Mayweather should take on more risks

It’s that time of year again when the boxing world collectively waits by the phone for the announcement of Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s next opponent. Only, forgive us this time for not being so excited.

It's no secret that Mayweather, who created a social media poll for fans to vote between Amir Khan and Marcos Maidana for his May 3 pay-per-view opponent in Las Vegas, holds all of the cards when it comes to the direction of his career.

When Mayweather produces a year like 2013, where he fought twice for the first time since 2007 and won virtual shutouts against prime opponents coming off their biggest career wins, his power is a good thing. He not only gets full credit as the deserved fighter of the year, give him extra points for moving up in weight to face Canelo Alvarez when others assumed he would avoid the bout.

But if 2014 sees Mayweather returning to a path of least resistance when it comes to his opponent choices, the criticism becomes valid considering the power he yields.

It's not that the all-action Maidana, fresh off a thrilling upset of Adrien Broner, isn't a worthy opponent. But we've seen this fight before, having witnessed Mayweather handle fighters of a similar skill set with ease in recent memory. We also have a firm grasp of Maidana's ceiling. Khan, meanwhile, three years removed from his last significant win, just isn't deserving of the fight.

One can argue it's hard to criticize Mayweather (45-0, 26 KOs), who turns 37 on Feb. 24, for essentially "beating the game" business-wise in a sport that almost always takes more from a fighter than it gives back. But considering he holds dual titles as both the sport's pound-for-pound king and its biggest draw, the flip side is that with membership comes responsibility.

The great misnomer surrounding any criticism of Mayweather’s resume is that it’s done as a way to discredit his talent. Let me settle that right here: Mayweather has not only proven himself to be an all-time great, he’s the best fighter of his generation. It’s that same appreciation and respect for him that naturally fuels admirers to wonder just how truly great he can be.

It’s a question, however, that can only be answered in the ring, through similar dare-to-be-great challenges that other great welterweights before him have accepted. These are the same fighters that Mayweather has constantly compared himself against through his self-declaration as "the best ever."

Playing small when it comes to his own matchmaking not only hurts the fans who have emptied their pockets to help make Mayweather the sport's richest fighter in history, it holds back the limits to his own legacy.

There simply isn't an active fighter who wouldn't drop everything for a chance to face Mayweather. In turn, there isn't an opponent he likely couldn't find a way to fight if he truly wanted to. When you consider the current promotional and network cold war handcuffing the sport, there would be no better time than now for Mayweather to showcase his power to make big fights.

So, if Khan and Maidana don't float your boat as ideal candidates to face boxing's king, the next logical question becomes whom should Mayweather be fighting in a perfect world?

The question, of course, begins and ends with Manny Pacquiao, as their ongoing soap opera of not making the most marketable and important fight of the past 25 years enters a maddening fifth year. But what about his Top Rank compatriot Timothy Bradley Jr.?

Matching a pair of unbeaten Americans welterweight titlists, both of whom can talk, is simply the most competitive matchup that could be made in the sport. Bradley is also the most deserving of any potential Mayweather opponent thanks to victories over Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez.

While Mayweather's refusal to do business with former promoter Bob Arum shoots down a Bradley fight just as quickly as it does Pacquiao -- and there’s plenty of blame to go around on both sides -- at what point does that excuse become a crutch?

The most deserving realistic opponent for Mayweather remains junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia, who scored a breakthrough win over Lucas Matthysse on the undercard of Mayweather-Alvarez. While fellow unbeaten Golden Boy fighters and 147-pound titlists Shawn Porter and Keith Thurman might appear to still be a fight or two away, both are hungry and intriguing enough in their own regard.

A return to 154 pounds for showdowns with difficult Cuban boxer Erislandy Lara and hard-punching middleweight titlist Gennady Golovkin, who claims he could comfortably make the weight, are extremely unlikely because of their high-risk, low-reward propositions. Both, however, present in their own ways Mayweather's toughest challenge available on paper between 147 and 160 pounds.

Finally, the biggest reward left on the table for Mayweather in terms of historic implications is a move to middleweight. Lineal champion Sergio Martinez, small to begin with for a 160-pounder, is as ripe for the picking as ever thanks to age and injury. Meanwhile, a showdown with unbeaten titlist Peter Quillin, who Golden Boy is having trouble finding a big-name opponent, makes almost too much sense.

The natural response of some to the thought of Mayweather moving up in weight usually surrounds questions of why he should need to take the risk. The answer to that is simple: because he can.

Fans shouldn't demand Mayweather take on more risks just because it makes for great TV or because it comes with the territory for a fighter of his historic talent. They should demand it because Mayweather, even in his late 30s, would probably win every single fight mentioned on this page.

Yes, he really does appear to be that good. It's a shame we may never find out, however, how good he really is.