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Is Manny Pacquiao still a major attraction in boxing?

Sporting News — (Mark Ortega)

LOS ANGELES — It was a quieter Manny Pacquiao media day than in years past.

Pacquiao continued his streak of being perennially tardy, stepping into Wild Card Boxing in its nondescript Hollywood strip mall location about an hour later than expected. When Pacquiao fought Floyd Mayweather Jr. in the highest-grossing fight in boxing history 3 1/2 years ago, you couldn’t even move inside the gym. On Wednesday, you could find space on the ring apron with only mild elbowing necessary.

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A week from Saturday, Pacquiao will fight in his first pay-per-view fight since facing Jessie Vargas in a Top Rank-produced PPV that generated a measly 300,000 buys. Pacquiao’s opponent, Adrien Broner, drew with Vargas in his lone 2018 fight but is a much bigger name than their former foe. It will be interesting to see how many PPVs this generates, with Showtime thrusting its full capabilities behind the fight thanks to its "All Access" show. Still, tickets reportedly aren’t moving quickly for this fight, though that can be attributed to it coming so soon after the holidays and being in Las Vegas during its most frigid month.

With Mayweather retired, Pacquiao is the most recognizable active boxer today. A decade ago, Pacquiao may have been the most recognizable athlete of the time. Those days are clearly behind him, and at 40 years old, you wonder what is really left for him to accomplish. Fighters are always searching for the perfect moment to end things on their own terms — a loss to Mayweather derailed hopes of that — unless we get the rematch nobody asked for.

Pacquiao’s signing with Premier Boxing Champions opened up the fighting politician to a brand-new stable of possible opponents he’d been unable to fight under the Top Rank banner. But if Freddie Roach (who is back in Pacquiao’s camp after a one-bout absence) has his way, the Mayweather rematch is the only fight he wants.

"I'd like to see Mayweather," Roach said when asked if there's another welterweight he’d like to see Pacquiao fight. “I want that one more time. … First time around, I think we got screwed because he had a bad shoulder injury and the fourth round he was finished. Since then, he’s had surgery, he’s healthy, and I think a healthy Manny Pacquiao beats Mayweather."

Pacquiao himself seems a bit tired talking about a Mayweather rematch, and yet, almost as if on cue, the former adversaries were both courtside at the Clippers' game at Staples Center on Tuesday. This was Filipino Heritage Night, and Pacquiao was an invited guest. It’s funny that Mayweather would be there on that night in particular, unless he’s trying to see what kind of interest there is in another fight after the first one was so uninspiring.

Their 2015 fight came together after the two met courtside at a Miami Heat game, and then meeting at a nearby hotel to hammer out the details. That bout generated more than $500 million while also leaving a bad taste in fans’ mouths after it didn’t live up to expectations.

But does a 40-year-old Pacquiao really want to face a young lion in his prime? Perhaps the Broner fight is a good test to that — at 29, Broner is at his physical peak but has always come up short in his biggest moments. If Pacquiao struggles mightily but wins, maybe his handlers steer him away from guys like Keith Thurman and Errol Spence Jr.

“I’m retired. I’m not fighting anymore,” Mayweather told the Los Angeles Times at the Clippers game. Though Pacquiao told the Times the thinking in his heart is "that there will be [another] fight," he seemed resigned to Mayweather being retired in Tuesday’s episode of "Inside PBC Boxing" on FS1.

"For me, if you ask me, of course, I'm still in boxing so if he want(s) (a) rematch, why not?” Pacquiao said when pressed by Shawn Porter on the show. “But he’s in retirement. He said he’s in retirement. … If he comes back and after this fight, he thinks, 'I want to fight you,' (then) why not?"

If Pacquiao wants to fill out the Wild Card Gym next time he has a public workout, it’s probably only Mayweather who would do it. Though Spence and Thurman and Porter are in their physical primes, the stories of a fight between any of those guys and Pacquiao just isn’t as rich as the history between Floyd and Manny.

Pacquiao looked good in his brief in-ring workout Wednesday, pounding Roach’s ribcage while working the mitts. He looks to be in great shape heading into next weekend.

For his knockout win over Lucas Matthysse, Pacquiao said he only trained once the week of the actual fight, slowing down so that he had more strength on fight night. When asked if he would implement a similar schedule next week in Las Vegas now that he’s back in the fold, Roach said he hasn’t thought that far ahead.

“We’ve only discussed up until Monday right now,” Roach told Sporting News. “Saturday we have our last sparring day, Monday will be our last workout day here then we’ll travel to Las Vegas. Tuesday and Thursday we haven’t really talked about it or decided anything yet. If his weight’s good — which it looks to be, it should be no problem — he might shake out maybe one more day in Vegas just to get the cobwebs out. We do have a gym we’re going to go to.”

That isn’t to say Pacquiao wants to slow down as the fight approaches, but Buboy Fernandez had Pacquiao do less the week of the Matthysse fight, and you can’t argue with the results. Pacquiao secured his first knockout in almost nine years.

"I would say in general sometimes you don’t have to go 100 percent every day. He’s getting older, it’s part of life. Manny Pacquiao kind of refuses to do that. I’ll ask him sometimes, ‘Don’t run this morning because we’re gonna spar this afternoon,’ and he says, ‘Yeah, what if my opponent is running?’ so he gets me with that one."Pacquiao will arrive in Las Vegas on Monday and make his grand arrival Tuesday afternoon. It will be interesting to see if the reception is anything like in years past. It’s incredible to see Pacquiao, at 40, still having any impact as a pay-per-view draw. How much of a draw he still is has yet to be determined.