Monday November 29th, 2010

The auditions are over, the field is set. Over the past two weeks, fighters have been submitting their metaphorical resumes to Top Rank promoter Bob Arum with performances in the ring (Sergio Martinez, Juan Manuel Marquez, Andre Berto) and out (Shane Mosley).

Each has an eye on the same prize: a superfight with Manny Pacquiao, which brings worldwide recognition and a $5-million-plus payday.

Arum says he hopes to pick an opponent for Pacquiao by mid-December. So which would be suitor has separated from the pack (presuming that runaway preferred choice Floyd Mayweather is a dead end)? Let's take a look at the candidates:

CREDENTIALS: WBA, WBO and Ring magazine lightweight champion RECENT DECISION: TKO 9 of Michael Katsidis on Nov. 27

WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: No fighter has given Pacquiao as much trouble as Marquez, who got off the canvas three times in the first round to battle back for a draw in 2004 and lost a narrow decision in the '08 rematch. Marquez is a brilliant counterpuncher who matches Pacquiao's output and is able to keep the Filipino from overwhelming him by connecting with pinpoint precision. Though their previous fights have been at 126 and 130 pounds, Marquez, 37, would hardly be overmatched fighting Pacquiao at a catch weight of 143 or 144 at this stage of his career.

Pacquiao's wrong, too, when he says there isn't much of an audience for a third Marquez fight. Marquez is the face of Mexican boxing and a much bigger star than Antonio Margarito, whom Pacquiao demolished earlier this month. There is good, 24/7-style bad blood between the two camps, with Marquez insisting he was robbed in the last two fights and Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, lobbying for the fight to "shut Marquez up." Pacquiao-Marquez in Cowboys Stadium would easily draw 40,000-plus fans and exceed 1 million pay-per-view buys.

WHY IT WON'T HAPPEN: Marquez is represented by Golden Boy, Pacquiao by Top Rank. If you don't think that's a major hurdle, you don't follow boxing. Top Rank's Bob Arum has said he will make a deal with Golden Boy for a Marquez fight, just as long as Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer and Oscar De La Hoya aren't involved in the promotion. That won't sit well with Schaefer, who views these major promotions as a chance to show the world how innovative his company has become.

There are cooler heads on both sides: Top Rank executives Todd DuBoef and Carl Moretti, Golden Boy's Eric Gomez. But in the end Schaefer, De La Hoya and Arum have to be on the same page, something that doesn't happen very often.

ODDS IT HAPPENS: 5-to-1

CREDENTIALS: Former three-division champion RECENT DECISION: Draw vs. Sergio Mora on Sept. 18

WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: Mosley is a name, which still counts for a lot in American boxing. As recently as May, Mosley was universally regarded as the top welterweight in the world, right up until Floyd Mayweather took that title back. Mosley, a part owner with Golden Boy, claims he is free to negotiate a fight outside of the company and has put a new team around him in the hopes of securing a fight with Top Rank-promoted Pacquiao, Margarito or Miguel Cotto. That should make any negotiations -- during which a desperate Mosley will probably cave to every one of Arum's demands -- a lot easier.

WHY IT WON'T HAPPEN: At 39, Mosley is a shot fighter. Roach knows this. Arum does too, though he is less blunt about it. Mosley looked spectacular dropping Margarito in 2009 but a one-sided loss to Mayweather and a lackluster draw to Sergio Mora have done crippled his credibility. While the casual fans might be drawn to Mosley's name, the true boxing fans know that any fight with Pacquiao will be another lopsided beating.

ODDS IT HAPPENS: 10-to-1

CREDENTIALS: WBC welterweight champion RECENT DECISION: TKO 1 of Freddy Hernandez on Nov. 27

WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: Mosley's decline has essentially elevated Berto to the upper class of the welterweight division. Berto is young, powerful and confident, an in-his-prime undefeated champion with arguably the fastest hands Pacquiao has ever faced. Arum and Berto's promoter, Lou DiBella, enjoy a working relationship and could negotiate a deal quickly

WHY IT WON'T HAPPEN: Berto has zero fan base. Despite his sterling record he hasn't been able to establish a foothold in any region (his last fight in south Florida drew 2,500) and won't bring anyone through the turnstiles. That means Cowboys Stadium is out, unless Arum and Co. want to see another steep decline in ticket sales. Berto hasn't earned this fight, either. HBO has built him up as the next big thing but his resume is a collection of stiffs and he doesn't have one career-defining win on his record. Down the road, after say a fight with Mosley and Cotto, he might. But for now he is staggeringly untested.

ODDS IT HAPPENS: 20-to-1

CREDENTIALS: WBC and Ring magazine middleweight champion RECENT DECISION: TKO 2 of Paul Williams on Nov. 20

WHY IT WILL HAPPEN: Martinez is white hot right now. His wins over Kelly Pavlik and Paul Williams have made him a lock for Fighter of the Year. Martinez is the 160-pound champ, but DiBella says he would gladly come down to 154 for a Pacquiao fight. Pacquiao might even consider fighting Martinez at 155, a catchweight that would put Martinez's titles on the line. Pacquiao has already won a title at eight weight classes; why not make it nine?

WHY IT WON'T HAPPEN: When asked if Martinez was too big for Pacquiao, Arum was succinct: "Yes." Pacquiao has defied the odds time and again but eventually the former 98-pounder has to draw the line. That's probably at Martinez, who even at 35 is faster and stronger than most of the opponents Pacquiao has ever faced.

ODDS THAT IT HAPPENS: 40-to-1

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.