NEW YORK (AP) – Manny Pacquiao never has trouble finding a fight. Anybody with a shred of credibility who can come close to making weight has been lining up for years to face the box-office sensation.
So when Pacquiao agreed to fight Juan Manuel Marquez in November, their third matchup in what already has been an epic series, everyone else started pairing up.
- Junior welterweight titleholders Amir Khan and Zab Judah found each other. They’ll meet in Las Vegas in a highly anticipated unification match in July.
- Former titleholder Devon Alexander lined up with hard-hitting Lucas Matthysse. They’ll meet in Alexander’s native St. Louis later this month.
- Floyd Mayweather Jr. announced plans to end a 16-month layoff this week. He agreed to face welterweight champ Victor Ortiz at a venue to be decided in September.
The combined record of those eight fighters? 290 wins, 19 losses, five draws. They also have about 30 world titles between them, depending on what you count.
“I really can’t remember any other weight class that has been so talent-loaded,” Golden Boy Promotions chief executive Richard Schaefer said, referring to the 140- and 147-pound divisions, by far the most exciting in boxing over the past few years.
Those are just the fights that have been finalized.
Golden Boy is close to a deal for lightweight champ Robert Guerrero to move up to 140 pounds against Marcos Maidana, another hard-punching contender. And former three-division champion Erik Morales is expected to return soon after taking Maidana to the brink in April.
“These are some big names, some great matchups,” Schaefer said this week. “They bring name recognition, so not only fight fans tune in, but sports fans as well.”
The pool of fights reminds Schaefer of the 1980s, when the quartet of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran were reaching their peak – four fighters of the same elite caliber who came together for a series of slugfests, nine in all.
They’ve stood the test of time.
There was Leonard making Duran call “no mas” at the Louisiana Superdome. Hagler-Hearns in April 1985, in the old outdoor stadium at Caesar’s Palace, still considered the greatest three-round fight in boxing history. And the rematch between Leonard and Duran in December 1989, the fight that effectively closed the chapter on the memorable era.
The series of fights scheduled to take place over the next six months may not live up to those lofty standards, but they should provide another jolt of intrigue to a sport that has been trying to recapture the public’s imagination.
“It’s like those great fights in the 1980s, great timing,” said Freddie Roach, who will have a hand in several of the matchups as a trainer of Pacquiao and Khan.
“Even Mayweather is getting in there. I think he picked a southpaw, maybe he’s getting ready for Manny,” Roach said. “It kind of excites me. I’m glad the fight is happening.”
There are a few fights that aren’t happening, and a few fighters left out.
The most notable is unbeaten welterweight titleholder Timothy Bradley, who backed out of a proposed unification fight against Khan and a reportedly career-high payday. Now that just about every other marquee name has locked up a fight, Bradley is left without a dance partner.
“My whole goal is to fight Bradley, and then he pulled out. But it’s one of those things,” Khan said. “They just didn’t want the fight. He said, ‘I don’t want to fight Amir,’ but by the time he gets back in the ring, it’ll be over a year off.”
Bradley’s loss ended up being Judah’s gain.
The former undisputed welterweight champion has been making a comeback at 140 pounds, his more natural weight, and has been impressive in rattling off five straight victories. His most recent win earned him the vacant IBF junior welterweight title.
Now he’s set to face Khan, the talented Brit with the fast hands, at the Mandalay Bay in what could be the most exciting fight the rest of the year. “We never expected this, but God is good,” Judah said earlier this week. “It’s a great opportunity, let’s me become six-time champion of the world. So I’m looking forward to going out there and doing what I need to do.”
Copyright Associated Press