Back To Vegas

This Saturday night, ring legend Manny Pacquiao will hear the opening bell as a pro for the 70th time in his career. He will do so at a familiar venue, Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena, where a majority of his most memorable matches have taken place. Floyd Mayweather Jr., Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto, Erik Morales, and Marco Antonio Barrera, to name but a few, have all challenged the Filipino at Las Vegas’ most famous venue, many of those encounters unfolding as thrilling battles, with more than a few unforgettable moments, not to mention some eye-popping revenues.

An unforgettable moment: Oscar falls to Manny in 2008.

That said, the Pacman hasn’t played the MGM Grand since outpointing Timothy Bradley in their rubber match back in early 2016, and one can only imagine the avalanche of memories that will revisit him this week. Memories of wars waged, enemies vanquished, glories attained and coffers filled to the brim. Memories of being the hottest attraction in Vegas, of being the toast of the town.

Nevertheless, in his latest trip to the Nevada desert Pacquiao might notice that the media doesn’t fawn over him the way they used to, and that fans don’t cheer as loudly. The furor that used to take over Sin City whenever he fought won’t be anywhere near as palpable, and even his check will be a fraction of what it used to be. But that the Fighting Senator will still encounter—at age 40, mind you—much in the way of hoopla and adulation in Vegas this weekend speaks to Pacquiao’s enduring greatness as a fighter, and to the loyalty of his North American fight fans, whom he has entertained for almost two decades now.

The last big win at the MGM Grand: Pacquiao outpoints Bradley in 2016.

But it will also have something to do with his newfound adaptability outside the ring. Having terminated his relationship with long-time promoter Bob Arum, the Filipino has now sided with impresario Al Haymon, and will be boxing for the first time in a long time in a Showtime telecast. Moreover, a victory on his first fight under Haymon’s management would represent a first big step towards the truly huge fights Pacquiao hopes to secure in what is surely the coda to his amazing career.

And only now—at the fifth-paragraph mark—does it seem necessary to mention Pacquiao’s adversary. It fell to Al Haymon’s perennial pet project, Adrien Broner, to welcome the Pacman to the Showtime stable. And while the marquee looks attractive enough with Adrien’s last name opposite Manny’s, it’s most difficult to find someone who follows boxing predicting a Broner victory. Amazingly, the much younger man is a definite underdog at about 3-to-1 odds.

That doesn’t mean the fight will necessarily be a dud, but the fact remains that Broner has failed to impress every single time he’s needed to step up his game. So much so, that he’s now less a threat at the elite level than the bouncer at the VIP section of Al Haymon’s stable: once a fighter gets past Broner, he can be assured of a seat at the big boys’ table.

Just ask Marcos Maidana, who famously handed “The Problem” his first defeat back in 2013 and then proceeded to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr. not once, but twice. Shawn Porter hung a second “L” on Broner’s ledger in 2015 and was rewarded with a shot at Keith Thurman. More recently, Mikey Garcia awarded Broner his third defeat in the summer of 2017 and, while it took him a little longer to cash in on, he will next face Errol Spence Jr. in a pay-per-view event at Dallas’ AT&T Stadium in March.

“The Problem” doesn’t impress: Broner struggles with Granados in 2017.

Who knows what awaits a fighter of Manny’s caliber should he get past Broner. Pacquiao has mentioned he would like to face the winner of the aforementioned Spence vs Garcia bout, a dangerous proposition for The Fighting Senator, regardless of its outcome. Errol Spence Jr. is not only younger and bigger, but also powerful, fast, and highly skilled. And while Mikey’s frame is closer to Manny’s in size, if he does find a way to defeat Spence, well, that would make him a formidable foe indeed.

Either way, many believe it’s nothing less than a rematch against “Money” May that is being dangled in front of Pacquiao at this point. Despite all the moans and sighs, there’s no doubt Mayweather vs Pacquiao II would easily become one of the highest-grossing boxing matches of all-time, and that’s exactly the reason we could end up getting it.

Feels like old times: Saturday night at the MGM Grand.

Held up to the light that way, Pacquiao vs Broner seems to be marked with a foregone conclusion. The fact that Adrien Broner usually stops throwing punches when faced with an aggressive opponent with better skill or just more hustle, supports this conclusion. But the biggest risk for Pacquiao is the possibility of aging in the ring while facing an accurate puncher who will outweigh him on fight night. Whatever intrigue is associated with this match derives from the question of what comes next, and the likelihood that it will be a truly daunting challenge, one which could anoint a new and younger star.

Pacquiao vs Broner would do tremendous ratings if it was on Showtime, but the fact it is a rather expensive pay-per-view will dent its reach. After all, this is not 2009, when at the peak of Pacquiao-mania Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton helped Manny take over Vegas with millions paying to watch. No, this is 2019, and Pacquiao is not the brightest star anymore. But he sure is doing all he can to get that status back. Luckily for him, all he has to do now is get past the bouncer. That’s what will grant him another shot at the big time, one more chance of doing Vegas right, the way he used to all those years ago, when he was the toast of the town.               –Rafael Garcia

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