Boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao set to visit UAE to play exhibition basketball games

The Filipino will headline the September 27-28 event in Dubai, which will feature MPBL teams Batangas City Athletics, Davao Occidental Tigers and Imus Bandera

Manny Pacquiao is an active basketball player and founder of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League. Jake Verzosa for The National
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Manny Pacquiao will visit the UAE later this year to play two exhibition basketball matches as he looks to both develop the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League and give something back to the Emirates’ large Filipino community, local organisers have said.

The Filipino, currently in Los Angeles preparing for his WBA welterweight title unification bout against Keith Thurman next month, will headline the September 27-28 event in Dubai, which will feature Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) teams Batangas City Athletics, Davao Occidental Tigers and Imus Bandera.

Founder of the semi-professional MPBL, Pacquiao will participate in exhibition matches on both days, with a regular Lakandula Cup game also taking place on both. Pacquiao’s brother, Bobby, will also be competing, together with Filipino-American actor Gerald Anderson and British-born Filipino actor Derek Ramsay.

A venue has yet to be confirmed, although organisers and promoters DJMC Events are assessing a number of options, including the recently opened Coca-Cola Arena. The Trade Centre Arena has also been mooted.

Seeking to make a final decision by next week, DJMC Events want a venue capable of holding at least 10,000 people. They anticipate tickets for the event will go on sale in two weeks’ time, once sales outlets are finalised.

Pacquiao launched the MPBL, not yet as popular as the Philippines Basketball Association (PBA), in 2017. Since, it has grown from 10 teams to 31. Plans are to expand its exposure beyond the Philippines, with the MPBL looking to stage games in Oman within the next year.

“Manny wants to bring MPBL outside the country and wants to bring it on a level with PBA and even higher,” said David John, managing director at DJMC Events.

“His players are of a very high standard and a lot of celebrities are joining hands to be part of MPBL. The goal is to break through in more international countries.

“We can feel excitement is already building here, because of Manny’s profile. Manny has been to Dubai previously and he wants to do much more in this part of the world. He realised the huge potential for the OFWs [Overseas Filipino Workers] in the UAE, and it’s something to give back to their community. That’s why he has decided to come.”

John said the Dubai Sports Council have been hugely supportive of the initiative and are receptive to the idea of Pacquiao, now also a Philippines senator, being involved in an annual MPBL event in the emirate.

Pacquiao, boxing’s only eight-division world champion, will first take to the ring on July 20, when he faces the undefeated Thurman at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. Now 40, the fight marks Pacquiao’s 71st as a professional, and represents the second defence of his “world” welterweight title after he defeated American Adrien Broner on points in January.

Thurman, 10 years his junior, fought the following week, when he retained the “super” welterweight belt by sealing a unanimous points decision against Josesito Lopez. Thurman’s record stands at 29-0.