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‘Fighting Words’ – Spence vs. Pacquiao: A Manny-Splendored Thing

Errol Spence Jr. (center) and Manny Pacquiao. Photo credit: Frank Micelotta/FOX Sports
25
May

This past week has brought mixed blessings when it comes to the best fighting the best. 

We are days removed from Josh Taylor’s standout victory over José Ramirez, a fight between one man who had two of the major world titles at junior welterweight and another man who owned the remaining two. Taylor emerged with all four belts and recognition as the undisputed 140-pound champion.

We are also rebounding from the whirlwind news that the prolonged negotiations between Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua had finally produced a deal for a huge fight that would create an undisputed heavyweight champion — only for that fight to fall apart.

An arbitrator ruled that Fury must honor his existing agreement to have a third fight with Deontay Wilder. So on Saturday, just before Taylor-Ramirez took place on ESPN, Fury signed a contract to face Wilder again while the broadcast cameras watched.

And then there’s the welterweight division.

Errol Spence has two world titles and is seen as the best fighter at 147 and one of the best boxers in any weight class in the world. Terence Crawford has a title belt himself, is often ranked just behind Spence at welterweight, and has long been high up on many pound-for-pound lists. 

They’ve talked about fighting each other. They’ve talked about not fighting each other. They still may someday fight each other — depending on the business and politics of boxing, including promotional and network alignments that may ultimately change.

But Spence vs. Crawford won’t be next. Instead, Errol Spence will face Manny Pacquiao on August 21 in Las Vegas. That fight was made official late last week. 

It is not necessarily the news that boxing fans were hoping for. But it isn’t bad news either.

Spence vs. Pacquiao is a worthwhile event. 

It features one of the best fighters of a generation, one of the greatest of all time, against a boxer who was labeled “The Truth” from his early days and has been working to fulfill that destiny in the years since.

It features a 42-year-old who is past his prime but still capable of competing at a high level, taking on yet another dangerous challenge in what could end up being his final fight, rather than exiting with a guaranteed victory.

Spence lands a punch on Danny Garcia

It features a 31-year-old titleholder on the cusp of becoming a superstar, who needs one more signature victory to transcend, and who could elevate himself by downing a legend.

It could be one last hurrah and a blast from the past, or it could be a mismatch and a swan song.

Pacquiao’s fight with Spence will come more than 20 years after his initial breakout performance, when the former flyweight champion defeated 122-pound titleholder Lehlo Ledwaba on the undercard of the Oscar De La Hoya-Javier Castillejo pay-per-view.

He is the only person from that pay-per-view who is still in the ring. That’s been the case for a long time. The most recent appearance by anyone else from that show came in 2014. Back in 2002, future middleweight champ Jermain Taylor was 3-0 when he won a four-round preliminary bout on the De La Hoya-Castillejo undercard. Taylor’s last fight, that late 2014 appearance more than six-and-a-half years ago, was a victory over Sam Soliman.

Pacquiao’s accomplishments in his 26 years as a professional prizefighter are well-chronicled: winning world titles in eight divisions from flyweight to junior middleweight, and becoming the lineal champion in four weight classes: 112, 126, 130 and 140. (There are a few who add 147 to that list.) He’s defeated a who’s who of the sport, top names and quality top 10 contenders, current and future Hall of Fame inductees.

Since October 2014, when Jermain Taylor last fought, Pacquiao has gone 6-2, fighting intermittently as he aged and as he took on a more active political role in The Philippines, but still being more active in the ring than some of his younger welterweight contemporaries.

Pacquiao drubbed Chris Algieri to wrap up 2014, lost his long-anticipated superfight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, wrapped up his trilogy with Timothy Bradley with a rubber match victory in 2016, and defended that newly won world title with a decision over Jessie Vargas later that year.

In 2017, Pacquiao suffered a surprising and, to some, controversial loss to Jeff Horn and looked perhaps to finally be winding down his career. Yet he returned in 2018 and stopped Lucas Matthysse — Pacquiao’s first win within the limit since 2009 — and fought twice in 2019, taking decisions over Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman.

When Pacquiao steps between those ropes against Spence this August, it will have been more than 25 months since his last appearance. The pandemic has kept many fighters on the sidelines, especially those who seek a certain amount of money in order to perform.

A long layoff is rarely kind to any fighter, and even less forgiving for those who are simultaneously trying to stave off the consequences of age and wear and tear. And yet, for his next act, Pacquiao’s first fight in two years will be against Errol Spence. There’s no time for him to shake off rust once that bell rings.

Spence was a prospect in late 2014, though his rise up the ranks would soon begin. The 2012 Olympian had fallen short of getting a medal but was expected to blossom as a pro. He’d live up to those expectations.

Spence used his 2015 to blow through four welterweight measuring sticks: Samuel Vargas, Phil Lo Greco, Chris van Heerden and Alejandro Barrera. In 2016, he did the same thing to fringe contenders Chris Algieri and Leonard Bundu. By 2017, he was ready for his first title shot and willing to travel to hostile territory, flying to England and stopping Kell Brook for the IBF belt.

Spence defended that title twice in 2018, breaking down Lamont Peterson and making short work of Carlos Ocampo. He stepped up again in 2019, completely neutralizing Mikey Garcia in an absolute shutout, and then triumphing with a split decision over Shawn Porter to become a unified titleholder.

Then came Spence’s horrific car crash after he allegedly drove while intoxicated, lost control of his car and was thrown from the vehicle. He was hospitalized, and there were concerns first and foremost over his health, and also over his career.

Spence was fortunate. He recovered, returned to the gym and returned to boxing. After 14 months away from the ring, Spence’s comeback fight wasn’t against a soft touch. Instead, he met Danny Garcia, the former 140-pound champion and 147-pound titleholder. Spence won a unanimous decision and looked good in the process.

He is still in his prime, still one of the two best welterweights in the world.

He still hasn’t taken on the other one. That could still come.

Spence is aligned with Premier Boxing Champions and that company’s network deals. Crawford has long been promoted by Top Rank and, in recent years, featured on ESPN. But as Crawford’s most recent contract has neared its end, the fighter has expressed his frustration with Top Rank while the company’s head, Bob Arum, has aired his own sentiments. 

It would be surprising if Crawford extended with Top Rank. It wouldn’t be surprising if Crawford went on to make a deal with PBC.

In the meantime, both Spence’s team and Crawford’s current promoter were wooing Pacquiao for a potential megafight. Top Rank looked toward overseas investors and the possibility of holding the fight in June in the United Arab Emirates, but they couldn’t get the deal they were hoping for. Instead, Spence vs. Pacquiao will take place in Nevada in August, presumably with more fans allowed in attendance — and therefore the potentially big box office ticket sales — as jurisdictions loosen their coronavirus pandemic safety restrictions.

Pacquiao lands a punch on Keith Thurman. Photo by John Gurzinski / AFP

Even in his later years, Pacquiao has defeated younger opponents such as Thurman, Broner and Vargas. He hasn’t taken on anyone in these later years with Spence’s physical gifts and all around skillset, though. 

Spence, meanwhile, has never faced anyone like Manny Pacquiao. That’s because there really isn’t anyone like Pacquiao. The question is how much of the Manny Pacquiao we once knew will show up in August.

Maybe Pacquiao can summon the speed and style to shock Spence. Or maybe Spence’s size, quickness, power and boxing ability will send Pacquiao into retirement like Patrick Swayze’s character (spoiler alert) went out in Point Break — tackling the ultimate wave knowing that he could try to ride it into glory but would most likely be thrown into the abyss.

Either Pacquiao will add one more amazing victory to a lifetime full of them, or Spence will launch the next phase of his career.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. became an even bigger attraction after he defeated Oscar De La Hoya. The same was true for Pacquiao following his own win against De La Hoya. It didn’t matter that De La Hoya was faded when he faced Mayweather, nor did it matter that he was done and drained by the time he met Pacquiao. His fights were huge events, and that meant Mayweather and Pacquiao benefitted.

In a time where boxing has spotlighted overage and long-retired fighters, social media influencers and mixed martial artists, this is a marquee event featuring the No. 1 and No. 3 welterweights in the world, one of the best of right now vs. one of the best ever, a younger man seeking the greatest of glory taking on an older man desiring that one last dose of it.

This isn’t Spence vs. Crawford. This isn’t the fight we’ve hungered for. But this is one hell of an appetizer while we wait for the main course.

The 10 Count

1 – For those of you who weren’t able to watch the Marvelous Marvin Hagler memorial this past weekend, here’s the complete video.

The video leads off with a nice collection of photos of the all-time-great middleweight champion. The ceremony itself, coinciding with what would’ve been Hagler’s 67th birthday, begins about 12 minutes in.

Live guest speakers included:

  • Hagler’s mother, Mae Lang
  • Retired middleweight and light heavyweight champion Bernard Hopkins
  • ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith
  • Showtime boxing broadcaster Al Bernstein
  • Helyn Hall, the first Black woman to promote professional boxing
  • Billy Moore, son of the great light heavyweight champion Archie Moore
  • Journalists Ron Borges, Jim Fenton and Mike Lynch
  • Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan

There was also a great video package with highlights from Hagler’s careers in boxing and acting, plus recorded tributes from Sugar Ray Leonard, Gerry Cooney, Teddy Atlas, Freddie Roach, Bob Arum, a couple members of the Boston Red Sox, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker.

2 – Josh Taylor would be far from the first junior welterweight to be drawn by the big names in the 147-pound division. And yet there is a part of me that would like to see a champion, for once, remain and continue to assert his dominance as new challengers come to the fore.

Taylor’s good win over Jose Ramirez on Saturday night made him the undisputed champion at 140. It gave him all four world titles, and it gave him wins over four of the top 10 junior welterweights in The Ring’s ratings (Regis Prograis, Ramirez, Viktor Postol and Ivan Baranchyk), including three of the top 5 (Prograis, Ramirez, Postol).

The rest of the names don’t carry anywhere near the significance of what could lure Taylor to 147: Jose Zepeda (more on him later), Arnold Barboza, Mario Barrios (who will soon face Gervonta Davis), Batyrzhan Jukembayev, Shohjahon Ergashev, and Robert Easter Jr.

Contrast that with the likes of Errol Spence, Terence Crawford, Manny Pacquiao, Keith Thurman, Shawn Porter, Yordenis Ugas, Danny Garcia (more on him and his likely move to 154 later), Jaron Ennis, Kudratillo Abdukakhorov and Vergil Ortiz Jr.

Taylor will most likely take on one of his mandatory challengers next, someone not in the Top 10, the unbeaten but unheralded Jack Catterall. Or something bigger could come along and Taylor could jettison a belt (or more) in favor of bigger prizes and prestige.

That could be Crawford, who will share a promotional stable with Taylor at Top Rank for at least a little longer. Or that could be lightweight champ Teofimo Lopez, who has expressed an interest in moving up to 140.

3 – Boxers Behaving Goodly: José Ramirez didn’t leave the ring with the victory and four world titles on Saturday night, but some good will still come out of his loss to Josh Taylor.

That’s because the now-former unified titleholder had vowed to donate his gloves from the fight, plus a poster signed by him, Taylor and Top Rank head Bob Arum, to a charity auction.

The items sold for a total of $7,500, according to the Goldin Auctions website.

Per a Top Rank press release:

“The proceeds will be shared with a pair of charities supported by Ramírez: The V Foundation for Cancer Research and The Bautista Foundation, which funds community, education and health programs in California’s Central Valley, where Ramírez was born and still resides.”

The winning bid came from Stephen Foster, who owns Fresno Coin.

“José is a leader in our community and stands for so many great things, and we at Fresno Coin stand with him in the fight against cancer,” Foster said in the press release.

4 – There was a time that Kenny Bayless was considered the best referee in Nevada, and one of the best in boxing. He still had off nights, but those seemed to be the exception rather than the rule.

Bayless had a terrible night officiating Taylor vs. Ramirez this past Saturday in Las Vegas.

He refereed that fight like he was chaperoning a junior high school dance.

Bayless was incredibly quick to break the fighters up. He was incredibly slow in allowing action to resume after the two knockdowns Taylor scored. And he unintentionally contributed to a huge turning point in the match. With about 34 seconds left in Round 7, Taylor and Ramirez came together and briefly clinched. Taylor promptly pulled his right arm free and was beginning to do the same with his left.

Bayless stepped forward and slapped Ramirez’s right arm. The referee then stopped whatever he was attempting to do as he saw Taylor throw a punch. It was a big left uppercut that landed on Ramirez’s chin, discombobulating the American and dropping him to the mat.

A referee who wants the action to stop needs to issue a verbal command. However, Taylor did the right thing — he kept fighting in lieu of a command, despite the referee approaching. 

Ramirez should’ve continued to protect himself. But he also never should’ve been put in that position to begin with.

5 – It was always going to be impossible for Jose Zepeda’s next fight to measure up to his last one. 

There was just no way anything could come close to the all-out war that Zepeda had with Ivan Baranchyk last October, when they traded knockdown after knockdown, eight of them total in the span of just five rounds. The ending was a fitting finale. Baranchyk dropped Zepeda, who got back up and knocked Baranchyk cold, folding him backward onto the canvas.

There’s far less good to say about Zepeda’s return on the undercard of Taylor vs. Ramirez. It was a mediocre match against late replacement Hank Lundy, and I’m likely being too generous with that description. 

Zepeda, who wants to be fighting for world titles against top-tier opponents, often allowed Lundy to dictate the action. He needed to make a statement. Instead, he struggled to take command against a faded veteran. Zepeda won a unanimous decision. He lost a lot of momentum.

They won’t all be Baranchyk fights. They shouldn’t be. But they definitely shouldn’t be like this fight either.

6 – As disappointing as it is that we won’t be seeing Tyson Fury vs. Anthony Joshua next, I’m still looking forward to Fury’s third fight with Deontay Wilder.

Fury vs. Joshua was going to be a huge fight for all the marbles, with the winner becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion. Alas, Fury’s decision to pull out of a third Wilder bout led to contractually required arbitration hearings. The arbitrator recently ruled that Fury must face Wilder. And Fury’s team didn’t want to pay Wilder a hefty step-aside fee.

I wouldn’t expect Wilder to accept it either. There’s more money in it to face Fury now.

I do still want to see Fury fight Anthony Joshua. I also want to see Fury fight Wilder again. I eventually want to see Joshua fight Wilder. I don’t care who fights who. I just want to see them get back in the damn ring and fight each other.

Yes, Fury is 1-0-1 against Wilder — some would argue that he deserves to be 2-0 — and is coming off a dominant technical knockout victory in their rematch. Fury is vowing to do the same thing in this third fight.

Fury clearly has two paths to victory: to try to box or to go for the KO. Wilder still has that one path to victory, which is his fight-changing power. And that remains intriguing to me. The third fight could very easily go the same way as the second one did. Or it could be completely different.

You have a right to be mad or sad that Fury-Joshua isn’t happening next. As for me, I’ll be eagerly tuning in for Fury vs. Wilder and then will look forward to the winner taking on Joshua, hopefully sooner rather than later.

7 – Of course, Anthony Joshua will also need to do his part and get beyond whomever is next.

It could be Aleksandr Usyk, the former cruiserweight champ who’s been campaigning at heavyweight for the past couple of years and has been in mandatory position for Joshua’s WBO title. But Dillian Whyte, who is the mandatory for the WBC belt, has also been waiting for a while.

 

Whichever way things go, I’m interested.

Usyk hasn’t looked great at heavyweight so far and had to overcome some difficult moments in his decision victory over Dereck Chisora last October. I’d want to see how much Usyk has improved since then, and how Joshua handles Usyk’s style and skills.

Joshua and Whyte had a fun brawl in 2015, shortly before “AJ” went on to win his first heavyweight title. I’d enjoy seeing them mix it up again.

8 – Weighty Matters, Part 1: Danny Garcia says he will be moving up to the junior middleweight division, and I’m not so sure that it’s a good idea.

“I feel like at this point in my career I can’t put that strain on my body to get down to a smaller weight,” Garcia told Damichael Cole of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “My goal is to be a three-division world champion, and I feel like this is the perfect time to start my new journey. You’ll see a rejuvenated, strong Danny Garcia.”

Garcia said he’ll have advantages in experience and speed against the current crop of junior middleweights, who he says “starve themselves, dry out to make that 154.” He, conversely, walks around from 165-170 pounds.

It’s understandable to leave welterweight behind if making 147 has begun to take a toll on Garcia after more than five years in the division. And it’s not like he was outsized at welterweight. His only defeats have come against three top fighters: Keith Thurman in a close fight, Shawn Porter in a close fight, and Errol Spence.

However, Garcia’s power hasn’t been as impactful against the top-tier of 147-pounders. It’s hard to imagine it making a dent on the naturally bigger men who compete at junior middleweight. He’ll need that speed he mentioned. However, some fighters who move up in weight end up giving up some of their quickness due to the additional heft on their frames.

Garcia could be back in the ring as early as this September. He will deserve credit for testing himself at 154. It’s already a deep division. We’ll soon find out where he fits into it. 

9 – Weighty Matters, Part 2: Speaking of naturally bigger junior middleweights, there’s Jarrett Hurd, who had already astounded people with his ability to make 154 in the past.

His first fight back since January 2020 will be at middleweight, however, when he faces Luis Arias on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather vs. Logan Paul pay-per-view.

“I fought right before the pandemic hit, so I took some time off, and not only that I was moving into a new home out of my parents’ house,” Hurd said on a recent episode of The Last Stand Podcast with Brian Custer. “Taking some time off from my last fight, no gyms open, no nothing, I’m just sitting around in the house and I look in the mirror and my weight is up to like 217! 

“That’s a big drop going from there to 154, so for this fight we’re going to step up to 160,” he said. “We don’t want to drop too much weight, but this is just for this fight.”

All of this makes sense, given how heavy Hurd got, how he and his family are understandably still dealing with the death of Hurd’s father in March, and how Hurd doesn’t have to be at junior middleweight to shake off some rust and get back in the ring.

Losing 57 pounds is still a lot of weight. But if I had to lose 57 pounds, I’d rather do that than try to lose 64.

10 – Weighty Matters, Part 3: I can’t say we’ve mentioned Nkosinathi Joyi much in this space — as best as I can tell, this is the first time in the former strawweight titleholder’s 19-year career that he’s made it into Fighting Words.

Alas, this debut won’t be because of good news. That’s because Joyi came in overweight for a fight with Ayanda Ndulani.

I guess he N. Joyi’d life a little too much…

(Hey, the jokes can’t all be winners. And neither was Joyi, who dropped his fringe title on the scales and then was knocked out in four rounds.)

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.

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