Manny Pacquiao returns to the ring tonight on HBO pay-per-view (9 pm EST) to face unbeaten Chris Algieri at the Venetian in Macau, a 12-round catchweight fight for Pacquiao's WBO welterweight title. That's the part you know. But why should you tune in? Why would you pay your hard-earned $70 to see a fight that most don't see being competitive?
I don't know. I mean, I could make up some stuff, but I'm not the promoter. Chances are, you've already made up your mind weeks in advance, and have either ordered or have not. But I do think there are some interesting things going on with this card, too, and I really mean that. I'm not too sour on the main event, and the undercard ... has some people on it. That's a thing that is true.
Here's my attempt to convince you to watch!
1. Manny Pacquiao looks to end five-year KO drought
Pacquiao (56-5-2, 38 KO) has gone five full years since stopping an opponent, dating back to his 12th round mercy stoppage win over Miguel Cotto, in what may have also been the last fight where "The Old" Pacquiao was present. Over those years, Manny has faced a killer schedule of iron-chinned dudes like Antonio Margarito, Shane Mosley, Joshua Clottey, Brandon Rios, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Timothy Bradley. And he's hurt every single one of them.
But fair or not, Pacquiao's KO-less streak is criticized, because he was once a fighter who could seemingly flip a switch, go into one of his crazy attacks, and stop just about anybody. His rise to worldwide superstardom came because he battered Oscar De La Hoya into submission, scored the KO of the current century over Ricky Hatton, and then smashed Cotto.
It's kind of a case of Pacquiao struggling to live up to unrealistic expectations, created by his own scintillating performances. But Algieri (20-0, 8 KO) showed vulnerability against Ruslan Provodnikov, going down twice in the first round, and while Algieri adjusted in that fight and went on to win, Pacquiao is a much better fighter than Provodnikov, who failed to make his own adjustments and just lumbered forward all night. Manny has more tools than the Russian mauler, and won't just do the same things for 12 rounds, whether succeeding or failing.
Will Manny finally get the stoppage? He says he wants it, Freddie Roach says he's aiming for it. But we've heard that before, too. If it's not the power, then does Pacquiao still have the finishing instinct?
2. Chris Algieri is an odds-beater
Algieri, 30, is a former kickboxing champion who turned to pro boxing late in life, and has gone on to win a world title at 140 pounds, while staying undefeated over his first 20 fights. It's not often that someone so successful in one combat sport transitions successfully to another and makes it to the world class level, but the Long Island native has done that. This is pretty much the final step up the ladder. Is he elite, or just good?
The odds are in Pacquiao's favor -- he's a solid betting favorite and almost nobody expects Algieri to be particularly competitive, let alone win. But the same was said in June, when he beat Provodnikov. That fight was basically laughed off, decried as a lousy HBO main event. And on paper, it was. In execution, it was a terrific fight that proved Algieri belonged at that level, as he pulled a rousing upset to win a world title, of which he has since been politically stripped.
As already said, Pacquiao's a lot better than Provodnikov, and it probably doesn't help Algieri's case that since Provodnikov is also trained by Roach, the game planner in the other corner has recently seen him up close and personal. But a shot's a shot, and everyone has a chance, however minuscule. For recent mega-fight PPVs, this one isn't even that unusual a betting mismatch.
It's been a great 2014 for Algieri, as he's scored his two best wins to date over Emmanuel Taylor and Provodnikov. Pacquiao is next up, and however daunting, Algieri shouldn't be completely counted out.
3. Could it be next if Pacquiao wins?
Floyd Mayweather reportedly is serious about making the fight. There's Bob Arum Talk that there's potentially a full and astronomical and highly unlikely $1 billion in it. After five long years of waiting, could we finally be on the doorstep of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight the world wants to see?
Look, probably not. Every time either of them fights, the matchup is brought back into the national sports dialogue, as TV talking heads phonily pontificate on the matter, and casual fans declare their intent to boycott either or both fighters until they finally step up to the plate against one another. Mayweather's fans blame Pacquiao. Pacquiao's fans blame Mayweather. In frustration, I simply (and rightly) blame everyone and grow to hate the topic just like I did the last time.
But those talking heads really do just want to see the fight. The casual fans really do just want to see the fight. And I really do want to see the fight still. I don't care if its past its absolute peak as a matchup or as a commercial event. It's still:
- The biggest possible fight in boxing, by far.
- An incredibly interesting style clash between probably the two best fighters of the era.
So hate the discussion and the empty talk all you want, but let's none of us pretend that the fight isn't still interesting, because that's bunk. It's a lot more interesting than Mayweather-Khan/Alexander winner or Pacquiao-Jessie Vargas, that's for sure.
4. Vasyl Lomachenko is a special talent
Lomachenko (2-1, 1 KO) is the best reason to care about this mediocre at best undercard. The 26-year-old Ukrainian won a pair of gold medals at the Olympic games in 2008 and 2012, and has brought his considerable skills to the pro game with him. Losing to Orlando Salido in his second pro fight was no knock -- Salido is a good fighter, experienced, tricky, and knows what he's doing in the pro ring. He taught Lomachenko a lot about being a pro fighter, too. Vasyl learned that he can't simply rely on his skills and cruise.
In fight three, with the title Salido had vacated for missing weight against Lomachenko up for grabs, the young star gave Gary Russell Jr a boxing lesson. Russell, an Al Haymon-managed hype job with blazingly fast hands and a worrisome habit of fighting completely overmatched opponents, didn't stink out the joint or anything, but it was clear that he simply was not as good as Lomachenko. Turns out that 24 pro fights against zero threats doesn't make you automatically ready for someone who can hang with you.
The one thing about Lomachenko that's not particularly attractive is his style. There's a lot more Guillermo Rigondeaux in him than there is Yuriorkis Gamboa. This is a good thing for Lomachenko, sure, because most people he'll be able to comfortably outbox. But it's worth questioning if he's ever going to be exciting enough to become a star. Like Rigondeaux, he's a great tactician, but as we've seen with the 122-pound king, that doesn't always translate to network or fan interest.
5. Zou Shiming is a special commodity
Zou Shiming is also a two-time Olympic gold medalist, winning in 2008 and 2012, just like Lomachenko. Unlike Lomachenko, Shiming is:
- Old for a prospect, at 33;
- Past his likely prime, as he struggled to win that second medal in London and there's a good argument he shouldn't have won it at all, but Olympic boxing is what it is and all that;
- Truly without notable punching power;
- A flyweight, which limits his U.S. upside, stupidly enough;
- WORTH A WHOLE LOT OF MONEY.
That last point is the big one for Zou Shiming, who is the real key in building a potentially enormous boxing market in China. Manny Pacquiao is a player here, too, without question. Of all the fighters out there, Pacquiao is the second-biggest piece of this China puzzle. But the king is Zou Shiming. He's Chinese, a major athletic star in his country, and he has no pro baggage that matters. Like, me thinking that he's not that good of a prospect or fighter doesn't mean squat. Nobody in China gives a hot fart what I think about Zou's upside, or if I'm right or wrong. It doesn't matter at all. Zou Shiming is the golden goose for the new target market in the sport, which Bob Arum is aggressively and wisely going after.
Now, does that mean you should care about Zou Shiming? Not really, no. I don't think he's shown any indication that he's going to be a legitimate top fighter, and even if he wins tonight, he probably still won't have shown that, at least not in my opinion. But if Macau is indeed going to become a long-term destination for mega-fights, Zou Shiming's success will be the reason why that happens. With the attention paid to the cards he fights on, he is, in a roundabout fashion, teaching a nation a sport that until recently was banned. Boxing is easy to love and easy to relate to -- it's one-on-one, the athletes are often compelling people with amazing stories, and it's not hard to understand or pick up. And without years of reasons to distrust the sport, enthusiasm could get huge for boxing in China.
Zou Shiming, whether a real prospect or just the Chinese Mike Lee (OK, that was too far, I admit it), is a big time player in the worldwide boxing market right now. And that's why you should care, because a lot of how the future of this sport is shaped could be dictated by how his career plays out.