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Thursday, July 23, 2009

For Pacquiao, the list has gotten really short

Jim Lampley once remarked during a fight, "Manny Pacquiao is a storm!"

That was years ago. Lampley nor anybody else knew just how devastating the Pacquiao storm would become in the following years. Here we are in 2009, and the former flyweight champion of the world currently sits on the 140-pound throne, has retired Oscar de la Hoya, been involved in two straight "Event of the Year" fights, demolished a game Ricky Hatton in under two rounds, and overall done things that would've been unthinkable even a few years ago.

On November 14, he'll go up to a 145-pound catchweight to try and capture Miguel Cotto's WBA welterweight title. I've said already that Cotto is a seriously dangerous opponent, no matter what anyone else might think, and he should be treated as such. A Pacquiao steamroll job would be jaw-dropping in this fight.

I also remarked at the end of the article that to some, it seems like all that would be acceptable is a time-traveling Pacquiao that battles Sugar Ray Robinson for all-time supremacy. In some ways, it's understandable that Pacquiao's opponents will be downplayed. There are precious few fighters that present a great danger to him these days. He's become that good. Sure, welterweight is legitimately the highest he could possibly go (I mean it has to be, right?), and bigger guys than that could have their way with him simply on size. I joked after the Hatton fight that if Pacquiao challenged 6'2" middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, I'd pick Manny. But realistically Pavlik would take his head off at some point (he'd have to, right?).

Manny has also given the impression that he won't be staying in boxing forever. He has political aspirations in the Philippines, is going to make another boat load of money to fight Cotto, and there are a lot of other things he can now do with his life. You never know until it's truly over, but Manny might not be here more than a few more fights.

There are good and even great challenges out there for him, though. Let's take a look at five guys that I think could give Manny a serious run for his money in the ring.

5. Edwin Valero

I'll say right now I'm not listing Juan Manuel Marquez among my five most dangerous Pacquiao opponents, and it's not because I don't think he's a better fighter than at least four of the guys on this list in a pound-for-pound sense. But Marquez is getting older and with the roll Pacquiao's on and the fact that it'd have to be at at least 140 pounds, I just don't think the matchup is good for JMM anymore. He's surprised me before, but I think the weight is bad for him against a younger, faster guy that has knocked him down four times in two fights at lower weights.

Valero (25-0, 25 KO) likely gets mowed down in five or so rounds by Pacquiao. That's my gut feeling. But Valero is 27 years old, a fellow southpaw, seriously hungry, and has wicked power. Nasty, one-shot, out on your ass and you don't know what happend-style power. A guy that hits like Valero can stop anyone within size reason, and he's taller than Pacquiao and has a two-inch reach advantage. He could probably handle 140 as a weight just as well as he has 130 and 135 so far. Valero, of course, wants the fight, and Top Rank has made some hints that they'd like to get it done in the future. Bob Arum promotes both men, so it'd be win-win and money all around for him, but it's not a superfight, and there's still the matter of licensing Valero anywhere in the U.S. that isn't Texas.

4. Miguel Cotto

Pacquiao's next opponent will get his chance to dethrone the P4P king, though it probably wouldn't make him the P4P king, so "dethrone" isn't really the right word -- he would more serve as a hitman for the Mayweather-Marquez winner to firmly move into the No. 1 slot.

I do understand a few of the concerns about Cotto and his alleged decline. He didn't attack the body against Clottey the way he's known to do, but I think he had the mindset going in that Clottey wasn't going to get hurt. Fighters know how hard they hit, and they know who's vulnerable to what. Clottey is an excellent defensive fighter and a tough son of a gun, and Cotto came out to box him. When he didn't have that same idea against Michael Jennings, he still attacked with righteous fury. I get the feeling he's not going to see Manny the way he did the bigger, physically stronger Clottey. I think Miguel's going to attack Pacquiao and test him out quickly.

And it's also worth saying that Cotto is a dirty fighter when he feels the need to be. If Pacquiao starts getting the best of him, Miguel is not above a low blow. I mean let's just call a spade a spade here. He takes momentum -- or stops it -- any way he has to. Some people find this despicable. I'm on the fence. It's something you have to take into account going into a fight with Cotto. He's a hot-headed, mean fighter.

The "iceman" Cotto, the guy that stared at Alfonso Gomez like he wanted to eat his liver, that guy can beat Pacquiao, and Pacquiao better believe it.

3. Shane Mosley

Shane Mosley may be older, but until he looks rough at 147 pounds, I see him as a serious problem for Manny Pacquiao or anyone else for that matter. His last two welterweight fights were a great, competitive loss to an on top of his game Cotto and a complete ass-whooping of Antonio Margarito. He doesn't look good at 154, not that he ever looked too great that high in weight, but at 147 he's still among the sport's elite.

Mosley's speed and intensity could be troublesome for Manny, and let's not forget that he's a full three inches taller than Pacquiao. That height did nothing for Oscar de la Hoya, but Oscar didn't look so great against veteran gatekeeper Steve Forbes months prior to that. It's not the same thing. It's not an excuse: Oscar was fairly shot, the weight killed him, and Pacquiao took him to the woodshed. It doesn't diminish what Pacquiao did to him. Freddie Roach said that's exactly what would happen: Oscar wouldn't be good at 147 and wouldn't be able to pull the trigger. That's why they took what was at the time a nearly unthinkable matchup.

Shane's a different beast. He's still got two loaded guns and he fires at will. I also think Manny's speed, his southpaw stance, and his ability to get in and out at tough angles make him very hard for Shane to handle, too. It's a great fight on paper.

2. Paul Williams

I'm kind of copping out putting Williams at No. 2, because of all the guys that could realistically get down to 147 or a couple pounds lower, Paul Williams is by far the hardest matchup for Manny. Williams is a freak of nature, a 6'1" guy that pumps his fists at a hellacious rate and has a longer reach than Vitali Klitschko.

Manny would have a long night ahead of him against "The Punisher." If he wanted to, Williams could fire off his jab and keep Manny at bay all night. It's never really been Williams' strength, even though it should be, but he's also a really good inside fighter for a guy with such massively long arms.

His workrate, stamina, and power at 147 are tough enough to top. When you factor in the gross physical advantages he'd have over Pacquiao (and just about anyone), it's easy to see why he bounces around divisions looking for the best fights. Nobody wants to fight this guy because he's such a unique challenge.

One of the bigger reasons I stuck him at No. 2 instead of No. 1 is that the fight is so unlikely he might as well not even be mentioned, but he deserves to be, so...whatever. I mean, it's not even a guarantee he could make welterweight anymore, even though he says he can.

1. Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Of course. Of course.

Look, even if you "hate" Mayweather, it doesn't take a genius to see where he could give Manny trouble. Floyd is a master counter-puncher with extremely fast hands and pinpoint accuracy. He's not the biggest hitter in the world, but his power has become underrated. There is nobody close to Pacquiao or with a knowledge of style matchups that would say anything less than Floyd is conceivably the toughest fight of Manny Pacquiao's life. Pacquiao has beaten brawlers, boxers, and fighters of all styles, but he has never faced someone as slick and tricky as the "Pretty Boy."

What makes a potential Pacquiao-Mayweather fight so desirable is that style clash. Pacquiao is a better boxer than Mayweather would ever give him credit for, but he's not the sort of pure talent that Floyd is. Floyd's entire life has been boxing, and he's a rare talent. Thousands and thousands of men have stepped into pro rings over the years, and few of them have Mayweather's God-given gifts.

But what would he do with one of those Pacquiao charges? You can only avoid so much, only block so much, and Pacquiao also has a style that Mayweather has really never seen. I haven't gone as bananas about this fight as a lot of people have, and I'd still personally rather see Mosley-Pacquiao, and I like Cotto-Pacquiao better as far as the fight goes. But Pacquiao-Mayweather is such an important fight -- if both win this fall, anyway -- that it really should happen. I don't think it has to happen, and part of that is my reluctance to believe it ever really will. But that would be the most important fight in boxing in a long, long, long time, and for good reason.

Source: badlefthook.com

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