It has been 12 years since Manny Pacquiao, at the peak of his physical powers at age 30 following a reign of terror throughout the lower weight classes, moved up two divisions to obliterate Oscar De La Hoya and sent the future Hall of Famer to retirement.
Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs), boxing's only eight-division world champion, used the rub from making De La Hoya quit on his stool to become a pay-per-view superstar. But the best part of the event, outside of the Filipino icon's upset victory, remains that it was a super fight that largely came out of nowhere and really hadn't been thought of by too many within the business before it was made.
History typically has a way of repeating itself with the sport of boxing being no different as Pacquiao, now 42 yet still remarkably viable in the twilight of his legendary 26-year pro career, finds himself in the same spot De La Hoya was as rumors continue to swirl regarding his next fight.
Although he hasn't fought since handing Keith Thurman his lone pro defeat in their sensational 2019 PPV bout to capture the WBA welterweight title, Pacquiao is reportedly in discussions with unbeaten lightweight sensation Ryan Garcia (21-0, 18 KOs) for a spring fight that would be one of the most unique and exciting boxing could produce in 2021.
No, really. It is.
Not only could the 22-year-old Garcia, armed with his 8.4 million Instagram followers, use the rub of a victory over a legend like Pacquiao to achieve the kind of crossover stardom most experts have predicted for him, the fight is also insanely dangerous given his lack of experience and the fact that the "PacMan" remains ranked among the top 10 pound-for-pound best in the game.
Garcia is fresh off a breakthrough knockout of former title challenger and Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell in January, which was easily his most difficult test to date. "KingRy" has no shortage of hand speed or power but none of that has been proven at 147 pounds (or whatever catchweight right below that he and Pacquiao might negotiate to). Garcia has also had his chin and head movement called into question after he was forced to get up off the canvas to rally against Campbell.
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Could you hold it against any fan or critic who might prefer Garcia pursue a fight against any number of fellow young lightweights who appear poised to take over the sport, from Gervonta Davis and Teofimo Lopez Jr. to Devin Haney or veteran Vasily Lomachenko? Certainly not. But Pacquaio offers Garcia so much more from a commercial standpoint while remaining enough of a gamble to keep this move within the grounds of a "daring to be great" decision, which has become increasingly rare among top fighters.
Pacquiao's status as a promotional and network free agent is also incredibly enticing for Garcia (as compared to everyone else with a name at lightweight). And does it hurt as far as turning the prospect for this fight into a complete full circle moment that Garcia's promoter just happens to be none other than De La Hoya?
The "Golden Boy," then 36, was a betting favorite against Pacquiao in 2012 although few could've predicted that cutting back down to 147 pounds for the first time in 11 years would leave him so depleted and a shell of himself on fight night. Pacquiao in 2021 wouldn't be expected to face the same fate, although the element of nearly two years of inactivity (the WBA recently named him "champion in recess") will definitely add intriguing questions as to who might win.
Garcia's best bet to overcome the experience gap, along with his dazzling combination of speed and power, would likely come in the form of his size. At a lean and muscular 5-foot-10, Garcia gives off every indication he would fill out well at 147 pounds while holding an advantage of nearly five inches in height over Pacquiao.
Remember, this was a fight no one was talking about until Garcia shared on social media in recent weeks that the two had begun talks to negotiate. And given boxing's difficulties without a live gate in 2020 bringing big fights to fruition throughout the pandemic and the equal lack of superstar matchups that have been announced to open the new year, Pacquiao-Garcia could be the perfect gift for fans who have regularly had to deal with multi-year builds to big fights.
This could prove to be one of the rare times boxing thought outside of the box long enough to surprise its loyal, yet underwhelmed core audience. Both fighters appear to be game according to reports, with Garcia sharing on Instagram over the weekend that any talk of it being an exhibition has been put to rest.
This is a fight that has all the makings to be very real and an immensely important one at that given the opportunity for Garcia to fast-track his way to becoming a household name. As long as the money and signatures find their way into alignment, there are too many reasons to love this fight to worry whether the timing is wrong.