‘Good luck tonight, Conor! Let’s make 2021 the best year ever for fight fans.’
Half an hour later Manny Pacquiao’s hopes of a multi-million-dollar boxing/MMA crossover event against Conor McGregor were over thanks to the calf kicks and punching accuracy of Dustin Poirier.
UFC 257, over in Abu Dhabi, pitted the lightweight division’s No.2 contender (Poirier) against No.4 and former champion (McGregor). The 32-year-old Irishman, who had been respectful and humble all week, walked into the Octagon on Saturday night knowing a second win over ‘The Diamond’, seven years on from his first-round win at UFC 178, would likely lead to another departure from Dana White’s shackles into the loving arms of boxing’s money men for a few months.
Now, as McGregor returns to his family perhaps realising that his days as a feared, dynamite-fisted monster are over, attention turns to where this leaves Pacquiao’s year and career.
In the immediate aftermath of McGregor’s loss, boxing reporter Mike Coppinger tweeted that preliminary discussions regarding a fight between Pacquiao and new kid on the block Ryan Garcia had taken place.
The 22-year-old Californian is hot property after his career-changing body shot knockout of Luke Campbell earlier this month. Boxing fans would likely prefer the 2021 Golden Boy to meet the likes of Teofimo Lopez, Devin Haney or Gervonta Davis head on in captivating lightweight battles but you wouldn’t blame the young man for looking to take his profile to another level and for his bank balance to have another zero or two at the end of it.
Pacquiao was a lightweight champion back in 2008 taking the WBC title from David Diaz. The performance showcased the levels both were at on the night. The Filipino has not fought at the 135lbs limit since then and the fact his last bout was a WBA ‘Super’ welterweight title fight against Keith Thurman in July 2019 means Garcia would have to bulk up in pounds if he wants the dollars to fight the Pac-Man.
Pacquiao’s slate since his dismantling of Diaz just over 12 years ago is the stuff of legend and hall-of-fame worthiness. And that’s not taking into account what the phenom achieved at flyweight, super-bantamweight, featherweight and super-featherweight in the years prior.
Since those days, which feel like a lifetime ago, Pacquiao has taken on and taken down foes such as Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley, Juan Manuel Marquez, Timothy Bradley and Thurman. In all, he has fought 19 times since he defeated Diaz in Las Vegas. He has won 15 and lost four, and two of the losses you could spend all night arguing with your friend who thinks Tim Bradley and Jeff Horn won.
Every year, we think this is the final year of Pac’s career which began in 1995. That question is asked once again as January 2021 enters its final week. Will his next fight be against Ryan Garcia? You would not bet against it. Other options are welterweight unifications and exciting duels against Errol Spence Jr. or Terence Crawford, the often talked about Mikey Garcia fight or – whisper it – a rematch against Floyd Mayweather.
Whatever the future holds, it appears as though the money to be made against McGregor, which Mayweather memorably/not so memorably (depending on your view) earned in a mismatch three years ago, has gone up in smoke quicker than you can post another Bernie Sanders chair meme.
Pac knows the game inside out. There is nothing left for the 42-year-old to achieve except generating more money for the generations of Pac-Men and women to come. And on a night where one combat sports legend bit off more than he could chew, believing inactivity would be an easy opponent, it was Pacquiao who summed matters up best not long after Octagon rust caught up with Conor McGregor.
‘Beautiful thing about the fight game, anything can happen! Congrats to @DustinPoirier Huge win!’