Several months from now one of boxing's absolute biggest stars will return from his hiatus and enter a boxing ring for the first time since being knocked totally unconscious by a right hand he never saw coming. The site of Manny Pacquiao laying face-first into the mat, as motionless as a deceased individual, was a shocking vision for one's eyes to communicate to one's brain. The man who is regarded by some as the greatest Asian boxer to ever live, as well as one of the all-time great southpaws to ever lace on a pair of boxing gloves, was knocked out like any ol' common man can be knocked out. A disenchanting revelation for many, a cause for delight for some.
Nevertheless, we know what happens now. Pacquiao rides off into the sunset as a millionaire, dead set on never returning to the ring. Nah. The truth, as we really do all know, is that he will return. Press releases and such will tell us how he will have a renewed vigor and is ready to gain his revenge on Juan Manuel Marquez. I doubt it. Pacquiao is who he is by this stage. A full-time politician who takes a little break twice a year or so to make around 40 million dollars total from boxing.
The real question we are currently pondering about Senator Pacquiao is not if he is coming back to a boxing ring any time soon. It's simply who is he going to be in the ring with?
I admit that in the immediate aftermath of Pacquiao's vanquishing at the hands of Marquez, I assumed there would be no debate. It was going to be a fifth fight with Marquez, and if you thought different, you had probably picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue. Gradually, as always in boxing, things change and certainties become, well, less certain.
Whether it be a negotiating ploy or his honest-to-God opinion, Marquez has not seemed excited about the possibility of a fifth showdown with his most common dance partner. Despite being guaranteed the largest purse of his career, the Mexican star looks to be in no rush to tango with Pacquiao for a mind-boggling (by today's standards) fifth time. And, let me just say that I am content with his decision. There's someone else whom I prefer to see Pacquiao have another go-round with.
Oddly enough, Tim Bradley has become a bigger star than ever by defeating Ruslan Provodnikov than by beating Manny Pacquiao. Ok, ok. I know. It was regarded by most as a total crap decision. Still, just being on pay-per-view with Manny Pacquiao and fighting through what his camp claimed were two broken ankles should have been enough to raise Bradley's profile a bit one would think, no? Throw in the fact that Bradley got a controversial decision that he justified by saying he felt he won eight of the 12 rounds, and one would have to figure he would at least get some serious heel heat for all of this.
Well, Bradley appeared to be in about the same position after the fight that he was before it. He was still one of the top 15 or so boxers in the sport. And, whether he liked it or not, he was in that large group of fighters whose talents greatly outweigh their demand. Ultimately, he was back to being just another guy that the hardcores only care about.
But then something happened in his fight with Provodnikov that was decidedly unexpected. He got hurt. And then he got hurt again. And again. Provodnikov was known to us as a guy who was a regular ESPN2 fighter. Someone who could guarantee a good action fight against anybody, but would falter when he stepped up to the big leagues. Apparently he didn't care about our opinions as he rocked Bradley several times throughout the night and rarely took a back step. However, if there was one thing more surprising than the ability of Provodnikov, it was the concrete brick that doubled as Tim Bradley's head. Bradley took so many head shots he appeared to be in a haze through most of the fight. It didn't matter. When he got pushed back to the ropes, his only response was to punch back. He didn't want out and he didn't cut an interview after the bout telling us he didn't deserve to get beat up like that. When a lot of other guys would have backed down because they knew they could just come back to HBO in a few months anyways, Bradley dug deeper than he ever had to.
Despite a lukewarm build-up, the fight proved to be a TV success. It did a 1.2 rating, peaking at 1.4 at the end of bout. Unlike most boxing events, the ratings continued to rise throughout the show, reversing a trend that most fights tend to take. Word of mouth spread that something special was happening. People tuned in to see these two give us something special and they did. Over a million people witnessed Bradley trudge through hell to win a war that was as unexpected as it was breathtaking. Additionally, 274,000 viewers watched the replay on HBO, well more than typical.
Now we hear about several matchups being proposed by Top Rank that could mix and match Bradley and Provodnikov with Brandon Rios, Mike Alvarado, and even Marquez. I get the sense that Bob Arum still wants Pacquiao to match with Marquez, and Marquez's own trainer Nacho Beristain has said he wants it as well. It's still a huge possibility.
But the man I want Pacquiao to fight is someone he has already beaten, and beaten handily. That man is Tim Bradley. Bradley is suddenly a new star in boxing, and is deserving of a rematch with Pacquiao. Yes, Pacquiao clearly deserved the first decision, but so what? He also rematched Marco Antonio Barrera a few years back after he had already brutally stopped him. He also fought an old Shane Mosley just for kicks. It's not like the matchup is anything beneath Pacquiao because he already clearly won. A rematch with Bradley would be a more difficult fight on paper than his fight with Mosley was or the catchweight bout with Antonio Margarito.
The big seller for me when it comes to choosing Bradley over Marquez as Pacquiao's next opponent is the future of boxing. It's no secret that in order to make stars they have to defeat stars in the first place. It's how Pacquiao attained his level of stardom. He manhandled Oscar de la Hoya in addition to beating the likes of Barrera, Marquez, Erik Morales, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, and others. Oscar did boxing a huge favor by fighting Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather before he finally retired for good in 2009. By losing to each, he created mega stars that would be banner figures in the sport for years to come. Now, it's their turn to return the favor.Obviously, I realize this is not pro wrestling and we can not dictate who wins and who loses for the sake of the promotion. We can only hope that promoters pair the right two guys together. If we could determine outcomes, we wouldn't have had Victor Ortiz get knocked out after trying to hug Floyd.
Bradley is, at the age of 29, in his prime. Marquez, who is 39, is always speaking of retiring. Another win by Marquez over Pacquiao does next to nothing for the sport itself. Sure, it could be another very good match, but Marquez would likely leave the sport and Pacquiao would either do the same or keep going despite greatly diminished popularity. If Bradley were to find a way to defeat Pacquiao, on the other hand, we could very well have a new legitimate star in boxing. One that people, after his war with Provodnikov and clean win over Pacquiao, would pay extra to see.
Bradley could lose to Pacquiao once more. It's not out of the question if Bradley hasn't learned from the first fight, or if the war with Provodnikov took something out of him. In fact, Bradley looking vulnerable so much may help him get the rematch he covets. But Pacquiao may have also had something removed from him as well after being cold-cocked. If Bradley and Pacquiao would go at it again, I feel comfortable in saying that it would be a great fight. Neither man would feel comfortable letting it go to the judges, and both would feel the need to make a statement. And if Bradley does lose then so be it. He would have had his chance to break through the glass ceiling, and if he can't do it then he just can't do it.
For boxing's future, give me Pacquiao - Bradley II. Unless Mayweather randomly capitulates, it's boxing's best chance to make a new star.