A surprisingly rocky performance by Manny Pacquiao (right) on Saturday represents the latest twist in the long road to a showdown with Floyd Mayweather. (AP)
Who should Manny Pacquiao fight next and why?
CHRIS MANNIX: Marquez. For starters, he earned it. Marquez has lost two of his three fights to Pacquiao and you can make an argument that he won all three. In fact, the only thing decided on Saturday was that nothing was decided.
I've been craving a Mayweather-Pacquiao showdown as much as anyone, but simply brooming Marquez aside would be insulting. Besides, Pacquiao-Marquez IV would generate a huge buzz and would invariably lead to a close, competitive, action-packed fight. Moreover, I get the feeling Pacquiao needs another fight with Marquez. Not because he needs closure but because Mayweather presents most of the same style problems of Marquez, along with a host of others. It's a risk, but I say do Marquez first, then hope for a crack at Mayweather.
RICHARD O'BRIEN: I had no quarrel with Pacquiao’s getting the decision against Marquez last Saturday night. The fight was close, and Marquez, as well-schooled and focused a fighter as any in the game today, showed he knows exactly how to fight Manny. But he never pressed the issue and he certainly did not close out the show. Should they fight a fourth time? Sure. But not just yet.
Manny’s less-than-spectacular form against Marquez no doubt has lots of observers now giving him a lot less of a chance against Mayweather (whom Chris observes in this week’s SI is essentially a bigger, faster, stronger, younger Marquez). But that’s still the fight that boxing needs. Pacquiao has to know that his time is running short, as is Mayweather’s. And, no, Manny has no obligation to beat Marquez “more convincingly” before moving on.
Freddie Roach may be a little more concerned than he was before at the prospect of facing Floyd, but the idea that the 32-year-old Pac-Man needs a tune-up at this point, seems misguided. It may indeed prove to be the case that Mayweather is too complete and too slick for Pacquiao, but Manny has wanted this bout for years and if his flawed showing against Marquez makes him suddenly more attractive to Mayweather, well, that’s one good thing for Manny to come out of this weekend.
BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: Sure, Pacquiao should fight Marquez. Even Roach said so, and he hates the fight. But since when has what happens in boxing been about should? Now is not the time for an attack of conscience when Mayweather-Pacquaio is as close to coming off as ever. While any boxing purist would love to see Pacquiao-Marquez IV -- a modern-day answer to the Willie Pep-Sandy Saddler quadrilogy -- I'd be happy to wait until November 2012 for it. And I know I'm not alone.
Pacquiao hadn't been seriously challenged since his previous fight with Marquez in 2008, a credit both to his meteoric spike in talent under Roach and expert matchmaking by Top Rank's Bruce Trampler and Brad "Abdul" Goodman. But Marquez's savvy counterpunching and meticulous ring generalship exposed a vulnerability that likely had Mayweather licking his chops.
Can Manny beat Floyd? It's possible, but it won't be easy. Pacquiao will need to recommit himself 100 percent to boxing to solve the biggest obstacle of his professional career -- a challenge that may very well define him. That means no politics. No endorsements. No singing. No distractions. Maybe pass on Jimmy Kimmel this time. If he can return to the place he was before the Oscar De La Hoya fight that launched him to global susperstardom, Pacquiao may be able to fill out the holes in his game that Mayweather will be itching to exploit. If not, then Saturday's fight was merely the beginning of the end.