter with 40-year-old Juan Manuel Marquez, who knocked Manny cold in December of last year and has, so far, stood firm on his unwillingness to face his archrival again. A significantly fatter purse could lure Marquez back to Pacland and provide for the ideal fight to close out next year.
A back-up to either Bradley or Marquez could be Mike Alvarado, a tough junior welterweight beaten to a pulp by Ruslan Provodnikov in October, but only one fight removed from a decision victory over Brandon Rios. Alvarado would not be a competitively viable opponent for Pacquiao at this point, but given the proper build-up and promotion, he's a solid reserve opponent and someone who could be brought into the mix for early 2015.
If promoter Bob Arum wants a thrilling, competitive bout for his fighter, there's always one-time Pacquiao sparring partner Provodnikov to consider for a sure Fight of the Year candidate. Provodnikov has recently backed away from any talk that he'd face his gym friend, but as his star grows and the pool of willing opponents shrinks, he may have no choice but to engage in some friendly fire.
It's quite possible that Pacquiao could spend 2014 settling old scores with Bradley and Marquez while spending 2015 engaged in new battles with a repackaged Mike Alvarado and Provodnikov.
Who Pacquiao faces in 2016 could be anyone's guess as the list of in-house and/or Top Rank-friendly opposition is relatively thin at the moment. If Top Rank prospects Jessie Vargas and Karim Mayfield don't develop into world class fighters, Arum and company will have to be creative in finding Manny's final foes.
Who knows, by then, the Top Rank-Golden Boy blood feud could have simmered down considerably and both may be more willing to work with one another. Another possibility is that a slowed-down Mayweather and a well-weathered Pacquiao could, by then, finally be willing to toss risk out the window for what could be the final major payday of their respective careers.
Paul Magno was a licensed official in the state of Michoacan, Mexico and is the author of Notes from the Boxing Underground. His work can also be found on Fox Sports and as Editor-in-Chief of The Boxing Tribune. In the past, Paul has done work for Inside Fights, The Queensberry Rules and Eastside Boxing. For breaking news, additional analysis, and assorted crazy commentary, follow him on Facebook, @TheBoxingTribune or on Twitter, @BoxingBTBC.
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