This coming August, boxing fans will be treated to one of the more intriguing welterweight bouts in recent memory. For those who haven’t seen the news, former star Manny Pacquiao will be returning to professional competition for the first time since a 2019 victory over Keith Thurman. He’ll take on the undefeated Errol Spence Jr. in what could well be one of the final fights of the Filipino legend’s career. (There’s some talk of a bout with Conor McGregor, but in January a piece at Insider suggested Pacquiao had “moved on” from the possibility).
This fight is intriguing in part because of the pure allure of its big-name headliner. Manny Pacquiao is arguably the second most famous boxer of the 21st century after Floyd Mayweather and is certainly better known to casual fans than the sport’s current champions. But any time an aging fighter takes on a capable young challenger — or mounts a comeback to the ring for that matter — there are questions about how much we ought to expect. So in this case, what is the outlook for Pacquiao against the IBF and WBC champion with the unblemished résumé?
This fight was only recently confirmed, so it’s worth noting that speculation is in its infancy. It is already clear however that Pacquiao will go into this fight as an underdog. Most of the early experts take to suggest that Spence will be too much for the veteran fighter, and Bwin ranks Spence as a -400 favorite to win the fight in some of the earliest reliable odds for the event. Again, we’re early in the process. There’s a lot of speculation to come, and the odds may bounce around a bit as they often do. But it’s clear nonetheless that Spence is the favorite, and will remain so.
There is plenty of technical analysis that could go into explaining why this is the case. Spence puts together excellent, creative combinations in close space; he’s developed the footwork to use the whole ring to his advantage; his jab while on the defensive is becoming something of a trademark; and if anything he’s a more powerful puncher than he’s sometimes given credit for (with 21 KOs in his 27-0 record). He’s a well-rounded fighter who’s ascended to the top of the sport for a reason and appears well-positioned to continue that rise.
Pacquiao, of course, has seen all this and more. Spence is not the best fighter he’ll have squared off against (that distinction of course goes to Floyd Mayweather Jr.), ad there isn’t a trick the Filipino isn’t familiar with. But technical analysis aside, the facts here are simple. Add to all of the above that Spence is younger, faster, taller, and in possession of greater reach, and the scales are tipped in his favor. Factor in that Pacquiao hasn’t faced a true challenge in several years, and they tip a little more. Sometimes it really is as simple as it looks.
Nevertheless, it’s perfectly rational to expect Manny Pacquiao to put up a fight. He’s still one of the all-time greats, and it’s unlikely that he’d pursue a bout like this without intending to win it. Upon the announcement of the fight, Boxing Scene quoted trainer Freddie Roach as saying that he and Pacquiao want to take on the best as opposed to “stiffs” or “easy fights” (perhaps a shot at Mayweather, who seems to aim more for lucrative promotional gimmick fights at this point).
It’s an admirable way for Pacquiao to return to the sport, and that competitiveness is one reason we wouldn’t completely count him out here. But Spence remains a clear favorite, and it’s easy to see why.