The carrot on the stick -- a mega-millions fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. -- still is dangling just beyond Manny Pacquiao's grasp. Now that Pacquiao is closing in on his 36th birthday in December and has begun to show the wear and tear of 63 pro fights over a 19-year career, Mayweather's representatives have laid the groundwork for serious negotiations.
But Pacquiao must clear one last hurdle to reach the finish line for a Mayweather fight. He still has to get past Huntington's Chris Algieri in their WBO welterweight title fight Nov. 22 in Macau.
It's a fair bet Pacquiao never had heard of Algieri before the latter upset Ruslan Provodnikov for the WBO junior lightweight title by split decision in June. When he was in New York in September on the promotion tour, Pacquiao kiddingly played along with a reporter asking what he thought when Top Rank promoter Bob Arum offered him Algieri.
"Chris who?" Pacquiao said to a burst of laughter.
When another reporter then asked about Mayweather negotiations, Pacquiao didn't miss a beat: "Who?"
The laughter died, and then he said: "Hopefully, that fight will happen by next year. I still give him hope. Give him a chance to make it happen. They have started negotiating right now with the promoters. It's a serious conversation, so that's good."
Arum frankly admitted a Mayweather-Pacquiao bout isn't worth as much as it was three years ago when Pacquiao still was at the top of his game. In 2012, Pacquiao's string of 15 wins over six years and four weight classes came to an end when he lost a controversial decision to Timothy Bradley. His next time out, Pacquiao was stretched face-first, out cold on the canvas by a Juan Manuel Marquez knockout punch.
Though Pacquiao since has beaten Brandon Rios and regained his title from Bradley last April, the perception is that his tank is nearing empty. Pacquiao insists that's not the case.
"I can still fight," Pacquiao said that day in New York. "You can see in my face boxing is my passion. Every time I walk into the ring, you can see I'm smiling because I'm excited to fight.
Asked if he's as good as he was before the Marquez KO, Pacquiao said: "I still feel that. I'm not thinking I'm slowing down. It depends on how I prepare."
Freddie Roach, who trains Pacquiao, made news last week when he said they have some "sparring partners who are better than our opponent." Despite that note of disrespect from Roach, he knows better than anyone the danger of a skilled boxer with a big size advantage over the 5-6 Pacquiao.
After all, Roach was in Provodnikov's corner and has admitted he took Algieri lightly. When it came time to choose Pacquiao's next opponent, Roach favored Danny Garcia.
"That's a very attractive fight," Roach said. "The guy swings really hard and goes for it. That was my first choice. Algieri is a little bit of a mover, not Manny's favorite style to fight. But he's had success with it."
Roach said Algieri bears some similarity to Oscar De La Hoya, who was stopped in eight rounds by Pacquiao in 2008. "Good jab, good left hook," Roach said. "His right hand is nothing to worry about. Our job is just to take that jab away from him, and that's really not that difficult.
"We took the jab away from [De La Hoya] by getting a little bit closer. That's what we have to do is fight from a little bit shorter range and use the hand speed to its fullest."
As part of the contract, Pacquiao's camp demanded a 144-pound catchweight three pounds below the welterweight limit. Algieri is a 140-pound champ, so, he will make that easily, but Pacquiao, who hasn't stopped an opponent in five years, also should have more power at that weight.
Pacquiao and Roach agreed Algieri earned the fight by the way he came back from two first-round knockdowns against Provodnikov to box his way to victory. "Algieri did just beat one of the best punchers in the world," Roach said. "He got off the deck twice, and he showed a lot of heart. We are not taking him lightly at all."
The two fighters and their camps got the chance to know each other during their 27,000-mile promotional trip that began at the Venetian Macau, where the fight will take place. Algieri has projected extreme confidence, but Roach and Pacquiao have a vast gulf in experience over their opponent.
"He speaks well and all that, but he's a little nervous," Roach said. "It's new for him."
Pacquiao has studied Algieri's style, and he plans to draw on his experience defeating 5-11 puncher Antonio Margarito in 2010. He credited Algieri's skill level but added: "I saw a weakness also. I saw weakness."
To the suggestion he might get inside more easily because Algieri (20-0, 8 KOs) hasn't shown a big knockout punch, Pacquiao said: "I don't want to think about that because it gives me more confidence. I have to make sure I'm 100 percent focused."
As Roach indicated, getting past Algieri's jab is the key to victory for Pacquiao. But sometimes, there's a price to pay.
"We always work on defense, but Manny's defense is not the greatest defense in the world because he comes to fight," Roach said. "And when you throw combinations, you leave yourself a little bit open when you finish them."
That's what happened to Pacquiao when he got caught by a right hand from Marquez that turned out his lights. "It's not the first time it has happened to me like that in the Marquez fight," Pacquiao said. "I know what I am going to do for this fight. They are going to watch that fight and review that fight, and I will be ready.
"I think I have a way if he throws a lot of jabs. I can move faster than him, so I don't need to worry about that."
With the Mayweather fight almost within reach, Pacquiao must prove he's still fast enough to grab the big prize.