Manny Pacquiao is targeting an historic first fight in Dubai to coincide with the beginning of Expo 2020, having decided he wants to “experience” competing in the emirate.
The Filipino star, in Dubai this weekend to headline a Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League event, told The National that he is using his trip to also discuss staging a high-profile bout for late next year.
Having last fought in July, Pacquiao expects to take to the ring again in April, possibly against unbeaten American Errol Spence Jr, which would mark the conclusion to his three-fight deal with Premier Boxing Champions.
The UAE has never before staged a major boxing event despite numerous attempts to host Pacquiao, the sport’s only eight-division world champion, most notably in 2017 when a prospective clash with Amir Khan never materialised.
However, Pacquiao is intent on fighting in Dubai – the recently opened Coca-Cola Arena has been suggested as a possible venue – and has earmarked November next year as a potential date. The Expo begins on October 20.
"I have a scheduled fight, probably for April next year, so after that," the WBA welterweight champion said. "It's a good thing because there's a huge Expo next year here, which starts October-November, so it's good timing [between fights] from April to November. That gives me time. That's the initial plan right now.
“I’ve decided to experience a fight here in Dubai in the future. That’s my thinking. And also bringing my MP Promotions boxing here. It’s good. This is going to be a great opportunity to promote our sport here.”
Asked if Khan, a former sparring partner, represented an obvious choice to face in Dubai, Pacquiao said: “We’ll see. If people want Amir Khan, or whoever. Or anybody that’s popular.”
That said, rumours regarding a rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr persist, fuelled by Pacquiao and the American recently exchanging jibes on social media. The pair met in 2015, in the richest fight in boxing history, when Pacquiao lost on unanimous decision. It later emerged he went into the fight with an injured shoulder.
Mayweather has since retired, unbeaten at 50-0, while Pacquiao's victory against Keith Thurman this summer was his third world title fight in 12 months. Nevertheless, the feeling remains that Pacquiao considers Mayweather unfinished business.
"My team and his team are talking right now," he said. “This is just about negotiations, about the formal discussions. So I don’t know what will happen."
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On whether the constant speculation bothers him, Pacquiao said: “No. I just let people talk and talk.”
Talk surrounding Pacquiao’s immediate opponent is sure to ramp up this weekend, when IBF champion Spence mets WBC title-holder Shawn Porter in their unification bout at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
Undefeated in his 25 professional fights, Spence said this week that, should he see off Porter, a bout with Pacquiao would "definitely happen" in 2020.
“That would be good,” Pacquiao said. “Oh yeah, I’m excited for whoever is the winner of that fight.
“I think Spence will win, but it’s not an easy fight; it’s going to be a hard fight. Porter is a good boxer also; he was my sparring mate before. But Spence is faster than Porter so he will win by unanimous decision.”
Whoever emerges victorious, Pacquiao will be 41 by the time he next competes, but insists he feels in fine shape following his victory against Thurman. He knocked down the previously undefeated American in the opening round, before claiming the victory on a split decision. It took Pacquiao's record to 62-7-2 (39 KO).
And, even though he is approaching a 72nd professional bout - promoter Bob Arum last week called for his former client to retire amid fears of suffering long-lasting damage - Pacquiao said he is not looking beyond boxing just yet.
“My thinking is that people are saying ‘Manny is getting old, getting slower’," Pacquiao said. “It’s giving me a challenge and is going to be a challenge for me to work harder compared to before. Before I was just 90-95 per cent, but then hearing that I was 100 per cent, 100 per cent.
“I’m not getting slowed down or getting tired of what I’m doing, because I’m happy, and I’m excited doing that. Because that’s the real evidence of being passionate for this sport.
“People say ‘Ah this is my passion, I’m so passionate for this sport’. But when they get to champion and reach the top they’re getting tired, slower, more distracted, especially when it comes to preparation.
“If boxing’s really your passion, work hard, manage yourself in training and with the determination and discipline you can do that. Because that’s your motivation. The thing is people just say that in words, not in action. But for me it’s different. When I say boxing is my passion I give my best, because it truly is my passion.”