Manny Pacquiao's Next Fight: Mayweather Sentencing Leaves Spring Options Open

Pacquiao vs Mayweather isn't going to happen this spring. So who can Manny face next? (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

With Floyd Mayweather Jr headed to county jail in Nevada, and a surrender date of January 6 coming up pretty quickly, the hoped-for fight between "Money" and Manny is again going to have to wait, but don't think that means that Manny Pacquiao isn't going to get back in the ring without Floyd.

Mayweather will turn 35 in February, and even if he winds up doing less than the 90 days reported, his scheduled May 5 date may well have to be pushed back. There is talk now that September could be the target date for Mayweather vs Pacquiao, if the fight is to be believed as honestly in the interests of either side (let alone both), but Manny is going to fight in the spring no matter what, and Mayweather would probably want a summer date, which could mean that if the super-fight is going to happen, it could be pushed to November or December 2012.

So more likely than not, I'm guessing, we've got another year of "will they/won't they" in store.

Without Mayweather, Pacquiao has a lot of options. You can probably consider that fight just plain off the table right now, and Top Rank will want to stay in-house for Pacquiao's next opponent. They've got guys ready to go, and three names in particular stand out.

Juan Manuel Marquez

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(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Marquez (53-6-1, 39 KO) is reportedly playing some serious hardball when it comes to negotiations for a fourth fight. Among the conditions, Marquez refuses to fight Pacquiao in Nevada, where he feels he's gotten the shaft on three occasions against the Filipino, and he wants big money to take the fight.

The reasons are simple: In his heart, Marquez feels that he's 3-0 against Manny, and what's just as big, the overall public perception of their November 12 fight was that Marquez won the fight, and was robbed. You may disagree, and I don't feel it was a robbery myself, but that's the way the reaction went down by majority vote among the public.

While the pay-per-view numbers are unknown (Top Rank says 1.4 million, but, well), the viewership was enormous in Mexico, setting an all-time record, and Marquez very clearly took the throne as the King of Mexican Boxing for the time being.

Marquez is also 38 years old, has made his money, has done about all he can do in the sport, and says for him, it's Pacquiao or retirement. I honestly believe that Juan Manuel Marquez is only interested in taking this fight if he can get all of his conditions met. Does Top Rank think it's worth meeting those conditions? That's the question. Marquez owes nothing to anyone.

Miguel Cotto

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(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Cotto (37-2, 30 KO) re-established himself as one of the great characters in the fight game with his beatdown of Antonio Margarito on December 3, selling out Madison Square Garden and attracting the biggest media buzz around a single fight that didn't involve Pacquiao or Mayweather in a long time, with only Klitschko vs Haye coming very close in that regard in the last three years.

Now it may all be a mirage. After all Cotto is still a fighter on the wrong side of 30, not the guy he was at his peak, definitely past his prime. But Cotto has a legitimate fanbase, is well-liked, and thanks in part to Margarito being such a sumbitch, may be more popular with casual boxing fans (non-Puerto Ricans) than ever.

Pacquiao and Cotto fought in November 2009, with a poorly-prepared Cotto losing via TKO-12 in a fight that could have been stopped sooner. But he says that he wants another shot at Manny, and that he feels he can beat him. With a real trainer and a new outlook on his career, who knows? Maybe Miguel is really back enough to make it an interesting fight, or even win.

There's money in this fight and Top Rank loves both guys. It's win-win all around, basically. I will not be even remotely surprised if this is the fight we see.

Timothy Bradley

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(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Bradley (28-0, 12 KO) could stay at 140 and entertain a rematch with Lamont Peterson, or he could even see what's there for an Amir Khan fight if the promoters can work together -- that's become more a personal rivalry than anything, really.

It's no secret that Bradley signed with Top Rank to target big money fights, and money fights for opponents don't come bigger than against Manny Pacquiao. While Victor Ortiz raked in a chump's $2 million in September, Marquez and Shane Mosley both made $5 million to face Manny this year. (In fact, Top Rank paid Cotto and Margarito more in purse than Ortiz made to face Mayweather.)

What I would expect, though, and this is just a guess, is that Top Rank sees Tim Bradley still as a future opponent for Manny Pacquiao. Tim Bradley can still become a bit more recognizable. There's actually kind of a golden opportunity for him to rematch Peterson, a guy I think he beats 10 times out of 10 the same way he beat him the first time, while Peterson's name is really hot off of the Amir Khan fight.

With Cotto, you're making a fight that makes sense right now. There will probably never be more money in Pacquiao vs Cotto II than there is at this moment. With Bradley, there could be more money down the line, even if that just means later in 2012.

If Top Rank had their druthers, I think they'd do a fourth Marquez fight. But Marquez might not be willing to play ball the way they want him to play ball. If you get down to Cotto and Bradley, I believe Cotto is the more likely opponent. I'm OK with that -- I still think it makes for a pretty good fight, and it would be Cotto going after the only other man to ever defeat him, though this time it's someone he respects.

What do you think we see this spring? Any wild cards out there?

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