He lost two fights in a row, one controversially to Timothy Bradley 31-0 (12) and then six months later he was knocked out by his career nemesis Juan Manuel Marquez 55-7-1 (40) in a devastating fashion. Yes I'm talking about welterweight star Manny Pacquiao 55-5-2 (38). This time last month there were questions surrounding Manny's dedication and desire along with the query if he still had it as a world class fighter and we wondered, can he fight the mental demons associated with a fighter suffering a brutal knockout loss where he was out on the canvas face down for over a minute? Well, it only took one fight for Pacquiao to erase all doubts and now he's back to being, at the least, the second most compelling fighter in professional boxing after Floyd Mayweather.
Two weeks ago Manny administered a one-sided beating to the rugged and determined Brandon Rios 31-2-1 (23) over the course of 12 rounds. Pacquiao handled the limited Rios with total ease and it's doubtful that he lost a single minute of a 36 minute fight. And you know what, looking back, it was an easy fight to predict and break down, as long as you knew for certain that Manny still retained 90% of the skills and zeal that he had two years ago, and only one person knew that, trainer Freddie Roach. Obviously, Pacquiao is the fighter Roach will be remembered for most as a trainer. On top of that Freddie has been with Manny long enough to know if and how much he's slipped as a fighter. Roach said before the Rios fight that it would almost like shooting fish in a barrel and it was. There's no way Roach would put Pacquiao in with a fighter who he thought going in had more than a remote chance of hurting him. Which is why the Mayweather fight will always be there because Roach knows if Mayweather beats Manny, it'll be via decision and Manny won't get hurt enroute to earning a King's ransom.
Knowing that Roach sincerely has Pacquiao's best interest and health in my mind, it's safe to say that if he puts Manny in with another tough and determined fighter, he's pretty sure of how the fight will unfold as it was the case with Rios. That's why I believe the talk of Manny fighting Ruslan Provodnikov 23-2 (16) next April is starting to make news.
When I first heard of Bob Arum talking about Pacquiao fighting Provodnikov next, I thought, I don't think I'd go that route if the goal is still to get Mayweather in the ring. Then I thought about it and realized that it makes perfect sense on two fronts. Think about it, boxing on HBO has now gotten to the point that they can "make" a fighter a PPV attraction based on just two fights. Provodnikov is getting a serious look as a possible Pacquiao opponent based entirely on the Bradley fight (and, say what you will, he lost the decision). After that Ruslan fought Mike Alvarado 34-2 (23) and it's clear that Mike was done after the two wars with Rios. Provodnikov looked like a real life-taker versus Alvarado in his last bout. He showed that he'll apply bell-to-bell pressure with a big target in front of him. Ruslan knows how to cut off the ring, he's willing to mix it up with anybody and he can get his man out of there with either hand. Provodnikov, based on his last two fights could be a great dance partner for Manny at the gate because boxing fans know that as long as the fight last they'll definitely get their money's worth. In summary, Provodnikov fits the bill perfectly as a legitimate opponent for Pacquiao in April of next year.
Secondly, there's the Roach matchmaking factor. He knows that Marquez will always give Manny trouble and win or lose, his fighter won't emerge from the fight as the world beater he did after taking Rios apart. Timothy Bradley would probably be the biggest fight for Pacquiao aside from Mayweather. However, with Bradley having officially defeated Pacquiao, Provodnikov and Marquez, Timothy will demand equal billing and money. And we know that Roach/Pacquiao see it differently and although it would be nice to exact some ring revenge on Bradley, they don't need him.
Enter Ruslan Provodnikov, who would no doubt love to get a shot at one of boxing's most popular and best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet. Roach has watched Pacquiao and Provodnikov work and spar together numerous times. If anyone knows how Manny and Ruslan match up, it's Roach. And do you really think that Freddie Roach would okay the Provodnikov fight if he wasn't entirely certain, based on all the sparring Provodnikov had done with Manny, that he wasn't a 100% safe opponent who would make his fighter look good? I say Freddie wouldn't sign on to having Manny fight Provodnikov unless he thought Provodnikov's only shot was to land a lottery punch. And the fact of the matter is, Manny is too quick of hand and foot to be bulldozed or steamrolled by the aggressive Provodnikov, as much as it would be fun to watch him try.
Yes boxing fans, Manny Pacquiao is back to being one of the main players on the professional boxing scene again. He looked terrific in his last fight, he's still a blast to watch fight and get off and he certainly still loves to fight. No, he can't make the fight he really wants against Maweather, or should I say he's not willing to capitulate enough to get it, despite the fact that Mayweather now believes he can defeat him instead of a few years ago when he only thought it. Most likely we'll next see Manny Pacquiao in the ring against Ruslan Provodikov during the spring of 2014. It'll be a terrific fight and it makes dollars and sense on behalf of both fighters.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com