Where Does Manny Pacquiao Turn in 2017: Top Options for Pac Man
By Loot, Boxing Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Retirement or not, Manny Pacquiao is in the midst of a late-career renaissance. His last two ring appearances have seen him in reasonably close-to-vintage form, scoring clear decisions over a pair of top fighters in Timothy Bradley and Jessie Vargas. At 38, with a 22-year pro career and a world class resume that dates back to 1998, Pacquiao has a remarkable amount of fight left in his aging legs. How many fighters can you name who were in this good of shape nearly two decades after first strapping on a world title belt?
The question heading into 2017 is what's next for Pacquiao? It's been announced that Pacquiao will next face unbeaten Australian welterweight Jeff Horn in April. But what about after that, since Horn appears to have almost no shot? That depends a lot on the Filipino legend and what approach he wants to take. There are any number of routes he can take. But the main categories would be a financially-driven one or an approach of a fighter trying to show he's the best. At this stage in Pacquiao's career, there is nothing left to prove, as his resume is above reproach. He could continue fighting good fighters, but those who are beneath the level of "elite." He could make good money by taking on the old guard, rematches with Mayweather or any number of fighters still lingering around like Cotto, Marquez, or fighters of that ilk. Or Pacquiao could set his sights on the young blood at or around the weight—guys like Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter, Kell Brook, Errol Spence, etc.
An Ambitious Plan: Naturally, this is the one that poses the most danger. But with super-insistent fighters like Pacquiao, there is perhaps no easy way for this to end. At some point, he will be emphatically shown the door. Maybe it's better that happens at the hands of one of the young lions to preserve boxing's age-old tradition of passing the torch. There are any number of intriguing possibilities abound in the 147-pound division, which has regenerated quite well since the days Pacquiao and Mayweather were ruling the roost.
Perhaps Vargas was an entrance exam into the deeper waters of those at the highest levels of this division—aforementioned young talent like Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter, Errol Spence, Kell Brook, and others. This is the ambitious, high-risk approach. Pacquiao still has the talent and enough left in the tank to pose a threat to each of those fighters, but it's still unclear if he fits in with this new grouping of elite 147-pounders. Beating Vargas was a positive sign, but he would be really tested against any of these guys.
Here are some high-profile fighters who Pacquiao could still handle, should he choose the more-ambitious route:
Shawn Porter: A fine fighter with some good wins, Porter is perhaps a mini-step down from the upper-elite, but still a fighter of credibility that would be a robust challenge to the Filipino future Hall of Famer—but maybe not as much as some would tend to think. The forward-oriented Porter who relies on speed would be led into the Pacquiao wood-chipper. A bad style match-up for Porter.
Terence Crawford: Most would tend to favor the chances of Crawford, 30-0, a young and unbeaten multi-division champion who has dominated all his foes. But his opponents have all been very different than Pacquiao in terms of style, speed, ring knowledge, and experience. Crawford's cute two-way style is reliant on a certain type of opponent and Pacquiao's nimbleness, angular acuity, and fighting IQ would counteract a lot of what Crawford does and the result could end up being surprising. Not that Crawford couldn't get it done, but he has yet to cope with a lot of different things Pacquiao can still do.
Money Grab: Not to impugn Pacquiao's efforts, but he strikes one as a fighter looking to pick up some scratch more than a fighter trying to show he's the best. A money-grab approach isn't all that safe, either, as opponents still need to be credible to warrant the paydays Manny needs to make it still worth it to fight. But this makes it far less-demanding for Pacquiao, as he can sit back and hand-pick opponents. Unfortunately, this is facilitated by the mess that the sanctioning bodies have created. There are so many "champions" like Vargas and other "top contenders" that he can fight in supposedly-meaningful bouts left and right if he chose to go that route without ever really tangling with the true-elite.
Senior's Tour: Reminiscent of the late-80's when Sugar Ray Leonard renewed acquaintances with Duran and Hearns, with the results being huge paydays. While superior fighters toiled away, these old-timers raked in the big bucks by fighting each other. Any number of old Pacquiao rivals are still active in the sport or could easily be lured back into the ring. Cotto might be at too high of a weight. It seems like Marquez' retirement could be less-than-permanent. Floyd Mayweather would be an interesting and big-money option.
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Top Candidates: With Jeff Horn just signed by Top Rank, there seemed to be an inertia for weeks steering him to the WBO welterweight champion as his next opponent. The 16-0-1 Australian is a good-looking 28-year old up-and-comer with a high WBO ranking, but a rather-arbitrary selection to take on the Filipino great. So maybe this is what is in store for Pacquiao, a series of fights that no one is really asking for. And there's nothing wrong with that. A pro for less than four years, Horn came into the crosshairs of the Pacquiao brain-trust for some reason and it's likely because he's suited for Pacquiao and his style. A good fighter, Horn appears to be at a heavy deficit in every category that we use to evaluate fighters.
Legacy Implications: At this point, it's all gravy. Don't let anyone tell you differently. Boxers are not judged by what happens at the end of their careers unless it's something good. George Foreman is lauded for winning the heavyweight title at 45. No one gives him any grief for the setbacks he incurred on that comeback. There aren't many legendary fighters who went out on great terms and no one is docking them credit for it. It's more or less a rite of passage for the sport's greatest warriors. There's a certain level of insistence that needs to be beaten out of them. That's what makes it so remarkable when a fighter ends his career by doing something great.
Pacquiao's legacy is secure. This is the cherry-on-top phase. But if he were to plant his flag among the younger set, that could give his legacy yet another turbo-boost. If he registers a win over a guy that goes on to remain prominent ten years from now, his career would be covering a lot of ground. By the same token, if this were to end badly, better it come to a fighter of premier stature and not the likes of a Jeff Horn.