Joseph Santoliquito

Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — Once it was over, the temptation was easy to go there: Manny Pacquiao was proclaimed “back” by his multitude of minions after he vanquished the game, though out-skilled Tim Bradley last week, avenging the grave injustice that was done to “Pac-Man” the first time they fought.

It took possibly nanoseconds for the twitterverse to explode with boxing fans worldwide clamoring for you-know-who next—Floyd Mayweather.

That’s fine.

It’s a fight that is years past its sell-by date. No matter. To the true Pacquiao believers—and there are many—and to the true Mayweather haters—and there are just as many, it’s a fight that has to happen, despite how lopsided and aesthetically ugly the fight will probably be.

At times against Bradley, Pac-Man looked good, real good in winning a unanimous decision to regain the WBO welterweight trinket. But did he look as good, and as sharp as he did in 2008, when he beat Juan Manuel Marquez, torched David Diaz and destroyed Oscar De La Hoya? Was he as dominant as the Mannym, circa 2009, when he plowed through Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto?

The answer is an emphatic “No!”

That Pac-Man is long gone.

Pacquiao (56-5-2, 38 KO) is 35 now and his skills have obviously diminished. He still has fast hands, though not at the blazing speed he once had. And if he couldn’t get out of the way of a punch from Bradley, how will he be able to do that against the lightning fists of Mayweather?

The argument can be made that all fighter’s skills ebb in time. Apparently not Mayweather’s.

Granted, at 37, Mayweather is older than Pacquiao, but he seems to be getting better, like fine wine. And he’s been fighting younger, more lively opponents. The average age of Pacquiao’s last five opponents is 33.4 years, which includes two rematches. The average age of Mayweather’s last five opponents is 31.2 years.

“Pretty Boy” made a joke of Canelo Alvarez, like he’ll probably make Marcos Maidana into a human punching bag when they meet on May 2.

But take solace Pac-Man fans. He’s still an all-time great who even in decline is so much better than almost every junior welterweight, welterweight and junior middleweight in the world today. The fact still hovers like a dark cloud that he’s not as good as Mayweather, and it could be a terrible, crushing beating of a lesson Pac-Man may not want to endure. Maybe not at this juncture of his career.

Pacquiao executed a great game plan against Bradley. He systematically broke him down and took advantage of Bradley’s wide-looping punches and over-aggressive style.

Do you think Mayweather will attack Pacquiao like that?

Mayweather won’t be there to be hit, as Bradley was. He’ll disappear. He’ll sting from angles Pacquiao won’t be able to counter from and he’ll pile up an easy points victory. Mayweather may even at times make Pacquiao look amateurish with lunging, futile attempts to connect.

Beating Bradley was a nice victory for Pacquiao. For his confidence. For his loyal, unbending fans. But fighting Floyd Mayweather will be a too-painful reminder of what he used to be. The version of Pacquiao that may have had a chance is gone.

Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly. 

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