Who will Manny Pacquiao fight next?
According to Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach, the eight-division boxing champion will likely begin campaigning in the 140-pound division should he get by unbeaten New Yorker Chris Algieri (20-0, 8 knockouts) on Sunday, November 23, at The Venetian in Macau, China.
Pacquiao (56-5-2, 38 KOs) has fought above the junior welterweight division for the past nine fights – including a one-night junior middleweight dalliance against Antonio Margarito at a catchweight of 150 pounds – and hasn’t competed as a junior welterweight since knocking out Ricky Hatton in two rounds in 2009.
But Pacquiao has always been a more natural 140-pounder, Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach contends, adding that he only moved up to 147 for the big money fights like Oscar de la Hoya and Miguel Cotto.
With a new set of players to add to the pool, the most relevant question becomes: Should Pacquiao defeat Chris Algieri, who will he fight next?
The most attractive fight for Pacquiao - and boxing in general - would be the elusive Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight, which has been teased and danced around for several years. Disagreements over purse splits and drug testing have been roadblocks to the fight but with both boxers inching towards retirement with few names left to conquer, the fight appears more urgent than ever.
Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum, who once promoted Mayweather before the two split acrimoniously a decade ago, told the Los Angeles Times several days ago that Leslie Moonves, CEO of Showtime’s parent company CBS, has helped to bridge the gap between the two parties.
"The guy carrying the ball is Moonves," Arum said. "He and I have talked on a number of occasions and he has suggested we see if we can reach an understanding. I assume, without knowing for a fact, that he's talking to the Mayweather camp."
Speaking with Rappler, Arum declined to go into details about a fight with Mayweather. “I’m very optimistic that Les can deliver the other side. I know we’re ready and hopefully the fight can happen. But I’m not going to talk about discussions.”
Roach isn’t as optimistic that the fight will happen.
“We’ve been waiting for this for how long now? Will that dream ever come true? I doubt it,” said Roach on Wednesday afternoon, November 19. “He’s been ducking us for three and a half years now. He’s shot, his legs are gone. Manny will knock him out. It’s not even a fight anymore. The guy’s all done now.”
A dearth of clear, viable opponents isn’t a new problem for Pacquiao during the years of boxing’s “Cold War,” where a divide in the sport developed between Pacquiao’s promoter Top Rank and rival group Golden Boy Promotions that blocked many big fights from coming to fruition.
So if not Mayweather next for Pacquiao, then who?
Bob Arum gave Rappler 3 names whom he has been looking at to share a ring opposite Pacquiao for his next date, which he says would be in the United States – probably not Las Vegas – in the first half of next year.
“Let’s see how Jessie Vargas looks. What about Danny Garcia? A lot of guys that he can fight. There’s Diego Chaves, who is fighting Timothy Bradley. What if he beats Bradley? That’s a pretty good opponent. So let’s see what happens,” said Arum.
RING junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia (29-0, 17 knockouts) would be the next best option for a Pacquiao fight. The 26-year-old Philadelphia native seemed on the road to super stardom in 2012 and 2013, when he knocked out Amir Khan to win two 140 pound titles, then bolstered his credentials with wins over Erik Morales, Zab Judah and the much avoided Lucas Matthyssee.
His reputation took a backslide in 2014, however, after a close majority decision win over Mauricio Herrera and a blowout knockout of no-hoper Rod Salka presented the image that his management was being careful in matching him.
Arum said he’d be open to that fight, but would have to assess whether Al Haymon – the advisor Garcia shares with Mayweather – would be willing to put his fighter in a bout with a fighter he doesn’t control.
“We first have to determine whether he would be contractually able to take the fight. We don’t know that,” said Arum.
Roach, who likes the fight for Pacquiao, said he thinks Haymon would be willing to allow Garcia a fight with Pacquiao.
“I think he’ll give Garcia up, he won’t give Mayweather up. He can’t have 160 fighters and not fight outside that box unless he’s trying to be like MMA and monopolize boxing. I don’t think that’s possible,” said Roach.
Another fight – which would be much easier to make – is a bout with unbeaten Mexican-American Jessie Vargas. The 25-year-old Vargas (25-0, 9 KOs) of Las Vegas holds the WBA junior welterweight title and will make his second defense of the belt on the Pacquiao-Algieri undercard against Roach student Antonio DeMarco (31-3-1, 23 KOs) on Sunday.
The 5-foot-10 Vargas is now trained by former 4-division boxing champion Roy Jones Jr. – himself once the sports pound-for-pound best talent during the 1990s. Vargas left Mayweather Promotions in 2012 for Top Rank and is looking to cap off a 2014 that saw him defeat two previously unbeaten foes in title bouts.
“I’m focused 110% on Antonio DeMarco,” said Vargas. “I’m not looking ahead because he’s a great champion. It’s going to open bigger and better opportunities.
“I’ve dreamed of [fighting Pacquiao]. He’s one of the biggest names out there right now and I want to fight against all of the big names. To be a boxing superstar, you have to take them out.”
Roach said he isn’t too concerned with the prospect of fighting Vargas, however.
“Jessie Vargas is gonna get knocked out on Sunday night so we don’t have to worry about that. DeMarco is gonna kick his ass,” said Roach.
The final name - Diego Chaves - has the least marquee value of the three. The 28-year-old Chaves (23-2, 19 KOs) from Buenos Aires, Argentina has yet to win a fight over a big name opponent, falling in ten rounds to Keith Thurman in 2013 before being disqualified against Brandon Rios during an ugly, foul-filled bout in August.
Chaves’ stock would rise significantly if he could upset Timothy Bradley on December 13, however. Chaves will be working his second straight fight as a rehab opponent for previous Pacquiao foes, having been beaten by Rios after he lost to Pacquiao, and facing a Bradley who is coming off a loss to Pacquiao in their rematch.
“Is he still alive? I haven’t heard that name in a while,” said an underwhelmed Roach.
Algieri himself came out of nowhere as a Pacquiao opponent, having jumped on the radar in his most recent fight when he upset Ruslan Provodnikov (whom many anticipated would make an exciting matchup for Pacquiao) in June to win the WBO junior welterweight title.
Sometimes you can see the next big fight coming over the horizon, and sometimes it surprises even the most perceptive observer. As Pacquiao racks up win after win, the pressure is on his promoter to find viable opponents, wherever they may come from.
“If anyone asked me last April when Manny fought Bradley who he would fight next, and I said Chris Algieri, they would’ve said I should’ve had my head examined,” said Arum. - Rappler.com
Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.