JUST as boxing lost one superfight, it gained one it never knew it needed. Out of nowhere, Manny Pacquiao announced that he will fight the undefeated Errol Spence Jnr on August 21. He later confirmed the news to The Athletic.
Now 42 and having not fought in two years, Pacquiao will be taking on the best fighter at 147lbs and one of the best in the world; if he hadn’t already solidified his legendary status, this would do it.
The world was hoping for Spence to meet the other top contender for the welterweight throne, Terence Crawford, but the sport – as it so often does – got in its own way. There was then talk of Crawford finally fighting Pacquiao (an idea first floated years ago) but that too failed to materialise. So, ‘Pacman’ went one better and made a beeline for a man no one expected him to face at this stage of his career.
Pacquiao’s legacy is beyond doubt now, and he further added to it when he outpointed Keith Thurman in his last outing. Most fans figured the Filipino icon – who still serves as a senator in his home country – would perform a victory lap in big-money, relatively low-risk fights before riding off into the sunset, but he clearly has other plans.
Even at this late stage of his career, Pacquiao is proving himself one of a very select few in boxing who actively seek out the toughest challenges. Others in this esteemed group include Canelo Alvarez, Vasiliy Lomachenko and, most recently, Josh Taylor. The sport would be in a much healthier place if more fighters had this urge, and had the freedom to act on it.
Going back to Crawford and his ongoing pursuit of a big fight, Shawn Porter was the latest potential opponent to signal a breakdown in negotiations. Speaking to Boxing Social, the former welterweight champion explained how talks simply stopped with Crawford’s side, though intimated that this was because Terence was holding out for a “big fight” instead.
It’s getting to a stage now – or perhaps we’re already there – where serious questions need to be raised about what Crawford’s future looks like. He’s failed to really move the needle since moving to welterweight after becoming undisputed champion at 140lbs, and the truly big fights at this new weight seem out of his reach.
As the days clicked past, it became clearer and clearer that Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury is, for now, dead. As us boxing fans tend to do, we then picked over the carcass, trying to harvest whatever we could.
It now seems like we have two fights that will come out of this mess; Fury’s trilogy fight with Deontay Wilder and Joshua’s mandatory title defence against former undisputed cruiserweight king Oleksandr Usyk.
Those are both really good fights, but in the nuclear winter of Joshua-Fury no longer happening, they’re seen as measly commiseration prizes.
According to various reports, and Tyson himself, both Fury and Wilder have signed to fight each other with a mooted date of July 24 in Las Vegas.
If that’s the case, both men and the broadcasters involved have a quick turnaround. It is, also, a really interesting clash. Fury is the deserved favourite, but Wilder’s otherworldly power means he is always dangerous. However, he was clearly affected by his stoppage loss to Fury and with a revamped training team, it remains to be seen if this pony can add to its devastating one trick.
Joshua-Usyk is equally as intriguing. The unbeaten Ukrainian looked imperious at 200lbs and has the style to give ‘AJ’ nightmares, but questions remain over how his skills have transferred to heavyweights, particularly against giants like Joshua.
According to Usyk’s manager, Wembley Stadium is in play to host the fight in August, despite the stadium being ruled out as a venue for a potential Joshua-Fury clash in the same month.
The point is, there are two silver linings to the cloud which rained all over the Joshua-Fury parade. What’s more is that Fury and his handlers have claimed they still plan to face Joshua in the last few months of 2021, meaning the fight isn’t completely obliterated. They would both need to win their next bouts, but both will enter them as betting favourites.
If they were able to sort a deal this time around (though it did take an excruciatingly long time), logic suggests they’ll be able to do so again later in the year, provided there aren’t any curveballs in court from former opponents. There is hope yet.
Perhaps the most worrying sign that boxing is eating itself from the inside out was when ESPN confirmed the news that Showtime Boxing have signed YouTuber Jake Paul to a multi-fight deal for an undisclosed sum.
Details of the agreement remain a mystery, as does the thinking behind the decision. The broadcasting giant rarely offers deals to individual fighters; the main two in recent years being Floyd Mayweather and Joshua. To add someone like Paul to that list is a kick in the teeth for fighters across the planet.
Yes, the 24-year-old clearly generates a lot of revenue, but with this move Showtime are now fully giving him and his legions of troglodyte fans to call what he does actual, legitimate boxing.
Over the past few months, many active fighters have been asked their views on the Paul brothers’ involvement in boxing. Most have avoided condemning it, and part of the reason is that the fighters being asked are successful ones – they already earn a lot from the sport. Were those same questions put to lesser-known fighters toiling day-in-day-out to earn a spot on a Showtime, ESPN, DAZN, Sky Sports or BT Sport show, they would give very different answers.