What's next for Pacquiao?

Special to FOX Sports Inside Fights, Will Cooling
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Fight night

Take a look at the best shots from a night of boxing action featuring Manny Pacquiao vs. Shane Mosley.

The welterweight title doesn't seem to bring the best out in Manny Pacquiao, with his last two fights at 147 pounds being surprisingly turgid affairs. First, Joshua Clottey and now Shane Mosley both took Pacquiao the full distance in listless encounters.

While Clottey's performance could be dismissed as a Pacquiao struggling to breakdown a larger opponent who had entered into survival mode, the way Mosley neutralized the knockout threat of the Pac-Man reopens the whole debate about why Mosley was never the right man to challenge the pound-for-pound king.

You see, this wasn't the Shane Mosley who had dominated Antonio Margarito, twice defeated Oscar De La Hoya or even came close to knocking down Floyd Mayweather, Jr. last year. This was a Shane Mosley desperately trying to impersonate the two fighters who most feel could truly test Pacquiao: Juan Manual Marquez and Mayweather.

Mosley studiously tried to highlight the occasional lapse in technique and craft in the Filipino's game, adopting the crisp counterpunching style that made Marquez the only recent opponent to deny Pacquiao a conclusive victory. Fighting much of the fight off the back foot and out of range, Mosley saw the disciplined denial of his instincts to attack and put his opponent under pressure pay dividends as he stifled and frustrated his decorated rival. Only in the third round did Pacquiao decisively pierce through Mosley's defensive tactics. In almost every other round Pacquiao struggled to box his way inside.

The question, of course, has to be asked, if a wannabe counterpuncher could successfully keep Pacquiao at bay, what would a fighter who had spent a career perfecting those tactics do? Marquez has already come closer than most to defeating the modern version of Pacquiao, taking him to disputed judges' decisions after being dropped early. In both of those fights, it was Marquez's precision punching that gave him the ability to hit and hurt Pacquiao as the Filipino tried to rush in.

Marquez is in the process of escaping his contract with Golden Boy, and with Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum having already made an official offer for the Mexican legend to fight Pacquiao on Nov. 12, it seems almost certain that final part of what is already being dubbed “The Thrilogy” will finally happen this year.

While many fight fans will welcome the match, one cannot help but doubt whether another Pacquiao-Marquez fight will be truly competitive in 2011. Marquez seems to have maxed out in terms of size at 135 pounds, and his performance at 143 pounds against (an admittedly overweight) Mayweather suggested that his speed, power and conditioning doesn't fully translate to the higher weight classes as well as Pacquiao's has.

The stylistic matchup and the history of the contest make this an enticing fight for fans, but the prospect of Marquez being dragged up to welterweight would leave a sour taste. And while Marquez showed no signs of slowing down in either of his impressive lightweight title defenses last year, one has to wonder at 37 years old whether he'll join the likes of De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Mosley himself for whom a fight against Pacquiao was one fight too many.

And so that leads us back to the fight we've all wanted to see ever since Mayweather tried to overshadow Pacquiao's victory over Ricky Hatton in 2009 by announcing his return to competition on the same day. It's long become tiresome to speculate on a fight that may never happen, but Saturday's poor showing by Pacquiao should remind everyone why Pacquiao vs. Mayweather long ago captured the imagination of the boxing world.

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It's not just that the two are without equal in the sport, it's the way their styles are a perfect study in contrasts, with each man having the strengths to go after the weaknesses of the other. As one of the best counterpunchers in the history of the sport, Mayweather has all the tools necessary to exploit this potentially fatal weakness in Manny Pacquiao's game.

Let's hope he realizes this and resolves to end his exile and risk it all in what would be one of the biggest fights of all time.

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