Opening Bell: What now, Pacquiao?
LAS VEGAS -- Manny Pacquiao's return to fight in the United States for the first time in 26 months went exactly how I -- and most -- expected it to go. He easily outpointed the perennially underachieving Adrien Broner via unanimous decision on Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena to retain his secondary welterweight world title for the first time.
Though Broner had the audacity to proclaim victory -- and it was a shock to see two judges actually give him four rounds on their 116-112 scorecards, with the third score of 117-111 also generous -- he did not win or come close to being genuinely competitive. Broner is now 0-4 with decisive losses when he faces a serious opponent (Pacquiao, Mikey Garcia, Shawn Porter and Marcos Maidana, for those scoring at home).
Broner (33-4-1, 24 KOs), 29, of Cincinnati, landed a mere 50 punches in the entire fight (and never more than eight in a round), per CompuBox, and none did any damage. About the only damage he dished out was a scratch on Pacquiao's cornea when the tape from his glove laced Pacman's eye.
But Philippine senator Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs), who turned 40 last month, looked 10 years younger. The speed and movement are still there, as is his fighting spirit. Clearly there are still big fights in the future for boxing's only eight-division world champion.
He said after the fight that he would like a rematch with Floyd Mayweather, who outpointed him in their 2015 mega fight to unify welterweight titles. Mayweather also was ringside as one of the Pacquiao-Broner promoters but was coy about whether he plans to come out of retirement again to fight Pacquiao in a sequel.
Mayweather did not speak on the topic following the fight, but earlier during the Showtime PPV telecast he was interviewed by Jim Gray and said, "You keep asking me about Manny Pacquiao. He needs to get past Adrien Broner first. And right now I'm living a happy and healthy life."
So who should Pacquiao fight next if Mayweather actually sticks to his retirement and decides against the rematch he previously had said he was interested in and spoke to Pacquiao about in person? Here are my top five, in my order of preference:
1. Errol Spence Jr.-Mikey Garcia winner: Spence defends his welterweight belt versus Garcia on Fox PPV on March 16 in a fascinating match between two of boxing's pound-for-pound best. The winner against Pacquiao would be a really big fight, easily the biggest for Pacquiao other than a Mayweather rematch. If it's Spence, he'd be the young, prime welterweight looking to add the name of a legend to his resume. If it's Garcia, he'd be facing the guy he is trying to emulate. Remember, Pacquiao moved up two weight classes from lightweight to welterweight in 2008 and beat the stuffing out of Oscar De La Hoya in a massive upset. Garcia is trying to do the same by jumping up to face Spence. Pacquiao, Spence and Garcia all fight for Premier Boxing Champions, so either bout would be relatively easy to make.
2. Keith Thurman: Pacquiao's secondary belt makes him mandatory for so-called "super" titleholder Thurman, who returns from a 22-month injury layoff to defend the belt on Saturday against heavy underdog Josesito Lopez. Assuming Thurman wins and shakes off some rust, a fight with Pacquiao this summer (before Pacquiao heads back to his senate work) would be terrific. Thurman is also with PBC, making this fight easy to make. It would also be easy to promote, given the magnitude of the fight, Pacquiao's popularity and Thurman's personality.
3. Terence Crawford-Amir Khan winner: Crawford defends his welterweight title against Khan on April 20, and the winner would make sense as a Pacquiao opponent. I know this one is supremely unlikely if Crawford wins, but this is a wish list, not a reality list. Top Rank attempted to make Pacquiao-Crawford before Pacquiao left Top Rank to sign with PBC last year. Now that Pacquiao is no longer with the company, forget about it. But if Khan pulls the upset over Crawford, it's very doable. He's been chasing a Pacquiao fight for years, and Pacquiao has also been interested.
4. Danny Garcia: Former welterweight titlist Garcia would have to first defeat Adrian Granados on April 20, but Garcia is a massive favorite. If Garcia wins, he's obviously a quality Pacquiao foe in what I think would be an excellent fight. Like some other possible bouts, it's also easy to make because they're both with PBC.
5. Jeff Horn: Pacquiao got robbed of a decision in Horn's hometown of Brisbane, Australia, in July 2017 in a highly entertaining fight. Horn later lost the title to Crawford but has since destroyed Anthony Mundine in one round at junior middleweight. A Pacquiao rematch with Horn might not be as big commercially as some other fights, but it's rematch with a compelling storyline. Horn promoter Dean Lonergan said their side is up for it, telling me, "A rematch of that fight, either in Las Vegas or Brisbane, should be a requirement by Floyd, along with the boxing public and broadcaster, to give a possible Mayweather-Pacquiao II the credibility it needs."