PAC-MAN’S NEXT OPPONENT — With each passing day it seems more likely that Manny Pacquiao’s next opponent will be Amir Khan. The long-simmering rumor that Pac-Man would bypass Bob Arum’s preferred choice, Jeff Horn, in favor of Khan gained more traction this week with a report in the Daily Mirror that Khan had agreed to terms, leaving only Pacquiao to sign on the dotted line.
Granted, British tabloids are not the most trustworthy sources. The Daily Sun, England’s raunchiest tabloid, created quite a stir last week with a story that said that a match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor was pretty much a done deal. The story, which rippled across the mediaverse at warp speed, was premature, at the very least. Not quite 16 months ago, Jeff Powell, the veteran boxing scribe of the Daily Mail, reported that Pacquiao’s first post-Mayweather fight would come against Khan. That proved false. Indeed, Bob Arum insisted that Pacquiao-Khan was never under serious consideration. All along, Pacquiao-Bradley III was at the forefront.
But this time, despite protestations to the contrary by some of the key players, it feels different. This time it feels like the Pacquiao-Khan rumor has substance.
While never formally announced, it was widely understood that Pacquiao’s next fight would come against Jeff Horn on April 23 in Horn’s hometown of Brisbane, Australia. There wasn’t a great deal of leeway as to the date. The fight had to occur between mid-March and May 2 when the Filipino Senate is in recess.
The first indication that Pacquiao-Horn was on shaky ground came on February 11 when Pacquiao’s advisor Michael Koncz, speaking in Abu Dhabi, told the Gulf News that Manny’s next fight would be “100 percent in the UAE.” The Gulf News, published in Dubai, is an English language paper with wide circulation throughout the Arabic world. The next day Pac-Man chimed in with a ditto: “See you in UAE for my next fight,” he tweeted.
Then came Pacquiao’s famous twitter poll where he asked his followers to choose his next opponent. The choices were Khan, Kell Brook, Terrence Crawford, and Horn.
Amir Khan won the referendum in a runaway, garnering 48 percent of the votes, twice as many as second-place finisher Kell Brook. Jeff Horn dragged up the rear. Only 7 percent of the respondents picked him.
The big question here is whether the poll was Pacquiao’s idea or whether it was the brainstorm of Koncz who purportedly controls Pacquiao’s social media platforms. As a man who wears his religion on his sleeve, it didn’t figure that Manny Pacquiao would invite feedback from the public when he had no intention of paying it any heed. Regardless, Amir Khan emerged as the “people’s choice,” seemingly giving him a leg up over Horn and others if the money was right. And there’s plenty of money in the oil-rich UAE.
Michael Koncz, a Canadian, is a shadowy figure. In the Philippines, there’s a widespread feeling that Pacquiao’s finances are being mishandled and that Koncz is to blame. Edwin Espejo, who writes for The Rappler, a popular on-line news site headquartered in Manila, has written that Koncz was a drifter hanging around the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood when he intruded himself into Pacquiao’s life. (For the record, this reporter has never spoken with Michael Koncz and wouldn’t recognize him if we were sharing an elevator.)
If the fight goes to the UAE, it would need to be staged early in the morning to maximize foreign TV revenues. However, there’s still a certain logic to putting it there, either in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, both of which have major state-of-the-art sports facilities. Amir Khan would be a good fit in a country where the official state religion is Islam. Pacquiao wouldn’t lack for supporters. There is a considerable Filipino presence in the UAE where more than four out of every five workers is foreign-born.
If they fight, Khan would be the younger man by eight years. However, in his last outing, in May of last year, he was knocked unconscious by Canelo Alvarez and there’s a school of thought that he wouldn’t be smart to take this fight at this juncture of his career.
In his weekly column in the Daily Mirror, former WBA featherweight champion Barry McGuigan wrote: “I would caution Khan against another high-octane super-fight off the back of a crushing defeat last time out…And, given the high-profile turbulence in his private life recently, I’m not sure that kind of publicity is conducive to taking on Pacquiao…Khan needs to get back to basics. Take a tune-up bout and gain some ring confidence.”
The turbulence to which McGuigan alludes is playing out on television in Great Britain in a Kardashians-style reality show on the new Booom network. The crux of the show is the culture clash between Khan’s sultry wife from Brooklyn, Faryal Mahkdoom, and her in-laws who disapprove of her Westernized ways. Amir and Faryal, who were married in a big shebang at New York’s iconic Waldorf Astoria, are the parents of a 2-year-old daughter. The family drama, although manufactured, is fodder for the tabloids, keeping Khan’s name in the news and propping up his marketability as his boxing skills show signs of eroding.
Pacquiao and Khan once trained together at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card gym. Khan severed the partnership after suffering a shocking fourth round knockout at the hands of Danny Garcia in July of 2012.
In sparring sessions, Manny knocked Amir cold “four or five times.” So said Roach in a quote attributed to him by the aforementioned Jeff Powell. If true, that would make Amir Khan an even more attractive opponent. At this stage of Pac-Man’s career, it’s all about making the most money with the least risk.
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