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Manny Pacquiao victory over Ricky Hatton

Manny Pacquiao is, without doubt, at the crossroads of a career that has turned a one-time street urchin into an international icon beyond the boundaries of sports.

For the  pound-for-pound king, the only boxer in history to win world titles in eight different weight classes, 2012 will be a defining year, a season that will chart the last few paths of Pacquiao’s career.

And when one speaks of Pacquiao 2012—not in the electoral or political manner it may sound like—the names that immediately come to mind are those of Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Juan Manuel Marquez.

“There are negotiations going on with both camps, along with Timothy Bradley,” said Pacquiao during a recent dinner with sports journalists.

Take Bradley out of that statement and you get the two most important fights in Pacquiao’s career. In fact, a definitive victory over both Marquez and Mayweather may be the perfect horse that the current Sarangani representative can ride off on to his chosen sunset.

Of the two, Mayweather is the bigger bout. Financially, it presents Pacquiao with the opportunity to rake in his biggest guaranteed purse—at least $50 million, analysts predict—plus huge additional sums through his share of the pay-per-view and gate receipts pie. It also presents Pacquiao with the chance to validate his spot in not just the pound-for-pound rankings but in the all-time list as well.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. upsets Juan Manuel Marquez

The Mayweather bout also cuts through different platforms beyond the sporting arena. It is an entertainment spectacle that promises to break existing pay-per-view records and should be an economic force—casino revenues tend to spike during the Pacquiao fights, the New York Times once reported.

And none of those fights were within the zip code of the hype, importance and anticipation of Pacquiao-Mayweather.

The bout’s historical significance must not be overlooked. Argue all you want about who’s No. 1 and No. 2, you will still end up with an inescapable truth: They are, pound for pound, the two best fighters in the world. And rare is the opportunity that the world’s two best fighters belong in the same weight class that they can actually duke it out to settle who’s No. 1.

By some twist of fate they are also at the prime of their careers, and are both certified cash cows of the sport.

In fact, the fight could be the single most important fight in modern boxing history that it may end up a victim of its own magnitude. The fight can become so big that putting it together could be a logistical nightmare that’s a stone’s throw from being impossible.

There have been several investors willing to shell out the money it will take to get the two best fighters in the world to finally face off in the squared circle. Each fighter will command astronomical sums from these investors. But promoters will be faced with the question of how to repay these investors.

While boxing is big business, there is little income to be generated outside of PPV buys and live ticket sales. Knock-offs have turned merchandising into a joke. And both PPVs and ticket sales are self limiting. Beyond the US, there is little PPV income. In the country, where time stands still and virtually everyone stands frozen in front of TV screens, movie houses and community screenings during Pacquiao fights, PPV is hardly a force income-wise. And Mayweather’s reluctance to fight outside of Las Vegas—his comfort zone—greatly paralyzes the revenue earning capabilities of the fight at the ticket booths.

It could take a busload of marketing geniuses to help Top Rank and Golden Boy Promotions greatly increase the fight’s income generating pool.

The fallback? Pacquiao-Marquez. This is the more possible fight and could be the one Pacquiao will lace his gloves up for in May next year.

It won’t be half the financial success a fight against Mayweather will be, but it is significant enough to make cash registers ring.

Pacquiao and Marquez have fought three brutal and thrilling bouts that ended up a draw, with two close scorecard victories by Pacquiao. The Pacman has been aching for a definitive triumph over the only fighter he has yet to unlock since hooking up with Hall-of-Fame trainer Freddie Roach. But it seems that with each passing fight, it is Marquez who is solving the Pacquiao puzzle.

From getting floored thrice in their first meeting, Marquez managed to survive one more knockdown the second time they squared off before finally nearly pulling it off in their third encounter.

Pacquiao-Marquez, therefore, presents the Filipino ring superstar with a unique opportunity: Laying to rest the last shred of doubt critics can cast on him. It is, however, an opportunity shrouded in a painfully obvious reality. That until the age difference comes into play—Marquez is 38, six years older than Pacquiao—every fight between the two will produce a less-than-definitive winner.

Which is why Pacquiao-Mayweather is 2012′s top priority. Pacquiao’s last bout against Marquez has emboldened “Money” to drop his concerns about protecting his last boxing legacy—his undefeated record—and call out Pacquiao. Both sides have worked out disagreements on drug testing protocols (Mayweather may even get a reprieve from the lawsuit Pacquiao slapped on him for insinuations of steroid use) and the money is just a marketing ploy away from being placed on the table. A definitive Pacquiao over Marquez might even force Mayweather back into duck mode.

Never before has the boxing world moved closer to Pacquiao-Mayweather than it does now. It is definitely the battle Pacquiao has to wage in 2012, otherwise it will end up the fight that, in the future, people will ruefully list under their “could have beens.”  By T.J. Ochoa (Philippine Daily Inquirer)