With promoter Bob Arum announcing that Manny Pacquiao will return to the ring in April, let’s look at some of the potential opponents.
Floyd Mayweather -- Even if the issues of network, financial split and drug testing could be worked out -- and hitting the lottery three straight days is more likely than that -- Mayweather and Pacquiao would still find reasons not to fight. These two are just destined to dance around each other. Moreover, making Mayweather-Pacquiao now -- as I’ve noted on Twitter -- would irritate as many fans as it pleased. It still would do big business, but it would be a fraction of the ridiculous numbers it would have done in 2010, when Mayweather and Pacquiao were at the top of the sport. Not that it matters. After a month or so of public sabre rattling, both sides will do what they always do. Move on. Probability of it happening: Very low.
Juan Manuel Marquez -- If a Mayweather bout doesn’t happen, this is the fight Pacquiao’s team wants. Freddie Roach has noted on numerous occasions that before he was stopped, Pacquiao was boxing beautifully and likely would have stopped a battered Marquez in the later rounds. The future of this fight depends on Marquez, who at 40 and coming off a loss to Tim Bradley, may not be interested. But for those claiming Pacquiao-Marquez fatigue, remember this: Every round of their first four fights was entertaining, and a fifth installment -- perhaps in Mexico -- would virtually guarantee more than one million pay-per-view buys. Probability of it happening: High.
Tim Bradley -- Despite losing a controversial decision to Bradley last year, Pacquiao has little interest in a rematch. Perhaps it’s because most observers thought Pacquiao won a lopsided decision; perhaps it’s because the first fight was far from a financial success. Bradley has had a strong year, beating Ruslan Provodnikov in an entertaining slugfest and outpointing Marquez to bolster his résumé. And his willingness to trade haymakers with Provodnikov could make Bradley even more appealing. Still, it’s likely one or two opponents will have to fall out before Bradley gets a shot. Probability of it happening: Somewhat High.
Ruslan Provodnikov -- After two fights this year, Provodnikov has established himself as a must-see attraction. Unheralded before his matchup with Bradley, Provodnikov rebounded from a close loss in that bout to pound Mike Alvarado and win a piece of the 140-pound title. An old-school slugger, Provodnikov has the ability to wear down any opponent who stands in front of him. Still, that Provodnikov is a stablemate of Pacquiao's -- both men are trained by Freddie Roach -- could prove an obstacle to any deal. And HBO may want to build Provodnikov up even further in fights with Rios, Bradley or Marquez, whom Provodnikov has campaigned for a fight against on Twitter. Probability of it happening: Medium.
Miguel Cotto -- In 2009, in one of his finest performances, Pacquiao stopped Cotto in 12 rounds. Since then Cotto has moved up to junior middleweight and established himself as one of the best in the division. A rematch is certainly possible, but Cotto has shown little interest in dropping below 154 anymore and Pacquiao prefers to fight at 147. In addition, Cotto is now trained by Roach, who has publicly stated that it is unlikely the two will fight again. Probability of it happening: Low. Sergio Martinez -- OK, so it’s not likely. But say Miguel Cotto elects to face Saul Alvarez next. And say Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. loses his rematch with Bryan Vera. And say Martinez, who at 38 is a big-purse hunter, was willing to drop to 155 pounds. Could a chance to win a middleweight title appeal to Pacquiao? Probably not. Then again, we never thought Pacquiao would get in the ring with Oscar De La Hoya, either. Probability of it happening: Very Low. -- CHRIS MANNIX