By: Hector Franco
Manny Pacquiao has a chance to accomplish something he never has against Errol Spence Jr.
Coming up in just a few short weeks on August 21st, one of the most anticipated fights of the year will take place in the capital of combat sports in Las Vegas.
Eight-division champion Manny Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs), after two years out of the ring at 42 years of age, will take on unified WBC and IBF welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. (27-0, 21 KOs) for the Ring Magazine and lineal welterweight crowns.
For all of Pacquiao’s list of accomplishments in boxing, one of the few that has eluded him is unifying titles in a weight class. The Filipino holds the record for winning titles in the most divisions in boxing history but has only participated in three unification bouts.
Following Pacquiao’s famously successful first fight in the United States in June 2001, where he bludgeoned Lehlo Ledwaba over six rounds to capture the IBF super-bantamweight title, he faced the Dominican Republic’s Agapito Sanchez in a unification match for the IBF and WBO 122-pound titles.
The fight took place in November 2001 in San Francisco as the main undercard bout to Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s final fight at 130-pounds against Jesus Chavez.
Unfortunately for Pacquiao, the fight was an ugly affair with numerous fouls from Sanchez, including two-point deductions for low blows. The fight was ultimately stopped due to head butts that caused a cut over the right eye of Pacquiao.
After six rounds, the fight went to the judge’s scorecards and was ruled a draw.
The next unification bout for Pacquiao took place a few years later in his first encounter with his greatest rival, Juan Manuel Marquez, in May 2004.
At the time, Pacquiao didn’t hold one of the four major titles at featherweight but held the Ring Magazine and lineal titles in the weight class by stopping Marco Antonio Barrera in a career-changing performance in 2003.
Heading into the bout, Marquez held the WBA and IBF featherweight titles.
Pacquiao and Marquez would put on a fight of the year contender, with Marquez surviving three knockdowns in the first round to work his way to a draw on the judge’s scorecards. The first three Pacquiao-Marquez fights are essentially all draws as there is an argument for either man coming out with his hand raised in victory.
The controversy of the match was highlighted by South African judge Burt Clements who scored the fight 113-113, scoring the first round 10-7 instead of 10-6 for Pacquiao. Usually, a slight discrepancy such as a difference in how one round is scored wouldn’t cause much controversy; however, Clements claimed that he didn’t know he could score a round 10-6. Had Clements been privy to scoring fights in Nevada, Pacquiao may have walked away the unified featherweight champion.
Finally, Pacquiao’s last unification match occurred in the most important fight of his career and the highest-grossing fight in boxing history against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in May 2015. The fight was to determine the best of a generation and was for the Ring Magazine, lineal, WBA, WBC, and WBO welterweight championships.
In a somewhat disappointing performance, Pacquiao, like all others, lost to Mayweather.
For Pacquiao to challenge a fighter like Spence Jr. at this stage of his career shows that he still feels that something is missing from his legacy. It’s unlikely that Pacquiao thinks about the minutiae of the exact number of world titles he has won or fought for, but the Filipino still has a need to prove something.
Pacquiao will enter the fight with Spence Jr. as a plus 170 underdog with height and reach disadvantages. For as much greatness he has achieved and garnered in his 25-plus year career, there is still a motivation for more.
“I got a lot of satisfaction beating Matthyse, Broner, and Thurman in a 12-month period, becoming the oldest man to win a welterweight title,” Pacquiao stated in an interview with The Sun in July. “Beating Errol Spence would be very special to me for all the obvious reasons and could elevate me into the discussion of being among the all-time greats in the sport.
“We have a lot of hard work left to do first for that to happen. To be at your best takes hard work. I want to win and show everyone I can still compete at the highest level. Errol Spence is not just one of the best welterweights; he is one of the best fighters. He is young, undefeated, and a world champion. He also wants to knock my head off.
“That is all the motivation I need.”