By Lyle Fitzsimmons
I appreciate Manny Pacquiao.
The things he’s accomplished since reaching the championship level more than two decades ago measure up to anyone over the same time frame, and he’ll be a deserving International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee at the very instant he becomes eligible.
But in spite of the hype still resonating from a downing of intermittently active title-holder Keith Thurman nearly two months ago in Las Vegas, any days resembling his best ones are long, long gone.
The oft-injured Floridian had been campaigning on reputation alone for the more than two years, and Pacquiao, now 40, hasn’t beaten anyone capable of truly elite-level resistance – Tim Bradley, let’s say – since his odometer was a few months past 37.
Nevertheless, the Filipino camp was buzzing pre- and post-Thurman with talk of one Errol Spence Jr.
“If (Manny is) gonna continue in boxing, I want him to fight the best guys he can,” veteran trainer Freddie Roach said. “We’re not looking for any stiffs or any easy fights or anything like that. We will fight anybody out there. If Floyd doesn’t come, Errol Spence, all of them. Line them up.”
For those uninitiated, the Texan was an elite amateur, then a professional prodigy and has since become a three-defense champion since an impressive road KO of welterweight claimant Kell Brook.
He’s among the very best fighters in today’s world to these eyes – warranting a spot alongside Vasyl Lomachenko, Terence Crawford and Canelo Alvarez, among others – and he’s the kind of fighter who appears poised to maintain that status for the long term.
“The Mayweather era has stopped,” said veteran promoter Richard Schaefer, following Spence’s clinic against fellow pound-for-pounder Mikey Garcia earlier this year.
“A new era has started today – the Errol Spence era.”
Mayweather, for those who’ve forgotten, won 50 fights in a career (including a defeat of Pacquiao) that touched three decades and he will certainly be part of the IBHOF’s induction class come 2022 or beyond – alongside more recognizable surnames like Ali, Robinson and Marciano.
Whether Spence stays relevant long enough to record a worthwhile fraction of Mayweather’s relevance remains a mystery, but one Ali-era commandment seems clear from this vantage point:
If Pacquiao even dreams about beating Spence, he’d better wake up and apologize.
While a guy like Crawford has already leapt from 135 pounds to 140 and subsequently evolved into a terrific welterweight, those around the aging senator have long insisted he’d be more comfortable – and perhaps more devastating – with a move down to 140, a division he invaded with a two-round erasure of Ricky Hatton in 2009 before chasing bigger names and purses at 147 and beyond.
Making a play for Spence, then, would be a bite far more than the Filipino is capable of chewing.
Spence would stand four full inches taller in a press conference staring contest while possessing an even more significant five-inch edge in reach, and a successful match with a certified pay-per-view stalwart would go a lot further toward putting the 29-year-old over with mainstream fans – and tilling the ground for even bigger shows – than unifications at 147 with the rugged, albeit lesser likes of Shawn Porter.
Porter puts his recently-won WBC slice of the 147-pound pie against Spence’s IBF portion on Sept. 28.
The IBF title, incidentally, belonged to Porter before he lost to Brook.
“It's going to be a very exciting fight,” Spence said. “Shawn is never in a boring fight and I always entertain. It will be a Fight of the Year type fight because our styles mesh. Shawn Porter is a guy who tries to rough you up. That's what he's always done. With Yordenis Ugas he tried to box and he said he didn't like that style. He said he is going back to his original style. If he brings that style to me, it's going to be a great fight because I'm going to bring it right back to him.”
In other words, it's a coming-out party waiting to happen.
Presuming he gets past Porter, Spence will be squarely on the “eventually, he'll get Pacquiao” path promoter Bob Arum used to suggest for Brandon Rios – before age, weight and brawls took their toll on “Bam Bam” and ultimately made the duel more sparring than scintillating.
Spence seems in no danger of such precipitous fizzling, thanks to both talent and will.
“I always want to outperform my foes,” he said. “There’s a lot of people salivating for me to be No. 1, and I should be by next year. Hopefully I’ll be mentioned as an all-time great like Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather, and Tommy Hearns and Oscar De La Hoya.”
Indeed, headliner shows warrant far better than bar-band encores.
And given the 29-year-old’s comfort on the big stage, there seems no reason not to start the tour.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBF mini flyweight title – Taguig City, Philippines
Samuel Salva (No. 1 IBF/No. 29 IWBR) vs. Pedro Taduran (No. 3 IBF/No. 27 IWBR)
Salva (17-0, 10 KO): First title fight; Won lone 12-round fight by decision
Taduran (13-2, 10 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Two career wins in 12-rounders, both by KO/TKO
Fitzbitz says: Neither guy really belongs in a title fight. Still, it’s an interesting match of Filipino kids. Salva may have a high ceiling, but Taduran has fought better guys. Tie broken. Taduran by decision (51/49)
Last week's picks: 1-0 (WIN: Lomachenko)
2019 picks record: 69-14 (83.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,080-357 (75.1 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.