Pacquiao-Bradley rematch looks likely for April 12

MANILA, Philippines - The selection process for Manny Pacquiao's next opponent is down to two, as Top Rank promoter Bob Arum narrows his focus to Timothy Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov for Pacman's April 12 date in the US.

The former eight division world champion Pacquiao 55-5-2 (38 knockouts) is coming off a one-sided decision victory over former lightweight titleholder Brandon Rios in Macau last November, reviving his career following back-to-back losses to Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012. 

With clashes against Floyd Mayweather Jr. and a fifth bout with Marquez remaining ever difficult to bring to fruition, Pacquiao can either chase revenge against the WBO welterweight titleholder Bradley, who had beaten him by a controversial decision in 2012, or pursue a bout with Russian knockout artist Ruslan Provodnikov.

Gerry Peñalosa, a former junior bantamweight and bantamweight champion and a close Pacquiao friend, says he is "200%" sure that Pacquiao will look to avenge the Bradley loss in his next outing. Peñalosa is even more confident that he'll succeed.

"Pacquiao will win a unanimous decision in the rematch," said Peñalosa, a native of Negros Occidental. "Pacquiao's speed is too much for Bradley. Both fighters are experienced and it'll be hard to get a knockout."

When asked about Pacquiao-Bradley II rumors, Pacquiao's adviser Michael Koncz responded that the fight was "not confirmed yet. We are still discussing our options." A Top Rank source offered only two words in response to the question: "It's possible."

Bradley, 30, of Palm Springs, Calif. has a 31-0 (12 KOs) record that includes wins over Provodnikov and Marquez in his past two fights. Though Bradley's superior speed allowed him to beat Marquez more convincingly than Pacquiao had in two prior wins, he was dropped twice against Provodnikov. Bradley's more consistent workrate enabled him to pull out a victory by a single point on two scorecards.

Provodnikov, 29, of Beryozovo, Russia rebounded from last March's loss to Bradley to stop Mike Alvarado in ten rounds in October. Pacquiao and Provodnikov (23-2, 16 KOs) are both trained by Freddie Roach, and Provodnikov was even Pacquiao's chief sparring partner for the first Bradley fight. 

Like Pacquiao, Bradley is promoted by Top Rank. Provodnikov is promoted by the Philadelphia-based Banner Promotions, but Top Rank holds an option to promote his next bout.

Pacquiao and Provodnikov's friendship hasn't stopped Provodnikov's manager Vadim Kornilov from pushing for the fight, however. Kornilov has taken to Twitter and Instagram to post photoshopped images of Pacquiao and Provodnikov fighting, using hashtags "#provodnikovvspacquiao" and "#friendsfight."

Roach was firmly against the idea of his two pupils fighting when he spoke to this writer in Macau. Provodnikov would have to train with Roach's lead assistant Marvin Somodio, a Pinoy from Iloilo City, creating another conflict for the arrangement.

Roach seemed far more comfortable with settling unfinished business with Bradley instead.

"I think Bradley is someone that we have to avenge that loss, even though he won that fight so easily," Roach said.

Of 51 boxing reporters polled after the Bradley fight in June of 2012, 48 thought that Pacquiao deserved the victory while 3 thought Bradley got the better of the action.

Peñalosa believes that a fight with Provodnikov is probably the riskier of the two given his power edge over Bradley, but says that Bradley's increased confidence from the Marquez win will make him a formidable test for Pacquiao as well. - 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 ryan@ryansongalia.com. An archive of his work can be found at www.ryansongalia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @RyanSongalia.