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Vitali Beats Wlad to the IBHOF; Morales and Wright Complete the Trifecta

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Vitali

Boxing fans like to speculate about fights that didn’t happen almost as much as they love offering their opinions, with much conviction and passion, about those that did. With Tuesday’s announcement that three-time heavyweight champion Vitali “Dr. Iron Fist” Klitschko has been voted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, a familiar topic—Who was the better of the two now-retired Klitschko brothers, Vitali or Wladimir? – figures to be dusted off again. It likely will be cause for spirited debate for some time, as is the case with such unconsummated dream matches as Lennox Lewis vs. Riddick Bowe (the gold and silver super heavyweight medalists from the 1988 Seoul Olympics) and Bowe vs. Mike Tyson (contemporaries who both are products of the gritty Brownsville section of Brooklyn, N.Y.).

Joining Vitali Klitschko, 46, in the IBHOF’s Class of 2018, its 29th group of honorees, in the Modern category are fellow first-ballot selections Erik Morales, 41, and Ronald “Winky” Wright, 46. But Klitschko, now the mayor of Kiev, Ukraine, was likely the landslide choice of an electorate comprised of full members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a panel of international historians. The newly minted pirate ship bouncy castle Hall of Famers will be formally inducted on June 10 in Canastota, N.Y., capping four days of nostalgia and celebration. As is its custom, the IBHOF did not release vote totals.

Fighters eligible for consideration in the Modern category must have fought for at least five years, but with their last bout taking place no earlier than 1989. Klitschko (45-2, 41 KOs), Morales (52-9, 36 KOs) and Wright  (51-6-1, 25 KOs) all last fought in 2012.

Other living inductees include broadcasters Steve Albert and Jim Gray in the Observer category and German promoter Klaus Peter-Kohl in the Non-Participant category. Posthumous nods went to longtime Madison Square Garden ring announcer Johnny Addie, Northern California promoter Lorraine Chargin (whose husband and partner, Don Chargin, now 89, was inducted in 2001) and Sid Terris, a New York lightweight contender in the 1920s, in the Old-Timer category.

Just as big brother Vitali was a slam-dunk for immortalization, so too is the 41-year-old Wladimir (64-5, 53 KOs), a two-time heavyweight titlist who announced his retirement a little more than three months after his 11th-round technical knockout loss to IBF/WBA champ Anthony Joshua on April 29 of this year, a showdown witnessed by a live audience of 90,000 in London’s Wembley Stadium. Thus did the countdown begin for the mandatory five-year waiting period before Wlad, whose ring nom de guerre is “Dr. Steelhammer,” becomes eligible for his big moment in Canastota.

Despite their 55-month age difference, the similarities between the brothers are so striking they could pass for identical twins, and often were. Apart from having virtually the same face, they are very nearly the same size (both fought in the 245-pound range, with Vitali an inch taller at 6-foot-7) and the same stylistically, European big men who fought straight-up with stiff left jabs and devastating overhand rights the most obvious and effective weapons in their arsenals.

In a poll of 28 knowledgeable trainers, matchmakers, media members and historians conducted by frequent TSS contributor Thomas Hauser and printed in the May 2017 issue of The Ring, the brothers Klitschko were also side-by-side in listing the voters’ choices for the top 20 heavyweight champions of all time. Wlad came in at No. 16, Vitali at No. 17.

But perceptions change, and another panel of 28 experts might flip those positions somewhere down the line, with both brothers strong candidates to move up the rankings. The question as to who deserves a more exalted place in boxing history could have been definitively settled, of course, had they consented to square off for family pride and all four widely recognized world titles during the time when each was the possessor of two bejeweled belts. But such a matchup never could have been anything but theoretical. If blood is thicker than water, so too is love thicker than blood.

“Oh, no. We are brothers,” Wladimir said in 2002, when asked again if either he or Vitali had considered the possibility of a Klitschko vs. Klitschko megafight. “We made a promise that we would never, ever fight against one another. We do not want to break the heart of our mother.”

The extremely tight bond between the brothers, as evidenced by their iron- and steel-infused nicknames, was further illustrated when Vitali fought South Africa’s Corrie Sanders for the vacant WBC heavyweight title on April 24, 2004. Sanders had knocked down Wladimir four times en route to winning on a second-round TKO in their March 8, 2003, showdown, lifting Wlad’s WBO title in the process. Cast in the role of protective older brother settling the score for a bullied younger sibling, Vitali stopped Sanders in eight rounds on April 24, 2004.

“It was very important to beat Corrie Sanders because Corrie Sanders (wanted) to say he is best boxer in world, who beat both brothers Klitschko,” Vitali, who holds a Ph.D in Sports Science from the University of Kiev and speaks four languages, said of a victory that was more personal mission than workplace obligation. “If Corrie Sanders beat me, it is big disaster for Klitschko brothers.”

After Vitali’s avenging dismissal of Sanders, HBO analyst Larry Merchant opined that “I think Vitali clearly has assumed the lead position (between the two brothers). He has a better chin than Wladimir, and he’s smarter. When he gets hit he knows enough to move away and regroup. I don’t see that Wladimir has ever learned that.”

Vitali, however, had not always been held in such high regard. He was disparaged by some as boxing’s version of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz after he declined to come out for the 10th round of his WBO title defense against the much-smaller Chris Byrd on April 1, 2000, a fight in which he won eight of the previous nine rounds on all three official scorecards. It later was revealed that he had fought much of the way with a torn rotator cuff that would require surgery to repair.

“It was not right, (fans) being mean to me after the Byrd fight,” Vitali complained of an injury that might have ended his career had he continued. “Nobody believed I was really hurt. I got so much criticism. I heard many people say, `He gave away world title. He don’t have heart.’ It was a very difficult time for me. But because I stop fight, I can fight again.”

Any nagging questions concerning Vitali’s heart were answered once and for all when he challenged WBC champion Lennox Lewis on June 21, 2003, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Klitschko was leading by two points on all three scorecards when referee Lou Moret, on the advice of ring physician Paul Wallace, stopped the fight and awarded a TKO victory to Lewis as a result of severe cuts to both of the Ukrainian’s eyes. Klitschko left the ring to a thunderous ovation.

Prior to his winning Dec. 11, 2004, WBC defense against England’s Danny Williams, who had knocked out Mike Tyson four months earlier, Mark Taffet, HBO’s Pay-Per-View boss, echoed the new, improved and ultimately lasting impression of the elder Klitschko.

“The heavyweight champion is the mythical strongest man on the planet,” Taffet said. “When you look to a heavyweight champion, you look to someone who fulfills that bill. I have to say, Vitali Klitschko fulfills that bill as well as any man who’s worn the belt in a long time … Vitali Klitschko is a giant of a heavyweight champion. He has had some of the most exciting and devastating knockouts over the last year, year and a half, as any heavyweight has had in recent memory.”

Vitali’s knockout percentage of .911 (41 of 45 his wins ended inside the distance) was the highest of any heavyweight champion at the time of his retirement, although it is being eclipsed at this point by current WBC titlist Deontay Wilder at .974 (38 of 39 victories by KO or stoppage). It remains to be seen whether Wilder, whose quality of opposition to date does not compare to Vitali’s, can maintain that torrid pace.

As mayor of Kiev and even before as an activist for political reform in his homeland, Vitali fought more important fights than he ever encountered in the ring, and against more daunting opposition. He and Wlad were among the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets in 2004 to protest what they considered to be a rigged election in Ukraine, in which Moscow-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych originally was declared the winner over the Klitschkos’ choice, pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko.

“Our father (a helicopter pilot for the former Soviet Union) was a communist, and I grew up with the old Soviet ideology,” Vitali said at the time. “It was brainwashing all the time. I wish my country to go the democratic way. After every one of my fights, in Ukraine they hear me speak about freedom, liberty and free press. Everybody wants to change from the ways of the old Soviet Union.”

Morales, the only Mexican fighter to hold world titles in four separate weight classes (122 to 140 pounds), is also destined to be forever linked with another fighter, but his three-fight arch-rivalry with countryman Marco Antonio Barrera (a 2017 IBHOF inductee) was more blood feud than anything resembling brotherly love. It was a downsized, south-of-the-border version of Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, with Morales winning the opening segment and Barrera the last two, all by decision.

Several times during the rubber match Morales declined to touch gloves with Barrera, and he spurned the winner’s attempt to shake hands after the decision was announced. A central issue in their animus toward each other is the fact that Morales, who grew up in desperate poverty in Tijuana, saw the college-educated Barrera, a Mexico City resident, as a member of the privileged upper class. In describing the smoldering dislike between them, promoter Bob Arum said before their climactic third fight that “in all my years in boxing, I have never seen such a legitimate, mutual hatred than the one which exists between these two fighters.”

Now that they’re both Hall of Famers, perhaps the time has come for both of these magnificent fighters to at least acknowledge the fact that together they made magic, and memories all fight fans are apt to cherish.

Wright, a clever southpaw from St. Petersburg, Fla., was the ultimate road warrior, traveling the globe to take bouts and once arriving in the other guy’s hometown, far more often than not spoiling the occasion for the local favorite. He honed his craft in such countries as South Africa, England, France, Germany and Monaco before returning to the United States and winning world titles in two weight classes, scoring two impressive victories over Shane Mosley and an even more dominant one against Felix Trinidad, whom he schooled on May 14, 2005, at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay, winning 34 of 36 rounds on the three judges’ combined scorecards.

Trainer Dan Birmingham, who worked with Wright from the time he was an amateur all the way through his pro career, said it was Wright’s observational powers that helped set him apart in the ring.

“Winky’s a real sharp guy,” Birmingham said before Wright’s losing catch-weight bout with the similarly observant Bernard Hopkins. “I remember when we were in Europe. We would drive around the block and I would get lost. Winky would be in the car for a half-hour and knew every turn in the city.”

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

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The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges

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In an unprecedented development, the Boxing Writers Association of America has started a “watch list” to lift the curtain on ring officials who have “screwed up.” Veteran Texas referee Laurence Cole and Nebraska judges Mike Contreras and Jeff Sinnett have the unwelcome distinction of being the first “honorees.”

“Boxing is a sport where judges and referees are rarely held accountable for poor performances that unfairly change the course of a fighter’s career and, in some instances, endanger lives,” says the BWAA in a preamble to the new feature. Hence the watch list, which is designed to “call attention to ‘egregious’ errors in scoring by judges and unacceptable conduct by referees.”

Contreras and Sinnett, residents of Omaha, were singled out for their scorecards in the match between lightweights Thomas Mattice and Zhora Hamazaryan, an eight round contest staged at the WinnaVegas Casino in Sloan, Iowa on July 20. They both scored the fight 76-75 for Mattice, enabling the Ohio fighter to keep his undefeated record intact via a split decision.

Although Mattice vs. Hamazaryan was a supporting bout, it aired live on ShoBox. Analyst Steve Farhood, who was been with ShoBox since the inception of the series in 2001, called it one of the worst decisions he had ever seen. Lead announcer Barry Tompkins went further, calling it the worst decision he has seen in his 40 years of covering the sport.

Laurence Cole (pictured alongside his father) was singled out for his behavior as the third man in the ring for the fight between Regis Prograis and Juan Jose Velasco at the Lakefront Arena in New Orleans on July 14. The bout was televised live on ESPN.

In his rationale for calling out Cole, BWAA prexy Joseph Santoliquito leaned heavily on Thomas Hauser’s critique of Cole’s performance in The Sweet Science. “Velasco fought courageously and as well as he could,” noted Hauser. “But at the end of round seven he was a thoroughly beaten fighter.”

His chief second bullied him into coming out for another round. Forty-five seconds into round eight, after being knocked down for a third time, Velasco spit out his mouthpiece and indicated to Cole that he was finished. But Cole insisted that the match continue and then, after another knockdown that he ruled a slip, let it continue for another 35 seconds before Velasco’s corner mercifully threw in the towel.

Controversy has dogged Laurence Cole for well over a decade.

Cole was the third man in the ring for the Nov. 25, 2006 bout in Hildalgo, Texas, between Juan Manuel Marquez and Jimrex Jaca. In the fifth round, Marquez sustained a cut on his forehead from an accidental head butt. In round eight, another accidental head butt widened and deepened the gash. As Marquez was being examined by the ring doctor, Cole informed Marquez that he was ahead on the scorecards, volunteering this information while holding his hand over his HBO wireless mike. The inference was that Marquez was free to quit right then without tarnishing his record. (Marquez elected to continue and stopped Jaca in the next round.)

This was improper. For this indiscretion, Cole was prohibited from working a significant fight in Texas for the next six months.

More recently, Cole worked the 2014 fight between Vasyl Lomachenko and Orlando Salido at the San Antonio Alamodome. During the fight, Salido made a mockery of the Queensberry rules for which he received no point deductions and only one warning. Cole’s performance, said Matt McGrain, was “astonishingly bad,” an opinion echoed by many other boxing writers. And one could site numerous other incidents where Cole’s performance came under scrutiny.

Laurence Cole is the son of Richard “Dickie” Cole. The elder Cole, now 87 years old, served 21 years as head of the Texas Department of Combat Sports Regulation before stepping down on April 30, 2014. At various times during his tenure, Dickie Cole held high executive posts with the World Boxing Council and North American Boxing Federation. He was the first and only inductee into the inaugural class of the Texas Boxing Hall of Fame, an organization founded by El Paso promoter Lester Bedford in 2015.

From an administrative standpoint, boxing in Texas during the reign of Dickie Cole was frequently described in terms befitting a banana republic. Whenever there was a big fight in the Lone Star State, his son was the favorite to draw the coveted refereeing assignment.

Boxing is a sideline for Laurence Cole who runs an independent insurance agency in Dallas. By law in Texas (and in most other states), a boxing promoter must purchase insurance to cover medical costs in the event that one or more of the fighters on his show is seriously injured. Cole’s agency is purportedly in the top two nationally in writing these policies. Make of that what you will.

Complaints of ineptitude, says the WBAA, will be evaluated by a “rotating committee of select BWAA members and respected boxing experts.” In subsequent years, says the press release, the watch list will be published quarterly in the months of April, August, and December (must be the new math).

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The Avila Perspective, Chapter 8: Competing Cards in N.Y. and L.A.

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Rival boxing shows compete this Saturday as light heavyweight world titlists are featured in New Jersey while former world champion welterweights and middleweights tangle in New York.

A mere 150 miles separate the two fight cards staged in Uniondale, N.Y. and Atlantic City.

But there’s no mercy inside the boxing ring and certainly no mercy between boxing promotions. While Main Events stages WBO light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev and WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol in separate bouts, DiBella Entertainment stacks former champs Andre Berto against Devon Alexander in a welterweight clash.

Take your pick.

Russia’s Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) has lost some luster and hopes to reboot his popularity with a win against Canada’s Eleider Alvarez (23-0, 11 KOs). But he will be directly competing against WBA champ Bivol (13-0, 11 KOs), also of Russia, who defends against Isaac Chilemba (25-5-2) of South Africa.

HBO will televise both light heavyweight title fights.

Bivol, 27, has slowly, almost glacier-like slow, picked up fans along the way by training in Southern California. The quiet unassuming fighter with a conservative style and cobra-like quickness appeals to the fans.

“I do not think that now I am the best light heavyweight, but I am now one of the best. One of four guys,” said Bivol during a press conference call. “But I hope in not the far future, we will know who is the best.”

That, of course, would mean a date with Kovalev should both fighters win on Saturday. Nothing is certain.

Kovalev, now 35, has lost some of that fear factor aura since losing back-to-back fights to now retired Andre Ward. Though he’s cracked two opponents in succession by knockout, many are pointing to the potential showdown with Bivol as the moment of truth.

“Most likely this fight is gonna happen since both Sergey and I are HBO boxers and as long as that’s what the people want, most likely the fight will happen,” said Bivol. “Me and Sergey will make sure to give this fight to the people.”

It’s time for the build-up and it starts on Saturday Aug. 4, on HBO.

“That’s certainly a goal of Sergey’s and he’s made it very clear to me that that’s what he wants to do,” said promoter Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events. “He wants to do unification fights if he is successful with Eleider Alvarez. That’s what he wants to do next; he’s been very clear about that.”

DiBella

Five former world champions stack the fight card at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

Former welterweight world champs Andre Berto (31-5, 24 KOs) and Devon Alexander (27-4-1, 14 KOs) lead the charge in a 12-round clash. FOX will televise the main event and others at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET.

Berto, 34, has been fighting once a year so it’s difficult to determine if age has crept into his reflexes. When he knocked out Victor Ortiz in a rematch two years ago Berto looked sharp and dangerous. But against Shawn Porter a year ago, the crispness seemed gone and he quickly lost by knockout.

Alexander, 31, has the advantage of being a southpaw. But he always seems to do the minimum when he fights. Last February he slowed down and allowed Victor Ortiz to steal the fight. All the commotion by the announcers was for naught. Defense does not win fights, it allows you to win fights. The lack of offense in the latter rounds cost Alexander a win in a match that entered the books as a majority draw.

It’s a curious matchup of former world champions.

Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin (33-1-1, 23 KOs) the former WBO middleweight titlist meets J’Leon Love (24-1-1, 13 KOs) in a super middleweight bout set for 10 rounds. It’s another intriguing fight especially between two fighters with great personalities.

Quillin, 35, was ambushed by Daniel Jacobs in the first round a year ago in losing the title. Was it bad luck, age or both? As a fighter the Brooklyn-based prizefighter has a ton of followers who like him as a person. Few are as classy as Quillin.

Love, 30, has long been a mainstay in Las Vegas and since his amateur days his abilities have been touted. Throughout the years Love has shown that charm and friendliness can go a long ways, even in the bitter wars of prizefighting. But the time has come to see if he belongs in the prizefighting world. Quillin will present an immense challenge for Love.

A number of other interesting fights are slated to take place among former world champions including Sergey Lipinets who lost the super lightweight title to Mikey Garcia this past winter. There’s also Luis Collazo in a welterweight match.

One world title fight does take place on the card.

Female WBA super middleweight titlist Alicia Napoleon (9-1) makes the first defense of her title against Scotland’s Hannah Rankin (5-1). It’s a 10 round bout and the first time Napoleon defends the title since winning it last March against Germany’s Femke Hermans. Ironically, Hermans now has the WBO super middleweight title after defeating former champ Nikki Adler by decision this past May.

L.A. Congestion

Next week the city of Angels will be packed with three fight cards in four days.

First, on Wednesday Aug. 8, 360 Promotions stages Abraham Lopez (9-1-1, 3 KOs) versus Gloferson Ortizo (12-0-1, 6 KOs) in the main event at the Avalon Theater in Hollywood, Calif. This is Filipino fighter Ortizo’s ninth fight this year. You read that correctly.

All of Ortizo’s fights have taken place across the border in Tijuana. The 32-year-old now returns to California against another Californian in Lopez. He’ll be looking for his fourth consecutive knockout, but Lopez, 22, has not lost a fight since his pro debut. Inactivity might come into play for Lopez who hasn’t stepped in the boxing ring in over a year.

New York’s Brian Ceballo (3-0) returns in a six round welterweight bout against local fighter Tavorus Teague (5-20-4). Ceballo, who is promoted by 360 Promotions, looked good in his last appearance. The amateurish punches seen in his first two bouts were gone by his third pro fight. His opponent Teague has ability and can give problems if Ceballo takes his foot off the pedal.

One of Gennady “GGG” Golovkin’s training partners Ali Akhmedov (11-0, 8 KOs) makes his California debut when he meets Jorge Escalante (9-1-1, 6 KOs) in a light heavyweight match.

Female super lightweight Elvina White (2-0) is also slated to compete. The entire fight card will be streamed at www.360promotions.us and on the 360 Promotions page on Facebook. First bell rings at 6:15 p.m.

Belasco Theater in downtown L.A. is the site of Golden Boy Promotions fight card on Friday Aug. 10. A pair of young prospects will be severely tested.

San Diego’s Genaro Gamez (8-0, 5 KOs) meets Filipino fighter Recky Dulay (10-3, 7 KOs) for the vacant NABF super featherweight title. For Dulay it’s always kill or be killed. Five of his last fights have ended in knockout wins or losses.

Gamez, 23, seems to thrive under pressure and broke down two veterans in back-to-back fights at Fantasy Springs Casino. Now he returns to the Belasco, a venue where he has struggled in the past. But this time he’s the main event.

Another being severely tested will be Emilio Sanchez (15-1, 10 KOs) facing veteran Christopher Martin (30-10-3, 10 KOs) who is capable of beating anyone.

Sanchez, 24, lost by knockout in his last fight this past March. He’s talented and fearless and one mistake cost him his first loss as a pro. He’s not getting a break against Martin, a cagey fighter who has upset many young rising prospects in the past. Martin also has experience against world champions. It’s an extremely tough matchup for Sanchez.

The fight card will be televised by Estrella TV beginning at 6 p.m.

World Title Fight

On Saturday, boxing returns to the Avalon Theater in Hollywood.

The main event is a good one as Puerto Rico’s Jesus Rojas (26-1-2, 19 KOs) defends the WBA featherweight world title against Southern California’s Jojo Diaz (26-1) in a 12 round clash. It’s power versus speed.

Rojas, 31, is one tough customer. When he took the interim title against Claudia Marrero last year he chased down the speedy southpaw Dominican and blasted him out in the seventh round. Several months earlier he obliterated another Golden Boy prospect, Abraham Lopez (not the same Abraham Lopez that is fighting on the 360 Promotions card), in eight rounds. Now he has the title and defends against the speedy southpaw Diaz.

Diaz, 25, just recently lost a bid for the WBC featherweight title against Gary Russell Jr. Though he lost by decision three months ago, that fight might be easy in comparison to this challenge against Rojas.

The former Olympian won’t be able to take a breath against the Puerto Rican slugger who is about as rough as they come.

Two more undefeated Golden Boy prospects get a chance to eliminate each other when Philadelphia’s Damon Allen (15-0-1) meets East L.A.’s Jonathan Navarro (14-0, 7 KOs) in a super lightweight fight set for 10 rounds.

Phillie versus East LA is like fire versus fire in the boxing ring. Boxers originating from those two hard-bitten areas usually have go-for-broke styles that result in pure action. Allen versus Navarro should not disappoint.

Allen, 25, is not a hard puncher but he’s aggressive and like most Philadelphia fighters, he’s not afraid to mix it up.

Navarro, 21, lives in East L.A. but trains in Riverside under Robert Garcia. He’s slowly finding his timing and will be facing the fastest fighter since his pro debut in 2015.

Others featured on the card will be Hector Tanajara, Aaron McKenna and Ferdinand Kerobyan.

The card will be streamed on the Golden Boy Fight Night page on Facebook beginning at 6 p.m.

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What’s Next for Manny Pacquiao?

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Manny Pacquiao isn’t quite ready to retire, and more big-money fights against high-level competition seem to be on the 39-year-old’s way.

“I feel like I’m a 27-year-old,” Pacquiao told GMAnetwork.com’s Jamil Santos last week. “Expect more fights to come.”

Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs) looked exceptionally sharp in his seventh-round knockout win over former junior welterweight titleholder Lucas Matthysse on July 15 at Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was Pacquiao’s best performance in at least four years, netting Pacquiao a secondary world title at welterweight along with a slew of renewed public interest in the boxing superstar’s career.

But what comes next for the only fighter in the history of boxing to capture world titles in eight different weight classes? TSS takes a detailed look at the potential opponents for one of the sport’s most celebrated stars.

Cream of the Crop

Pacquiao looked good enough against Matthysse to suggest he’d make a viable candidate to face either Terence Crawford or Vasyl Lomachenko next. Crawford is ranked No. 2 on the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board’s pound-for-pound list while Lomachenko slots at No. 1.

While Pacquiao is no longer under contract with longtime promoter Bob Arum at Top Rank, most industry insiders expect he will continue working with Arum’s team in some capacity so long as his career keeps moving forward. Pacquiao started his own promotional venture, MP Promotions, to co-promote the Matthysse bout with Oscar De La Hoya, but Top Rank was still involved in the fight which is why the bout ended up streaming on ESPN+.

Top Rank’s two hottest commodities at the present are Ring Magazine and WBA lightweight champ Lomachenko and welterweight titlist Crawford. Both are highly-regarded, multi-division world titleholders in the primes of their careers who are universally considered the top fighters in boxing.

Lomachenko and Crawford would each present a unique set of problems for Pacquiao stylistically. Of the two, Pacquiao probably matches up best with Lomachenko at this point in his career. Crawford (33-0, 24 KOs) is much larger and heavier than both Pacquiao and Lomachenko, and unless Pacquiao just really wants to test himself against someone incredibly dangerous, it’d probably be best for Team Pacquiao to avoid fighting Crawford at all costs. Crawford would be a heavy favorite against Pacquiao and most boxing insiders don’t believe this version of Pacquiao could compete with Crawford.

Lomachenko (11-1, 9 KOs) is naturally smaller than Pacquiao and has never fought above 135 pounds. If Pacquiao could lure Lomachenko to 140 pounds or above, he’d find himself in a winnable fight against a top-notch opponent. Lomachenko would probably be the slight favorite based on age alone but Pacquiao’s power and athleticism would give him a realistic chance to pull the upset.

Other Notable Possibilities

Former junior welterweight titleholder Amir Khan has long been angling for a bout against Pacquiao. Khan faces Samuel Vargas on Sept. 8 in another comeback bout against lower level competition. Khan (32-4, 20 KOs) bravely moved up to middleweight to fight Canelo Alvarez in 2016 but was knocked out in the sixth round. He left the sport for a spell but returned to boxing in February as a welterweight with a sensational first round knockout win over Phil Lo Greco. A win over Vargas puts Khan in good position to secure a bout with Pacquiao, and the fight is a reasonable move by both camps. Pacquiao would probably be the heavy favorite, but Khan’s speed and long reach give him a decent chance to pull the upset.

Former welterweight titleholder Jeff Horn won a controversial decision over Pacquiao last year in Australia. The bout grabbed huge ratings for ESPN and there have been many debates since it happened as to which fighter truly deserved the nod from the judges. Horn (18-1-1, 12 KOs) doesn’t possess elite level talent, but he’s huge compared to Pacquiao and fights with such ferocity that the two can’t help but make an aesthetically pleasing fight together. Pacquiao would be the heavy favorite to defeat Horn if the two fight again.

Pacquiao vs. PBC fighters?

Boxing’s current political climate and the ongoing battle of promoters and television networks for the hearts and minds of boxing fans usually leaves many compelling fights between top level stars off the table. Fighters promoted by Top Rank and Golden Boy are almost never able to secure bouts with fighters signed to Al Haymon to appear under the Premier Boxing Champions banner and vice versa. But Pacquiao’s free agent status opens up new and interesting possibilities for the fighter to pursue noteworthy PBC fighters.

There had been lots of chatter about Pacquiao facing Mikey Garcia next. Garcia (39-0, 30 KOs) has been decimating competition at both lightweight and junior welterweight. Garcia is considered by most experts to be one of the top 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. He’s the TBRB junior welterweight champion and a unified lightweight titleholder (WBC, IBF). While Garcia is hoping to land a big money bout against IBF welterweight titleholder Errol Spence, most boxing experts believe the jump up to 147 pounds would be too much for the diminutive Garcia who began his career at featherweight. A better welterweight target for Garcia would be Pacquiao who also began his career in a much lower weight class.

Spence (24-0, 21 KOs) is probably the best of the PBC welterweights. He’s considered by many to be on par with Crawford at 147 so it would be an incredibly dangerous bout for Pacquiao to go after at this point in his career. But Spence is aggressive and fights in a style that Pacquiao traditionally matches up very well against. Spence would be the favorite based on size, age and skill.

Slightly less dangerous to Pacquiao would be facing the winner of the Sept. 8 battle between Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter. Garcia (34-1, 20 KOs) and Porter (28-2-1, 17 KOs) are fighting for the vacant WBC welterweight title and the possibility of capturing another world title in his career could sway Pacquiao to seek out the winner. Pacquiao could find himself a slight favorite or underdog depending on which of the two fighters he would face, but both would be winnable fights.

The WBA welterweight champion is Keith Thurman. Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) is a good boxer with tremendous power but Pacquiao’s speed and athleticism would probably give him the leg up in that potential matchup. Thurman hasn’t fought in over 16 months though and recent pictures suggest he’s not in fighting shape at the moment, so the likelihood of a Pacquiao vs. Thurman fight is pretty much nil.

Some fans want Pacquiao to face Adrien Broner. Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs) is a solid contender at 147 but probably doesn’t have the skill to seriously compete with Pacquiao. Pacquiao would be a significant favorite and would likely stop Broner if the two were able to meet in a boxing ring.

Mayweather-Pacquiao 2?

Pacquiao lost a unanimous decision to Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, but the circumstances surrounding the fight, and the fact it was the biggest box office bash in the history of the sport, have led many to suspect the two fighters would meet again in a rematch.

Yes, Mayweather (50-0, 27 KOs) is retired, but he’s unretired several times in his career for big money fights including last year’s crossover megafight with UFC star Conor McGregor. While it seems unlikely to happen, Mayweather-Pacquiao 2 would still be a huge worldwide event worth millions of dollars to both fighters so those following the sport can never say never to the idea of it happening again.

While Mayweather is 41, he’d still get the nod as the betting favorite should he fight Pacquiao again based on what happened in the first fight as well as his stylistic advantage over Pacquiao.

Pacquiao vs. McGregor?

McGregor’s bout against Mayweather last year was such a financial success and the MMA star made so much more money in the boxing ring than he did as a UFC fighter that the idea of him returning to the sport to face Pacquiao isn’t as far-fetched as one might think.

Pacquiao vs. McGregor would be an easy sell to the general public. According to CompuBox, McGregor landed more punches against Mayweather than did Pacquiao, and the general consensus is that Mayweather-McGregor was more fun to watch than Mayweather-Pacquiao.

The size difference between the two would lead to an easy promotion. McGregor is a junior middleweight and Pacquiao has only competed at the weight once back in 2010. Despite all that, Pacquiao would be a significant favorite to defeat McGregor and rightly so. He’s too fast and too good a boxer, and his aggressive style would likely lead to a stoppage win.

Pacquiao’s Top Targets

Pacquiao’s top targets should be Mayweather, McGregor and Lomachenko. Pacquiao would stand to make the most money facing either Mayweather or McGregor. Pacquiao’s reportedly injured shoulder heading into 2015 bout left many wondering how the fight might be different had the Filipino gone into things at his best, and Mayweather’s age might play more of a factor in the second fight than it did in the first. A Pacquiao-McGregor fight would be a worldwide spectacle, one Pacquiao would be heavily favored to win. Besides, it’d be interesting to see if Pacquiao could stop McGregor sooner than historical rival Mayweather. Finally, Lomachenko might be trying to climb up weight classes too fast, and Pacquiao would certainly be fit to test the validity of that theory. It’d be one of the biggest fights in boxing and a win for Pacquiao would be another huge feather in the cap of one of boxing’s true historically great champions.

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