COMMENTARY | The boxing landscape has forever been altered, as Juan Manuel Marquez defeated Manny Pacquiao with the Knockout Heard Round the World. With one punch, he dramatically changed the current state of the game. So what exactly will be different in the post-Pacquiao era of boxing, and how has Marquez's crushing K.O. directly changed the sport?
The Next Generation is Now
Manny Pacquiao will likely continue fighting, as he has already stated. Floyd Mayweather has tentative plans to fight twice in 2013. But the careers for each of these men are at the very end. Bernard Hopkins is somehow still fighting, but will eventually call it a day, as will Marquez. Miguel Cotto has another fight or two in him before he calls it a day, while current Middleweight champ Sergio Martinez was a late bloomer, and doesn't have an excess of time left in the ring himself.
In other words, the next generation is now. With Nonito Donaire, Andre Ward, Abner Mares and others (e.g., Mikey Garcia, Adrien Broner, Robert Guerrero, Timothy Bradley, Danny Garcia, Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, Austin Trout) leading the charge, there's nothing to fear in terms of stewardship of the sport and high quality champions.
But Who's the Breakout Star?
The difference now will be that it's time for the next generation to become stars instead of simply high quality fighters. Excluding Canelo, who's already a huge star in Mexico and headlines large events, it's the fighters above who will need to take that leap into public consciousness, beyond the realm of the hardcore boxing fan.
Therefore, in relatively short order, we'll be watching these fighters battle each other on pay-per-view for pound-for-pound supremacy and historical legacies. The Pacquiao-Mayweather rivalry that never was will be replaced by potential rivalries such as a Guerrero-Bradley-Danny Garcia triangle over the coming years. At some point, Mikey Garcia will move up in weight to chase down fights against the likes of Adrien Broner.
In the absence of Pacquiao, Mayweather and the rest of the old contingent, the cream of the crop from the next wave will emerge not only as champions, but as stars -- hopefully.
Who Will Pass the Torch?
However, somebody needs to pass the torch for that next wave in order for them to easily blossom into bold-named stars. Mayweather and Pacquiao didn't truly emerge as superstars until they fought and defeated Oscar De La Hoya. De La Hoya, in turn, needed the win over Julio Cesar Chavez to take himself to that next level. It's the way the sport has always worked, from Rocky Marciano's career-ending knockout of Joe Louis, to Larry Holmes' infinitely sad rout of an aged-Muhammad Ali.
The problem here is that Pacquiao's devastating loss has come to another near-retirement member of his own generation. Bradley defeated him, but only in the most controversial of ways, and never got a boost in popularity as a result. As for Mayweather, unless he changes his reluctance to not only face the best competition, but to simply get in the ring and fight at all, nobody will ever benefit from a late-career win over the pound-for-pound champ.
Wherefore Art Thou Filipino Fight Fans?
Filipino fans, even in the United States, represent one of the largest contingents of supporters for the sport. The country has always had a loyal fight community, and the Philippines has produced dominant champions stretching back a full century, to the days of Pancho Villa, the preeminent Flyweight of his time.
However, nobody was a gigantic crossover star like Manny Pacquiao. So the question remains if Filipino fighters like Nonito Donaire and Brian Viloria, or non-Filipino fighters such as Andre Ward, can carry the sport in the country in Pacquiao's eventual absence.
If this group of fans becomes less interested without Pacman at boxing's pinnacle, everything from pay-per-view buys to television ratings would decrease. This group of fans lifted the sport in a way, not only by following Pacquiao intensively, but by keeping tabs on his rivals, from Marquez to Floyd Mayweather.
The Post-Pacquiao Landscape
Boxing needs stars to thrive, but they don't just magically appear. Those stars are forged through competitive fights against members of their own generation, and defining torch-passing wins over the prior generation's champions.
Over the next year or two, we will begin to see the effects of this, and how successfully Donaire, Ward, Broner, or whomever else, navigates the daunting waters of challenging battles and public relations to turn into the guy we eventually complain about as the only fighter our-friend-who-casually-watches-boxing knows.
Jake Emen runs the boxing news website ProBoxing-Fans.com, where you can find breaking news stories, interviews, rankings and more. You can also follow Jake and ProBoxing-Fans.com on Twitter, @ProBoxingFans.