Top Rank promoter Bob Arum will travel to the Philippines on Sunday and meet next week with Manny Pacquiao to present him with four potential opponents to pick from for his next fight, which will take place in May or June.
You can cross Floyd Mayweather Jr. off the list because Mayweather is going to jail and won't be available to fight. Even if he gets out early for good behavior in mid-March -- no guarantee -- forget about the big fight in the first half of this year. So Arum's list is down to a fourth fight with Juan Manuel Marquez (who lost a controversial decision to Pacquiao in November), Miguel Cotto for a rematch or a match with one of the junior welterweight titleholders, Lamont Peterson or Timothy Bradley Jr.
Now, I'm not saying those are my four preferred opponents, because I'd love to see Pacquiao fight, say, Canelo Alvarez or James Kirkland or Marcos Maidana or Andre Berto or Victor Ortiz or Sergio Martinez.
However, one of the guys on Arum's list is getting the fight, so here is my order of preference of those four. If you don't agree, fine. Make your own list.
Cotto: A lot of people will strongly disagree with my choice. So be it. Yes, I'm aware that Pacquiao stopped Cotto in the 12th round of their 2009 welterweight title fight and that Pacquiao was fairly dominant in the second half of the fight after a competitive first half. But I'm still interested in this rematch more than the other three options, and I would give Cotto a reasonable chance to win.
First of all, you know it will be a good action fight. That's a given. Just look at the fighters' histories. Also, Arum knows they're both proven pay-per-view attractions who would definitely generate more money than Pacquiao against Peterson or Bradley, and would probably do at least as well as Marquez IV. If Arum makes the match, it also allows him to keep Cotto happy by delivering him a big fight when he has few other options.
As for the fight itself, keep in mind that when they met the first time, Cotto was forced to make a catchweight of 145 pounds. I think that hurt him. But Cotto now has a junior middleweight title and Pacquiao, according to Arum, would fight him above the welterweight limit of 147 pounds.
If they structure a deal similar to Pacquiao's junior middleweight title bout against Antonio Margarito, it would mean a maximum weight of 150 pounds. Cotto could perhaps negotiate an additional pound or two. He seemed comfortable making 152 for his Dec. 3 rematch against Margarito. Any additional weight over 147 will help Cotto.
Also, Cotto has looked good and hasn't taken much punishment in his past three fights, against Yuri Foreman, Ricardo Mayorga and Margarito. And don't underestimate the confidence Cotto must have now, especially after putting the Margarito demons to rest.
Something else to consider: Cotto had untested trainer Joe Santiago in his corner when he faced Pacquiao. Santiago was in over his head, and it was obvious. Now Cotto has Pedro Luis Diaz, a calm, experienced trainer who worked wonders with him for the Margarito rematch.
Based on those factors, I think Cotto has the capability to put on a much better fight in a second chance against Pacquiao. The gap is further closed in my mind because, as great as Pacquiao is, I believe he has lost at least a little bit in recent fights. Although he won easily, don't underestimate the physical toll fights with Joshua Clottey and Margarito took on the much smaller Pacquiao, who might not be quite as motivated in the absence of a Mayweather fight.
Marquez: Obviously, he and Pacquiao are made for each other. They've had three terrific fights, all of which could have gone either way. They probably could fight 10 times and each one would be filled with action and close. A fourth chapter would generate another big pay-per-view audience, especially if Arum plops it on May 5 -- Cinco de Mayo -- now that Mayweather won't be fighting on that date. But as much interest as there would be in Pacquiao-Marquez IV, we just saw this matchup. A fourth fight will always be there for Pacquiao if he wants it, but I'm not enthralled by revisiting it immediately.
Peterson: His upset win over Amir Khan a few weeks ago, controversial decision and bad refereeing aside, was one of the best fights of 2011. It also got a lot of publicity and drew a great crowd. Unlike Bradley, Peterson didn't duck Khan, and his reward could be Pacquiao. Even though Peterson lost to Bradley in 2009, I strongly believe that Pacquiao-Peterson would be a more entertaining fight than Pacquiao-Bradley. Plus, it's a more promotable fight given Peterson's backstory of struggles growing up in the streets of Washington, D.C. His personal narrative would be a gold mine for HBO's "24/7."
Bradley: I think this is clearly the least interesting fight inside the ring and would generate the weakest pay-per-view numbers of the four bouts Arum is considering. As good as Bradley is, he's the least known of the four possible opponents, the weakest ticket seller and would make for the blandest promotion. Furthermore, I just don't believe he deserves the fight with Pacquiao at this point, after he blatantly ducked Khan last summer. He should not be rewarded for doing so. He said beating Khan would do nothing for his career. He was wrong. Look what it might do for Peterson's.