Abu Dhabi potential host for Manny Pacquiao comeback bout, Conor Benn a possible opponent

Eight-division champion, 44, retired in August 2021 but is targeting a return to professional boxing

Manny Pacquiao's most recent professional but was in a decision defeat to Yordenis Ugas in August 2021. Getty
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Manny Pacquiao’s return to professional boxing could take place in Abu Dhabi this summer as part of the next major boxing event to be staged in the capital.

The eight-division champion, who retired in August 2021, is understood to be in talks to take on British welterweight Conor Benn, with Abu Dhabi on June 3 an option.

The National understands promoters Matchroom Boxing are working towards a June event in the emirate following their hugely successful debut at Etihad Arena in November.

That card, headlined by Dmitry Bivol’s WBA light-heavyweight title defence against Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez, marked the first event in a long-term agreement signed last year between Matchroom and the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi. ESPN were the first to report the Pacquiao-Benn negotiations.

Now 44, Pacquiao is widely regarded one of the greatest boxers of all-time. The Filipino, (62-8-2, 39 KOs), has not fought competitively since his unanimous decision defeat to Yordenis Ugas 19 months ago, which came following a two-year hiatus. Pacquiao, already a senator in the Philippines, then embarked on an unsuccessful run for president of his homeland.

Speaking to ESPN on Wednesday, MP Promotions president Sean Gibbons said of Pacquiao: "He retired for a minute to run for president of the Philippines, where he took a respectful third place.

“And after that he felt that his retirement was due to running for president, and now that [he was unsuccessful] he wants to fight again and feels like he can do it at the highest level.

Pacquiao returns to ring in exhibition win against DK Yoo

"Manny is an all-time great and he feels like he still has a lot of fight left in him and he still wants to compete at the highest level. And this fight [against Benn] was presented to him by [Matchroom Sport chairman] Eddie Hearn, and he agreed. Ball is in Eddie Hearn's court. Pacquiao ready to go."

Benn, meanwhile, has not fought since last April, when he defeated Chris van Heerden by second-round TKO. The Englishman, son of former world champion Nigel Benn, was slated to face Chris Eubank Jr in October but the bout was scrapped after Benn failed two drug tests.

The unbeaten welterweight, 26, has since been restored to the WBC rankings - the organisation cleared Benn of intentionally doping - but he remains prohibited from competing in the UK by the British Boxing Board of Control. His professional record stands at 21-0 (14 KOs).

Hearn told ESPN: "We are in the process of selecting Conor Benn's next opponent and have been in active talks with Manny Pacquiao's team. We have had multiple site offers to stage the event and are looking to make an official announcement on Conor's next fight as early as next week."

The National understands a clash between Benn and Eubank Jr could be a possibility for Abu Dhabi instead. Also on Wednesday, Hearn told The Times that a Benn bout with Pacquiao or Eubank Jr was likely to take place in the Middle East or the United States at the beginning of June.

Pacquiao, who has long been touted for a fight in the UAE, was last seen in action in December, when he took part in an exhibition bout in Seoul with South Korean celebrity kickboxer DK Yoo.

Updated: March 16, 2023, 1:34 PM