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Hail Virgil Hill and all the Hometown Heroes



Hail Virgil Hill – A “hometown hero” in athletic parlance can mean different things to different people, depending on the hometown and the sport. Few fans outside of rural Oklahoma ever would have heard or cared about Mickey Mantle if he had only bashed home runs for his old semi-pro team in the tiny mining community of Commerce. But when The Mick began whacking pitches into the upper deck at Yankee Stadium, the transplanted Okie quickly became baseball’s blond, switch-hitting Adonis, the flyspeck on a map where his legend began to take root soon becoming nothing more than a footnote to history.

Boxing, though, is different than baseball or other team sports where a sufficiently large stage is required to achieve greatness, or something akin to it, in the professional ranks. A fighter does not necessarily have to come from, or relocate to, major metropolises like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit or Las Vegas to build a large, avid following in his birth city or adopted hometown. In fact, those who continue to pledge their fealty to less populous, non-traditional fight sites can become very big fish in relatively small ponds, and more marketable attractions than they ever could by attempting to carve out a toehold in places where the competition for sports entertainment dollars is fierce and unrelenting.

A prime example of a fighter who recognized the potential for cashing in on his local popularity is former light heavyweight and cruiserweight champion Virgil “Quicksilver” Hill, who came to realize that being from North Dakota was a distinction he could use to his advantage, and frequently so.

July 7 marks the 26th anniversary of my one and only trip to North Dakota, to cover for my newspaper, the Philadelphia Daily News, the ninth defense of Hill’s WBA light heavyweight title against a quasi-Philadelphian, Tyrone Mitchell Frazier, who claimed to be the nephew of his manager-trainer, former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, but was in fact no blood relation to the great Smokin’ Joe. Mitchell, who took the last name Frazier out of respect for his mentor and because it carried an undeniable cachet, originally was from Wyandanch, N.Y., a burg of fewer than 12,000 residents in Suffolk County located 31½ miles from Brooklyn, the nearest of New York City’s five boroughs. A star guard for his high school basketball team, the then-22-year-old auto mechanic had moved to Philly several years earlier, with the idea of pursuing a boxing career under Frazier, his idol. It was like a real-life scene from Rocky V, with Mitchell playing the role of Tommy Gunn to Smoke’s Rocky Balboa. As was also the case in Rocky V, Frazier first told Mitchell to go back home to resume doing tune-ups and oil changes, but the kid’s persistence eventually won him over.

The bout originally had been scheduled for April 29 in Las Vegas, but injuries to both fighters — a torn retina in Mitchell Frazier’s right eye, which was corrected with conventional, non-laser surgery, and Hill’s broken left thumb – prompted a rescheduling. But regardless of the timing, Hill was such a prohibitive favorite that Nevada’s legal sports books declined to even post odds or to accept wagers on what was correctly seen as a total mismatch, as was proved when the champion pitched a 120-108 shutout on all three official scorecards by making maximum use of his principal weapon, a stiff, radar-guided jab.

“As soon as I tried to gasp for air, Virgil stuck a jab in my mouth,” said Mitchell Frazier, who, exhausted, was on the receiving end of 27 consecutive jabs in the 12th and final round.

So, if the rescheduled matchup was such a non-competitive gimme, why had a raucous, sellout crowd of 8,400 turned out in the Bismarck Civic Center on a warm Saturday afternoon? Anywhere else – say, Madison Square Garden or Caesars Palace – Hill-Frazier would have been an undercard offering of a show with a more compelling main event, or not even scheduled at all. But then again, this was Bismarck, where Hill might have played to standing room only mixing it up with almost anybody.

“Virgil Hill is our franchise, our professional franchise,” former Bismarck mayor Bill Sorenson, who also managed Hill, said before his guy thrashed Mitchell Frazier. “He’s the only show in town.”

Bismarck Tribune sports editor Abe Winter told me that the only thing he could compare to the frenzy of a Hill bout was the three-year championship run of the Bismarck High Demons, who won state basketball titles from 1957 through ’59.

“But nobody outside of North Dakota knew or cared about that,” Winter said. “Virgil is a world champion, so he’s a star everywhere. It’s just that, well, he’s a bigger star here.”

To be fair, Hill, now 52, was a star, good enough during the course of his long, productive career to have won a silver medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and to have been inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013. But stardom and superstardom are not the same thing, which is why Floyd Mayweather Jr. set pay-per-view records while Guillermo Rigondeaux, whose boxing attributes are very similar to “Money’s,” is widely regarded as TV poison.

A handsome man of French, Canadian, Norwegian, German and Native American (Cherokee) ancestry, Hill seemed a natural fit for North Dakotan idolization. Sure, the state – with a population of fewer than 700,000 – had produced its share of pro sports stars, the most notable being New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris, the Fargo native who broke Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record with 61 long balls in 1961, and Phil Jackson, who was a member of two NBA championship teams with the New York Knicks before going on to win a record 11 league titles as a coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. But only Hill elected to keep coming back.

That likely would not have been the case had only Hill been perceived as someone with more of the “it” factor that separates the very good from the truly great, or at least the truly saleable in any venue. He had made the U.S. Olympic boxing team in 1984 by upsetting another future pro champ, Michael Nunn, at the Trials, but there were those who regarded him as the weakest medal threat on the 12-member American squad, which amassed 11 medals, including nine golds, against a field thinned by a multi-nation boycott that included powerhouse Cuba and most of the Soviet Bloc countries.

Hill turned pro on Nov. 11, 2015, in Madison Square Garden as part of “A Night of Gold,” which was a bit of a misnomer since Hill had taken a silver in Los Angeles and Evander Holyfield a bronze. But Holyfield likely would have been the gold medalist had he not been jobbed on a dubious disqualification in his semifinal bout, which would have put him in the same glittering company with debuting golden boys Mark Breland, Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor and Tyrell Biggs. Hill opened the card in a non-televised bout, a second-round stoppage of Arthur Wright, which was not even taped for posterity.

The knock on Hill, one that he never was able to completely erase, was that he was a one-handed fighter whose strong jab, serviceable hook and competent ring generalship never would overcome a mostly ornamental right hand, stolid style and lack of put-away power.

Hill, who was born in Clinton, Mo., was 11-0 and not drawing much attention when he went back to his childhood home of Williston, N.D., to knock out Wayne Caplette in one round on Oct. 4, 1986. And just like that, a cottage industry sprang up.

Well, maybe not quite just like that. Hill wrested the WBA 175-pound title from Leslie Stewart on a fourth-round TKO on Sept. 5, 1987, at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, N.J., but his second defense came against Jean-Marie Emebe in Bismack before what would become the standard sellout crowd. For much of the rest of his career, and for as long as he held the title and the leverage, the world would have to come to Hill, and to North Dakota.

All in all, Hill staged 26 of his 58 pro bouts (51-7, with 24 wins inside the distance) in North Dakota – 16 in his adopted hometown of Bismarck, three apiece in Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot, and one in Williston. Critics, and there are plenty of them, dismiss the quality of opposition during Hill’s various reigns. And it’s true that no one will confuse Emebe, Ramzi Hassan, Willie Featherstone, Mike Peak, Sergio Daniel Merani, Saul Montana, Guy Waters, Crawford Ashley and Drake Thadzi with a Who’s Who of boxing greats, but Hill did defeat “Prince” Charles Williams, Bobby Czyz, Lou Del Valle, Fabrice Tiozzo and Henry Maske, all of whom were or would become world champions.

Even though Hill resided in Las Vegas throughout much of his career – a fact North Dakotans apparently were willing to overlook – his status as an icon in that state, and especially Bismarck, is forever secure. Until the1870s, the place was known as Edwinton, but a rumor spread that German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was contemplating buying an American railroad. The prospect of foreign investment in a frontier town was so enticing to local politicians that they immediately changed the name from Edwinton to Bismarck. Neither von Bismarck or his money, alas, ever arrived, but nobody bothered to change the name back.

Bismarck has a population of 67,034 (as of 2013), making it the state’s second most-populous city after Fargo, but there is a shortage of nationally or globally known sports figures outside of Hill, Maris and Jackson, unless you count four-time pro rodeo world saddle bronc riding champion Brad Gjermundson of Marshall or Cliff Purper of Grand Forks, the first North Dakotan to reach the National Hockey League. Small wonder then that each Hill fight within the state’s borders drew fans from towns with names like Zap, Nome, Max, Donnybrook and Flasher.

For me, the few days I spent in Bismarck was like being transported back in time to a more innocent era when TV shows were in black-and-white and featured first-run episodes of Leave It to Beaver. There was casino gambling, but it wasn’t exactly like stepping inside the billion-dollar palaces on The Strip in Vegas where fortunes are routinely won by the turn of a card or a roll of tumbling dice. I played a bit of $1 blackjack at the downtown Sheraton Galleria, but there were only three tables and a betting limit of $5 per hand. Low-rollers heaven.

That a Virgil Hill could be what he became in North Dakota is somehow encouraging, a signal that America’s heartland does and should still have a say in how the business of our nation is conducted. Consider some of those in the fight game who also took the road less-traveled to the summit of their profession: Hall of Famer Carmen Basilio never fought in his hometown of Canastota, N.Y., site of the IBHOF but too small to host major fights with an everyday population of fewer than 5,000, but he logged 32 bouts in nearby Syracuse; Tony “The Tiger” Lopez fought 26 times on home turf in Sacramento, Calif.; Johnny Tapia (21 bouts) and Danny Romero (17) were huge box-office draws in Albuquerque, N.M., and Joey Gamache fought 28 times in his home state of Maine, winning all 18 in his birth city of Lewiston, which has a boxing history that clearly extends beyond the second Muhammad  Ali-Sonny Liston scrap on May 25, 1965.

Oh, sure, Vegas, New York and L.A. remain the most frequent landing spots for major fights in the U.S., now that Atlantic City has become a less-favored destination in the rotation. But Terence Crawford is reinvigorating the long-dormant boxing scene in his hometown of Omaha, Neb., and WBC heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder is showing that big hits in Alabama are not restricted to football fields in Tuscaloosa and Auburn. Wilder defends his title at the Legacy Arena in Birmingham for the third time when he takes on Chris Arreola on July 16.

Virgil Hill’s former promoter, Top Rank honcho Bob Arum, once expressed the opinion that, in Bismarck, Hill enjoyed “the greatest home-ring advantage of any American fighter.”

If that isn’t reason enough for more fighters to at least occasionally consider going back to their origins, what is?

Hail Virgil Hill


The BWAA Shames Veteran Referee Laurence Cole and Two Nebraska Judges



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).

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel


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



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.”


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 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.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

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What’s Next for Manny Pacquiao?




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’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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