A packed crowd at the Staples Center were treated to a fight of the year contender on Sunday morning as Errol Spence Jr defeated Shawn Porter in a thrilling split-decision victory. Spence Jr (26-0-0) edged the bout with two judges scoring the contest 116-111 in his favour, with the third scoring it 115-112 for Porter. Moments after adding Porter’s WBC belt to his collection there was only one man on the newly unified champion’s mind – Manny Pacquiao. ‘PacMan’ (62-7-2) is on the American’s hit list as he aims to add yet another title to his ever-expanding trophy cabinet. Despite his stock being at an all-time high, Spence Jr will have to take his place in the queue as there are no shortage of names lining up to face current WBA champion, Pacquiao.
While Spence Jr and Porter were battling it out in Los Angeles, the Filipino superstar was keeping himself busy in Dubai as he played in a Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) exhibition at Hamdan Sports Complex. The star wowed fans with appearances in two games, including a victory over Dubai All-Stars DJMC. Pacquiao scored a whopping 42 points for Team Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Executives in his side’s 107-101 win.
Clearly enjoying his time in the UAE he said: “I want to thank you for inviting me here, all of us appreciated the warm welcome.” In the press conference leading up to the weekend’s basketball it didn’t take the eight-weight-champion to mention the squared-circle. “I hope in the future I can not only play basketball in Dubai but also boxing,” which was met by rapturous applause by the room.
The welterweight king said he’s looking at making a fight happen in 2020, with Amir Khan as a possible opponent. The news will be music to the ears of the Brit who, earlier this year, announced the pair were to lock horns this November in Saudi Arabia. Speaking exclusively to Sport360 Pacquiao said those talks had broken down thanks to too many people being involved. “We didn’t talk personally before, there were a lot of middle men, which is why we messed up the negotiations. Hopefully after my next fight we can talk about possibly bringing the fight to Dubai.” He continued, “It’s the right place to bring the fight because of our fans here. There’s a lot of Filipinos here, I can see from four years ago to now a lot of development and construction going on so it’s the right place.”
Dubai has indeed improved its sporting facilities in the last few years, notably with the opening of the state-of-the-art Coca-Cola arena, which is a no-brainer to host such an event. Dubai’s decision-makers will also no doubt be looking to capitalise on the growing number of boxing fans in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia currently leads the charge with Anthony Joshua’s blockbuster heavyweight-title rematch with Andy Ruiz in December. Other notable Saudi fights include Callum Smith’s world title victory over George Groves in Jeddah last year, and Amir Khan’s glorified exhibition against Billy Dib in July. Despite the sport’s recent rise in popularity in the country Pacquiao said his focus is only on the UAE. When asked if he plans on fighting in Saudi he responded, “I don’t think so, I’ve never been to Saudi Arabia. There are a lot of Filipinos in Dubai so it makes sense to have it here.”
Khan is the latest in a string of names mentioned for a big-money dance with Pacquiao, just some of the other potential opponents include Floyd Mayweather, Danny Garcia, Terrance Crawford, and now Spence Jr. At the age of 40, it’s unlikely Pacquiao will have time to fight all of the above, so he’ll have to choose his foes carefully. When prodded by Sport360 about the number of fights left in his career he refused to put a number on it but said with a smile, “I can still fight, the secret is just to be disciplined.” He also confirmed he has, “a few” fights left in him before thinking about hanging up his gloves.
With titles aplenty, hero status in his homeland and enough money in the bank to last a lifetime perhaps the bigger question for Pacquiao is how much fire is there left in the belly to continue to step in the ring. The great man showed in July he’s still got the stamina to mix it with the best, with a split decision victory over the previously unbeaten Keith Thurman, who is ten years Pacquiao’s junior. However, fighters know as well as anyone that Father Time waits for no man and eventually the Filipino senator will have to step away from the ring. For now though, and much to the delight of his fans in the UAE, the champion shows little sign of slowing down as he continues to add Ws to his record, and is still ranked in the Ring Magazine’s top 10 Pound-For-Pound boxers. With a long line of opponents, hoping to add a scrap with Pacquiao to their own record there’s plenty for Dubai’s fight fans to be excited about as they wait to see the sporting icon in the ring, and not just the basketball court.
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