What isn't set in stone however is Pacquiao's next bout and it seems that there more names linked to him on a daily basis than any other fighter in the sport. It's been hard to avoid the rumour and the speculation over the past few weeks and of course with so many names thrown around I've decided to take a look at 8 possible Pacquiao foes. It's not a guarantee he'll fight any of them but they are all certainly in the running and all deserve a mention.
Of course, as well as the 8 I'm going to mention there are various other fighters out there that could serve as a possible opponent for Pacquiao's first bout of 2014.
One of the names that has been very strongly linked to Pacquiao is former foe Timothy Bradley (31-0-0-1, 12), the current WBO Welterweight champion. The unbeaten American, who scored a highly controversial victory over Pacquiao in 2012, would be a perfect opponent in many ways. Firstly it would be a Top Rank in house match up, something promoter Bob Arum has generally preferred with his fighters, secondly it would allow Bradley a chance to prove that he deserves a victory over Pacquiao and finally it allows Pacquiao a chance to right a wrong.
Unfortunately however the rumour seems to be that Bradley has effectively priced himself out of the possible match up. The unbeaten "Desert Storm" appears to be eying up an encounter with Floyd Mayweather Jr and would be unlikely to risk that unless he is being paid very well in return. Unfortunately Bradley's style and lack of fan base doesn't help his case in negotiations and he's very unlikely to be paid what he feels he's worth.
Yes the bout would sell, yes there is plenty of reasons for both men to want it, though if Bradley wants more money than Pacquiao and Arum feel he deserves then the bout is dead in the water already.
A second Top Rank fighter who has been strongly linked to Pacquiao is WBO Light Welterweight champion Ruslan Provodnikov (23-2, 16). The "Siberian Rocky" became a star in 2013 with FOTY candidates against both Timothy Bradley and Mike Alvarado and seems to have a "fight anyone, anytime" attitude which of course every fan loves.
With his fan friendly style and his warrior mentality Provodnikov would make for a highly entertaining bout with Pacquiao in a bout that would be nothing short of breath taking, for as a long as it lasts. On paper it sounds like a dream bout and is something that would have fireworks from both men though sadly the men are friends who have trained at the Wildcard Gym together and actually share trainer Freddie Roach.
Whilst Roach himself has joked about alternating corners with rounds, doing Pacquiao's corner one round and Provodnikov's the next it's likely this is too much of an obstacle to over-come to make the bout. Yes it'd be great to watch and yet we'd love to see them ripping lumps out of each other though sadly it seems that the only way you'll get to watch it is in the Wildcard Gym when the men share the ring together.
Moving away from Top Rank, one bout that we've heard about is Pacquiao taking on former gym mate Amir Khan (28-3, 19). Although Khan doesn't hold a world title and he's a Golden Boy Promotions fighter he's also a fighter who makes for a personal bout with Pacquiao. Their history together in the gym is one thing but comments made by Khan relating to Freddie Roach being responsible for Khan's 2012 loss to Danny Garcia is another.
The personal aspect would be the key here though in all honesty the bout would be a mismatch and a massacre with Khan unlikely to survive more than 4 or 5 rounds unless Manny felt like carrying the divisive Brit into the later rounds. Unfortunately though fans would likely lambast Pacquiao for the bout much like they lambasted Floyd Mayweather Jr for floating a Khan bout in recent months.
Other than the fans turning on the bout we'd also need to see a cease-fire in the Top Rank/Golden Boy cold war for this bout to happen. That alone is unlikely unless Arum can do Richard Schaefer some sort of favour in return.
Having just mentioned his name it seems to be a perfect time to talk about the elephant in the room, Floyd Mayweather Jr (45-0, 26). Mayweather, the current WBC Welterweight and WBC and WBA "super" Light Middleweight champion is widely considered the pound-for-pound #1 boxer on the planet and the only fighter who is clearly more valuable to boxing than Pacquiao in regards to the US audience.
Of course if you're a boxing fan you'll have heard that we're about to get "Mayweather v Pacquiao" every other month since 2009 though unfortunately the bout has never come to fruition despite the fact that it's the biggest one off event not just in boxing but in sport worldwide. Both men would make huge sums of money, both would have a chance to truly define themselves as the fighter of their generation and most tellingly both men would secure their legacy.
Unfortunately there are so many stumbling blocks to this fight that I'd be shocked if we ever see it. There is not only the promotional issue between Golden Boy and Top Rank but also a personal issue between Mayweather and Arum, there is also the issue of control by both fighters and monetary issues that are thrown around. The only way I expect to see this bout is if the WBC will "force a mandatory" between the two, it's unlikely but almost certainly the only chance the bout will happen.*
*Contrary to popular reports Mayweather hasn't actually give up the WBC Welterweight as widely reported. The WBC currently list him as a current 2-weight world champion
A name thrown out by Freddie Roach recently was unbeaten Light Welterweight kingpin Danny Garcia (27-0, 16). Garcia, the WBA super and WBC Light Welterweight champion is widely regarded as one of the most under-rated fighters on the planet and although he's beaten a relative whose who he is still often forgotten from the pound-for-pound conversation.
Unbeaten and a double champion Garcia has already beaten Lucas Matthysse, Erik Morales and Amir Khan, who was then a student under Freddie Roach. These victories alone make Garcia a credible foe and with his titles there is something there for Manny to want. Whilst Manny and Roach obviously want the fight for their reasons it's also fair to say that Garcia has reasons for wanting the bout, notably the huge pay day and the fact that he could eliminate someone from the Mayweather sweepstakes.
The key issue here, as it is with a number of bouts, is the Golden Boy/Top Rank promotional issue. It does seem that Roach has suggested that Garcia may be willing to cross the void though I'd be shocked if he does that and instead it's more likely he'll remain with Golden Boy in the hope of having his loyalty repaid with a Mayweather bout either this year or in 2015
An outside shot is Russian Khabib Allakhverdiev (19-0, 9), the current WBA "regular" Light Welterweight champion. Although relatively unknown in the states the Russian has become one of the silent forces at 140lbs. He, in 2012, became the man to end the long unbeaten run of Joan Guzman and has since defended his title once.
What makes this bout possible is the fact that Allakhverdiev is actually a Top Rank fighter and the fact he's an unbeaten champion. Yeah he's a low profile fighter when compared to the likes of Bradley, Provodnikov and Khan but then again he's also a cheaper option and one that shouldn't give Pacquiao many problems. He's talented enough but far from being anything special.
The biggest problem for this bout would be HBO. Whether or not HBO would accept Allakhverdiev as a Pacquiao opponent is up for a debate though the fact he's a champion would perhaps sway them despite the fact he is somewhat unknown to a US audience. The key however to making the bout attractive would be to have a solid support bout, perhaps involving Provodnikov or Bradley, with the winners to fight each other later this year.
Another dark horse is Mexican-American Robert Guerrero (31-2-1-2, 18). "The Ghost", who last fought in a lose effort to Floyd Mayweather Jr, has stated that he wants to be released from his Golden Boy contract a move that could set the wheels in motion for a possible Pacquiao encounter in 2014. Of course Guerrero will need to win his case for the bout to take place though he does seem confident.
What this bout allows is for Pacquiao to look good against a recent Mayweather opponent. This is something Freddie Roach has indicated is on his mind and is also something that could intensify the Pacquiao-Mayweather debate.
For Guerrero a bout with Pacquiao is, by far, his best paying option. It may not pay as well as the Mayweather bout did but it will certainly be the best option on the table for him. Likewise for HBO, Guerrero is a known name, he's a multi-weight world champion and whilst he's not on anyone's pound-for-pound list he is an accomplished boxer with a decent following. It's a bout that makes a lot of sense if Guerrero can free himself from his Golden Boy contract.
The last name I'm going to mention is Mexican veteran, and Pacquiao nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez (55-7-1, 40). The Mexican, who has already fought Pacquiao 4 times, is a man who seems to be permanently on the Pacquiao radar and a man who, stylistically, gives Pacquiao the hardest time of any opponent. They've fought 4 times but only once have they managed to come to a decisive finish, with that occurring in their most recent bout.
Aged 40 Marquez is probably considering retirement, though could he really turn down one more large pay day for fighting Pacquiao again? It's likely he could afford it, though a huge pay day is a huge pay day and they don't come around that often. For Marquez it'd be all about the money whether he'd want to admit it or not. For Pacquiao a fifth fight with Marquez would allow him revenge for his 2012 KO defeat to the Mexican.
In terms of issues away from the fighters this bout is as good as gold. Top Rank would love it, HBO would love it and fans would love it, especially considering how bout 4 ended. Though of course Marquez would want the biggest pay day he could get and it may be more than Top Rank are willing to pay him, especially considering his lackluster display against Timothy Bradley late last year.
All pictures courtesy of Boxrec.com.