Manny Pacquiao targets two fights in 2021 with Crawford, Spence and McGregor all in the frame

Filipino has not fought since July last year and says he will not return to the ring until April at the earliest

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Manny Pacquiao is aiming to fight twice next year, but says he will not step back into the ring until April at the earliest.

The eight-division champion, who currently holds the WBA (super) welterweight belt, has not fought since July last year, with his 2020 plans derailed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A sitting senator in the Philippines, Pacquiao's focus has understandably been on his political duties, with the Filipino telling the Daily Tribune in his homeland: "We still have sessions in March so there's no way I am going to fight during that time."

However, he added: “I think I can do two next year.”

Pacquiao’s absence from the ring still has not dampened speculation about when he will return, with a host of prominent names linked.

The Filipino, 42 this week, has been tipped to take on next either WBO champion Terence Crawford or IBF title-holder Errol Spence Jr, with both unbeaten fighters recently calling him out.

Additionally, there have been discussions regarding a crossover fight with UFC star Conor McGregor.

Both fighters are represented by Paradigm Sports Management, who last week told The National they were still working on the bout - with the "strong possibility" the clash could take place in the Middle East.

McGregor, though, is set to make his comeback to the UFC next month, against Dustin Poirier at UFC 257, with Abu Dhabi set to host.

Speaking of Pacquiao-McGregor, Paradigm’s founder and CEO, Audie Attar, said: “The fans want it and both fighters want it. It’s hard not to make it happen.

“Manny Pacquiao sees Conor McGregor as a real threat and a real formidable opponent. At the end of the day, I don’t see why it shouldn’t happen. As we saw in 2020, you can never count anything out any more, but right now the intention is for that to happen in 2021.”

On whether the UAE could host, Attar added: “There’s definitely interest from within the region; there’s interest from all over the world: Asia to America to this region.

“Ultimately, you can’t count the region out at all – a case in point is what they've be doing in all combat sports the past two years – the UAE, Saudi Arabia. So you can't rule out the strong possibility of it potentially taking place in this region.”

Pacquiao's most recent fight, his 71st, took place in Las Vegas, when he defeated the previously unbeaten Keith Thurman by split decision.