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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Philippine Senator Manny Pacquiao promises a weekend to remember for basketball-crazy Filipino community in United Arab Emirates as Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League makes its breakthrough show overseas with the Dubai Invasion 2019.
All roads lead to the sprawling Hamdan Sports Complex where close to 15,000 fans are set to witness a pair of blockbuster matches featuring crack MPBL teams – inaugural season champion Batangas City Athletics-Tanduay, Davao Occidental Tigers-Cocolife and Imus Bandera-Khaleb Shawarma – on Friday and Saturday.
A lion’s share of the spotlight, however, is expected to fall on the 40-year-old Pacquiao, an eight-division world boxing champion who scored a stirring unanimous decision victory over American Keith Thurman for the WBA super-welterweight title last July.
But this time, Pacquiao will lace up his basketball shoes – and not boxing gloves – as he’s set to figure in a pair of exhibition matches alongside former pro league greats and MPBL staff as they go up against the Dubai All-Stars comprised of Filipino expatriates who are thriving in the Middle East.
“This is our first time to bring MPBL overseas and we plan to make it memorable not just for us but for the 700,000-strong Filipino community here,” said Pacquiao on Thursday during the press conference held at Dubai Sports Council, who are supporting the event.
“Personally, I am really excited to play in front of our Kababayans here. They are used to seeing me inside the boxing ring. But for this special event, I will showcase my basketball skills as well. I am inviting all my Kababayans and other nationalities to come out and watch us play.
“It’s really a great opportunity to showcase to them live the Philippine brand of basketball and we really cannot wait to put on a show in front of our Kababayans.”
Foremost among those who are thrilled to welcome Pacquiao is HE Saeed Hareb, Secretary General of Dubai Sports Council.
“This is Manny Pacquiao’s second visit to Dubai Sports Council and we are honoured to have him back. We are also delighted to support his new basketball venture, the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League,” said HE Saeed Hareb.
“We are happy he has decided to bring his league here to Dubai for the entertainment of our sports-loving Filipino expatriate community in the UAE. Basketball is a very popular sports in the Philippines and fans here will be able to see MPBL’s top three teams in action.
“The Hamdan Sports Complex is a great venue for the tournament. It has hosted many top international events in the past, involving many different sports.
“We are always open to hosting and supporting new events that appeal to all the different segments of our diverse community. And we are looking forward to two days of exciting basketball matches and big crowds at Hamdan Sports Complex.”
Popular Filipino actors Gerald Anderson of Imus Bandera and Derek Ramsay of Batangas City are also expected to gain a fair share of the limelight in the course of the two-day basketball showpiece made possible by the Dubai Sports Council and Hamdan Sports Complex.
“It is with great pride and honor to welcome the entire MPBL delegation, led by Senator Manny Pacquiao, here in Dubai,” said Dunstan Rozairo, Chairman of DJMC Events. “He’s the living legend of Philippine sports and we’re humbled to partner with him for this great event. We look forward to a spectacular weekend of hoops and beyond.”
Tickets starting at 50AED are still available at meraticket.com, the event’s ticketing partner, and other ticket outlets. Ticketholders can also avail of the free transportation from bus stations located in Deira City Centre, Satwa, Karama and Mall of the Emirates.
(Hamdan Sports Complex)
6 p.m. — Team Pacquiao vs Dubai All-Stars
8 p.m. — Davao Occidental Tigers-Cocolife vs Batangas City Athletics-Tanduay
6 p.m. — Team Pacquiao vs Dubai All-Stars
8 p.m. — Batangas City Athletics-Tanduay vs Imus Bandera-Khaleb Shawarma
The boxing world is one that is rapidly expanding its global footprint with Saudi Arabia now competing with the likes of Las Vegas and London to host the biggest fights. In December, all eyes will be on the Middle East as Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz head to Diriyah for their eagerly anticipated heavyweight-title rematch. The sport is also attracting a plethora of new fans thanks to YouTube mega-stars KSI and Logan Paul who are also set to lock horns once again in a fight, which could break all sorts of viewing records. Despite neither being fully-fledged boxers, over six million people tuned in to watch the press conference as they headline a professional card in November.
While these guys are taking all the global headlines, there’s a local man determined to raise the profile of the sport a little closer to home. Mo Ali Bayat, who trains out of Real Boxing Only gym in Dubai, is fighting to prove those in the UAE can make a mark on the sport. “It’s not about money or fame for me, it’s to prove to the world that you don’t need to be American or from anywhere else, you can be from the UAE and be a success,” says Bayat as he chats to Sport360. “My goal is to bring up the region’s name in the world of boxing.”
The Iranian-born boxer moved to Dubai as a teenager, fifteen years ago and found his way into boxing after being challenged to a scrap by someone at the gym. “I actually started kickboxing to lose weight and some guy basically told me that he would beat me in the boxing ring,” recalls the cruiserweight. “I was 18 when I switched to boxing and ended up beating that guy.” That was back when boxing in Dubai was vastly different from what it is today. Bayat remembers when the venues were a far cry from the modern day 5-star hotels now hosting events. “All the fights were in nightclubs so it was hard for me to even get in. Sometimes I would do the fight and then they’d kick me out because I wasn’t old enough to be in there.”
Although in the early days getting his name on the shows was tough, Bayat continued working hard to become a success, and has gone from having the bare minimum, in terms of equipment, to training with world champions. “When I came here there wasn’t much around, the city has changed. I don’t complain about it though because for boxing training you just need some gloves, a bag and a good coach. Now we have everything. I don’t come from a rich family though and I remember back in the day even getting a pair of boxing gloves was a big thing for me.”
Bayat’s fighting has benefitted from working with the best, including David Haye, Anthony Joshua and Badou Jack. Each of who have taught the UAE-based fighter a thing or two, which he takes with him into every fight. “I used to follow David Haye’s career a lot growing up,” he says. “I liked his style, and he’s actually become a good friend of mine now. I learned something new from all these people. Boxing is all about experience. Jack is very strong, he’s a nice guy and we have respect for each other. Same with Anthony Joshua.”
The experience working with these world champions is something Bayat is looking to take with him as he steps in the ring this weekend in Glasgow, Scotland. Bayat, who has a record of 14-1-1, goes into the bout on a winning 10-fight winning streak, which has seen him overcome a painful injury, which required three surgeries. “At the end of 2017 I had a bad shoulder injury, which needed screws to fuse the bone together. I actually fought with the screws in my shoulder and it wasn’t good so we had to remove them. I stayed away from boxing for almost a year and a half; I was training with one hand basically. I’ve recovered now though, I competed in Prize Fighter in April and also a couple of fights in August, so it’s all good.
As an Iranian-passport holder, fighting abroad is often trickier than it ought to be for Bayat. The extra hurdles aren’t exactly ideal preparation for someone who just wants to fight and return back to the UAE, but at the same time he doesn’t let the extra hassle of boxing away from home to become a distraction. “I have some struggles because of my passport and all the countries need a visa, but we will keep doing everything we can to make fights abroad. At the end of the day, I am going to these places to fight and then come back, nothing else. We have some restrictions sometimes but it’s ok, we get it sorted, and we’ll continue to show the world the UAE is making a mark on the world boxing stage.”