We've said it a million times and can say it a million more. While it's perfectly understandable for boxing fans the world over to hope for, wish for, and even demand a long overdue fight between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, it's just not going to happen any time soon, and at this point, it's probably very fair to say it's flat-out never going to happen at all.
So with Mayweather not an actual option for Pacquiao in 2014, who could the Filipino superstar face? Here are five candidates for fights that actually could be made.
Rematch with Timothy Bradley
The best fight out there for Manny is a rematch with Bradley and a chance to right the wrong that was the judges' decision back in 2012, when Bradley scored an incredibly controversial split decision win in Las Vegas. When that fight was being hyped at the pressers and what have you, Bradley and his team made a big deal of the inevitable rematch that would come after their upset victory. But even though the upset happened, it was so illegitimate in the eyes of the buying public that an immediate rematch didn't even make sense.
Bradley, though, had a great 2013, with a Fight of the Year-level win over Ruslan Provodnikov followed by a clean and clear victory against Juan Manuel Marquez. Those two may rematch one another, but Pacquiao is still the bigger money for Bradley and the fight I think that would mean more for his standing with the public if he could notch a true win. Speaking of money...
Fifth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez
Look, Marquez's team has said they don't want to do a fifth fight. Marquez is happy with his knockout win over Manny from December 2012 and sees no reason to reopen that case. In Juan's mind, he is now the obvious winner of the rivalry and the superior fighter historically. That's how he sees it, and even Pacquiao's team has accepted that that's just the way it is, as Michael Koncz recently dismissed the notion of a fifth fight because JMM feels that strongly about leaving the rivalry where it is. There's got to be some amount of money that could get Marquez in the ring again with Pacquiao, or at least you'd have to think that there is. But what is it? $20 million? $25 million? More? This fight isn't likely, but it could be made, in theory.
The hang-up here is that Provodnikov fights out of Freddie Roach's Wild Card Gym, so he and Pacquiao share a training team. Provodnikov would probably let a random doofus off the street like me or you serve as his lead trainer for this type of fight, because he does what he does and wants to fight with everyone, all the best guys. It could actually come to Provodnikov leaving the Wild Card to do this, too.
Before anyone goes, "WHAT?! ARE YOU AN IDIOT?!" First of all, yes. We've been here for years, y'all. I think we can all agree that sometimes I just say shit. I picked Canelo to beat Mayweather. It's not even really that I'm being dishonest, I'm just weird and don't care about being wrong, which is good, because I'm wrong a lot.
I know this is a stupid idea. I really do. But Gamboa is going nowhere fast and with so few opponents even this marketable out there for Manny, and potential fight-denying circumstances with both Marquez and Provodnikov, this could be explored, maybe. Maybe. Top Rank could get some measure of cackling, petty revenge against Gamboa by sacrificing him to Manny, and 50 Cent could say, "Look, I got Gamboa in an HBO PPV main event. #SMSAudio"
Gamboa's a featherweight currently masquerading as a lightweight. He hasn't looked particularly great in his last two wins over Michael Farenas and Darleys Perez. He has boned his entire career. I know how stupid this idea is. I really do. I also think it's possible this could happen. There are that many issues with matching Manny in 2014.
The Field: Luis Carlos Abregu, Jessie Vargas, Khabib Allakhverdiev, Kell Brook, Karim Mayfield, Mike Alvarado
If you haven't gotten my sledgehammered point yet, it's pretty clear now, I hope. Top Rank does not have a lot of good options for Manny, and if you consider that three of the guys listed above are unlikely, it really shows you just how bare their cupboard is for Pacquiao at 147 pounds right now. None of these fights are particularly interesting on paper and would be tough sells. That's not to discount that these are all pretty good fighters, but the most legit of this lot might be Brook, and he's set his sights firmly on the IBF title, which is still in the Golden Boy stable now that Shawn Porter has it after his win over Devon Alexander.