Manny Pacquiao is back! Or is he? Does it even matter?
The 39-year-old Pacquiao appeared to turn back time, at least to a degree, as he easily stopped Lucas Matthysse in the seventh round to win a secondary welterweight world title on Saturday night in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (Sunday morning local).
Pacquiao hadn't fought in a year and didn't look particularly good in his previous fight -- a bloody, controversial decision loss to Jeff Horn that cost him a welterweight belt. So who knew how much Pacquiao had left going into the fight with Matthysse, who is 35 himself and past his prime?
Pacquiao was the clear favorite, and at first glance, it looked like he still had quite a bit left as he dropped Matthysse three times -- in the third, fifth and seventh round -- to get the stoppage. Of course, the matchmaking for the fight was perfect. Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs) was paired with a well-known fighter who was his same size in Matthysse (39-5, 36 KOs), a slower, faded brawler who peaked in 2015 before a major injury in a knockout loss was followed by a 19-month layoff. If you thought Pacquiao looked like he was on his last legs against Horn, even though he deserved the victory, Argentina's Matthysse looked much worse in his shaky knockout win over utterly obscure Tewa Kiram in January to win a nonsensical WBA secondary 147-pound belt.
So given where Matthysse is in his own career, which is probably now over as far as being involved in any meaningful fights, it's hard to give Pacquiao that much credit for the win.
But who really cares about that? None of us really know what Pacquiao has left in the tank, especially at his age. He was in the 69th fight of his 23-year career (lest we forget the thousands of rounds of sparring) and he has been in many wars. So while it's probably not good for Pacquiao's long-term health to continue boxing, he plans to do so because, after all, the living legend and one of the greatest fighters in history still looked good.
There are an awful lot of people who were excited to see their hero back in the ring, putting on a strong performance, and even scoring a knockout for a change. Amazingly, it was Pacman's KO first since a 12th-round stoppage of Miguel Cotto in 2009, a fight I view as the apex of Pacquiao's career and when he won a welterweight title for the first time.
Any time a beloved fighter comes back to the ring after a long layoff, performs well in a fan-friendly fight and wins by knockout, it's good for boxing. There will be a lot of talk now about who Pacquiao will fight next, be it later this year or next.
Don't expect him to face the elites. He'll pick and choose, and that's OK for a fighter of his stature and where he is in his career -- which is still good enough to beat many fighters but perhaps not the elite. As Timothy Bradley Jr. said on the broadcast, Manny's B-game is still better than the A-game of many fighters. Still, he is extremely unlikely to face titleholders Keith Thurman or Errol Spence Jr. Or the Danny Garcia-Shawn Porter vacant title bout winner. I also doubt that he'll face Terence Crawford, the man who shredded Horn to take his title last month. In fact, Pacquiao previously turned down Crawford, despite Top Rank's desire to make the fight.
I think it is quite possible that Pacquiao could face pound-for-pound king and lightweight champion Vasiliy Lomachenko in a catchweight fight next year. Both fighters and Top Rank have expressed interest. That's a fight Pacquiao might win and might not. But he probably won't get hurt, and he'd make a lot of money as the A side.
I could also see a scenario in which he could fight Amir Khan or Adrien Broner, both big names and both would also translate to good money. Pacquiao would be favored to win and the bouts would generate enormous publicity and interest. He is playing out the string of a legendary career, so who he fights and how much he has left really doesn't matter at this point. Just enjoy the rest of the ride.
Best performance of the weekend: Rocky Fielding
In 2015, British super middleweight Rocky Fielding (27-1, 15 KOs), 30, suffered a first-round knockout loss the first time he stepped up in competition to face Callum Smith and was written off by many.
But on Saturday, he won his sixth fight in a row since, and it was his biggest win and best performance. He traveled to Offenburg, Germany and took out Tyron Zeuge (22-1-1, 12 KOs), 26, of Germany, in the fifth round to win a secondary world title on his home turf in an upset.
Fielding looked very good, as he took over in the third round. In the fifth round, he really took it to Zeuge. He rocked him with a left uppercut, landed several more clean shots and then dropped him with a left hand to the body. As referee Russell Mora counted, Zeuge's corner threw in the towel and Mora stopped it at 2 minutes, 30 seconds.
"It feels amazing, the fact I've come to his backyard and stopped him," Fielding said. "I've been listening to my trainer, Jamie Moore, and everything he said was on point. I broke him down, and Jamie said, 'Let's see where he is after six.' This was my night tonight. I knew that it was a long road back without winning this. I've come on a long way in the last few years."
The next step: Fielding hopes to come home to Liverpool, England to defend the belt, but it remains to be seen if that could happen in his first defense. Zeuge has a rematch clause that he could exercise. If he elects to face Fielding again, the fight probably would be back in Germany.