One of the greatest boxers of his generations returns on Saturday night for another PPV headliner in Las Vegas. Former eight-division champion Manny Pacquiao is back at the age of 42 to challenge for a title he formally held when he takes on WBA titleholder Yordenis Ugas in the main event of a PBC on Fox PPV.
Pacquiao will be once again fighting for the 147-pound title he won in his last outing, an impressive decision win over then-unbeaten Keith Thurman. But this weekend's showcase from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas won't be against the original opponent, unified welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr., who withdrew last week due to a torn retina.
Let's take a closer look at the biggest storylines entering the Filipino icon's much-anticipated return.
1. How is it possible Pacquiao is still doing it at this level?
Pacquiao certainly won't be the first legendary fighter past the age of 40 to come back for yet another big fight. But when you consider Pacquiao is the betting favorite against an active champion despite his long layoff, and you consider how much the "PacMan" still relies upon speed and explosion as a boxer, what he is doing at 42 is simply remarkable. To put things into perspective, rising welterweight contender Vergil Ortiz Jr., who won his biggest step-up fight to date last Saturday by knocking out Egidjius "Mean Machine" Kavaliauskas before calling out Pacquiao afterwards, was still three years away from being born when Pacquiao made his pro debut in 1995. Yet here we are, 26 years and many in-ring miles later after Pacquiao has consistently matched himself against the most dangerous foes available, he's still at it. Even Pacquiao's contemporaries like Floyd Mayweather, if they are still active at all, are largely returning for circus fights against MMA fighters and social media influencers. History offers very little for comparison sake to what Pacquiao continues to do, which is what made his initial intention of fighting the pound-for-pound ranked Spence all the more impressive.
2. Ugas is a downgrade from Spence, but not by much
Certainly, everything from the betting odds to the commercial expectations for Saturday's PPV fight shifted dramatically once Spence's name was removed from the marquee. Ugas (26-4, 12 KOs), who is more technician than destroyer compared to Spence (who is both), is also less likely a threat to send Pacquiao disastrously into retirement via knockout. Yet Pacquiao-Ugas is still an incredibly intriguing fight, particularly for hard-core fans of the game who have watched Ugas, a 35-year-old former Cuban amateur star, quietly transition from journeyman to contender, and now champion. Large for the weight class, Ugas will hold height and reach advantages against Pacquiao and is an incredibly disciplined counterpuncher with good defense and the ability to walk forward when he senses an advantage. While Ugas' experience against elite fighters isn't anywhere near that of Pacquiao (or even Spence, for that matter), he holds a handful of strong wins against Jamal James, Thomas Dulorme, Omar Figueroa Jr. and Abel Ramos. His best performance, however, likely came in a disputed loss when he was robbed of what should've been scored a 12th-round knockdown against Shawn Porter in 2019, which played a key role in his split-decision defeat. Although adapting to Pacquiao's speed and awkward angles is never easy, Ugas has the technical savvy to make key adjustments that could give Pacquiao fits. The Porter fight alone showed why Ugas should be considered just outside of the elite 147-pound core of Spence, Terence Crawford, Porter and Pacquiao.
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3. Will the two-year layoff be a negative or a positive for this version of Pacquiao?
Yes, it's hard to look on the surface at Pacquiao taking off as much time off as he has during the pandemic as anything that can be called a positive, particularly at his age. Timing is everything inside the ring and one of the only ways a fighter can properly maintain that is by staying active. Looking back, activity has to be considered a key part of Pacquiao's most recent comeback when, in 2018, he emerged from a one-year layoff following a disputed loss to Jeff Horn by fighting three times over the next 12 months and riling off age-defying victories against Lucas Matthysse, Adrien Broner and Keith Thurman. Regardless of if he were facing Spence or Ugas, taking this much time off has the potential for Pacquiao to come out flat. But if there's a silver lining to the hiatus, it's that Pacquiao wasn't taking any damage and was able to heal up any nagging injuries. One thing that has allowed Pacquiao to maintain such incredible longevity has been his passion for training and the intensity in which he works out, even between fights. While this is by no means a preferred scenario to come back to the PPV level without a tuneup, there doesn't appear to be a lack of motivation in terms of the preparation, even with the late opponent change. Not only was the danger that Spence brought to the table reason enough for Pacquiao to leave no stones unturned in training, the fact that he's threatening a run for president of the Philippines in 2021 means doing so fresh off of a resounding win is a much more strategic scenario. Simply put: don't expect Pacquiao to be anything less than the best he can still be at this age.
4. Win or lose, this could be the final time we see Pacquiao in a big fight
Given his age, Pacquiao appears one bad loss away from retiring for good at any point, which he more or less agreed with during a recent interview with "Morning Kombat," where he remained focused on a wait-and-see philosophy regarding his future. Given his political aspirations, it's just as easy to imagine Pacquiao not having the time to train and compete should he fulfill his goal of becoming president of his native country. Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach shared a different opinion, recently stating he believes one of Pacquiao's remaining goals to be accepting and winning a fight as a sitting president. But Pacquiao stayed noncommittal. Either way, we are a whole heck of a lot closer to the end than the beginning of Pacquiao's incredible boxing journey, which makes this week that much more worth celebrating that he's still at it making big fights on the sport's grandest of stages, even though he and Mayweather have long handed off the baton to Canelo Alvarez as the biggest face of boxing's current era.
5. There's no shortage of huge fights remaining if Pacquiao still wants them
Spence's eye injury, just two years removed from miraculously surviving a dangerous car accident, certainly creates some questions regarding his future. Given Pacquiao's equal level of uncertainty due to age, the biggest lament of seeing Pacquiao-Spence fall apart this weekend is the fear that the window for this action-packed fight may have closed right before our eyes. But boxing fans have learned time and again to never say never and if Pacquiao can prove against Ugas that he's still got it and desires to keep making the biggest fights available, his options will be overflowing. Being the rare network and promotional free agent helps Pacquiao huge in this case. Not only would welterweight fights against Spence, Crawford, Porter, Ortiz, Danny Garcia, Mikey Garcia or a rematch with Thurman be huge, there's a new crop in waiting of young fighters in and around 135 pounds who appear poised to take over the sport in the coming years. Imagining Pacquiao welcoming the likes of Gervonta Davis, Teofimo Lopez Jr., Ryan Garcia or Devin Haney for a dramatic move up two divisions to challenge him is a mouth-watering proposition for fans.