Manny Pacquiao says he is excited to give back to the UAE’s large Filipino community later this month when he plays two exhibition basketball matches in Dubai.
The Filipino, the only eight-division world champion in boxing history, will headline a two-day Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) event, entitled Dubai Invasion 2019, on September 27 and 28. Taking place at Hamdan Sports Complex, it represents the league’s first trip to the Middle East.
An avid basketball fan, Pacquiao will feature in an exhibition match on each day of the action, which also includes three MPBL teams contesting regular Lakan Cup games. Those sides comprise Imus Bandera, Davao Occidental Tigers and inaugural champion Batangas City Athletics. Organisers expect 15,000 spectators to attend each day.
“I am really excited to come over to Dubai to spend time with our Kababayans [fellow Filipinos] out there and inspire them like I’ve been doing for the past three decades when I am fighting inside the ring,” Pacquiao said.
“We consider overseas Filipino workers as the country’s modern-day heroes, so it’s only fitting that we give it back to them. For two days, there won’t be any shortage of fun and excitement for them. We will do our fair share to entertain them through the sport that’s very close to their hearts.”
Pacquiao launched the MPBL, not yet as popular as the Philippines Basketball Association (PBA), in 2017, with the semi-professional league since growing from 10 teams to 31.
One-time PBA league MVP J-Jay Helterbrand and popular Filipino-American actor Gerald Anderson will represent the Bandera, who face the Tigers on the opening day. On the Saturday, the Bandera meet an Athletics side featuring Rajah Cup Finals MVP Val Acuna and Derek Ramsay, the British-born Filipino actor. Pacquiao’s brother, Bobby, will also be competing at the event.
“We know how passionate Filipinos are for basketball - that’s why we really invite the best teams possible,” said Dunstan Rozairo, chairman at organisers DJMC Events. “Aside from elite players, notable Filipino celebrities will also see action to spice up the games.”
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The Dubai Sports Council has leant its support to the event, with tickets beginning at Dh50. They are available at meraticket.com.
“This is a historic event for MPBL since this will be the first time that they will play outside of the Philippines,” said David John, managing director at DJMC Events. “And we want it to be really memorable, not only for the MPBL family, but also to great basketball fans here in UAE.”
Pacquiao, now a senator in his homeland, last fought on July 20, when he defeated unbeaten American Keith Thurman on points to claim the WBA welterweight world title. His next fight – the 72nd of his professional career - has yet to be announced.