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Pacquiao-Bradley III May Ignite Big 2016 for Welterweights

Manny Pacquiao, right, and Timothy Bradley during their WBO world welterweight title fight Saturday, June 9, 2012, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Photo Courtesy of AP

The welterweight division is loaded with talent, and 2016, boxing fans will finally get to see that turned into quality fights.

On the heels of the announcement that Kell Brook and Amir Khan are going to have an all-England battle at London’s Wembley Stadium this summer, Manny Pacquiao has signed to fight Timothy Bradley for the third time in Las Vegas on April 9.

The results of those two fights will go a long way toward setting the future of the division. Currently, the linear title is vacant as a result of Floyd Mayweather’s retirement, but the matchup of top-ranked Pacquiao and No. 4 Bradley will provide the sport with a new titleholder. Three months later, No. 2 Brook will take on No. 5 Khan in a fight that will likely determine the No. 1 contender to the new champion.

Add in a likely match between No. 3 Keith Thurman and No. 6 Shawn Porter, and the 147-pound class could be headed for a stretch of fights that no division has seen since the 168-pound Showtime Super Six series.

The highlight, of course, will be Pacquiao-Bradley III. The rubber match will come just under four years after their controversial first fight, which saw Bradley win after judges C.J. Ross and Duane Ford appeared to watch a fight that no one else had seen.

Two years later, Bradley seemed to have a better chance to win a legitimate decision, since Pacquiao had been knocked out by Juan Manuel Marquez, who had then lost a split decision to Bradley. The Filipino star rolled back the clock, though, winning a clear unanimous decision and showing any remaining critics that he was the better of the two fighters.

That, though, doesn’t mean he’ll be an overwhelming favorite in April. Pacquiao is now 37 and looked at least that old against Mayweather in May. It came out after the fight that he was fighting with a shoulder injury, and the fight with Bradley will be his first after surgery. Will that let him fight like the old Manny Pacquiao, or is he just old?

People remember the Pac-Man who knocked Ricky Hatton cold with one huge punch, but that was in 2009. He stopped Miguel Cotto in the 12th round in his next fight, but by the time he gets into the ring with Bradley, it will have been over six years since he’s knocked anyone out. He couldn’t finish a shot Shane Mosely in 2011, and he couldn’t knock out massively overmatched Chris Algieri in 2014, so Bradley knows he’s not going to have to worry about Pacquiao’s power.

Bradley, on the other hand, just stopped Brandon Rios in the ninth round, and while Rios isn’t a future Hall of Famer, Pacquiao never came close to knocking him out in a lopsided 2013 win. Pacquiao’s chin isn’t what it used to be – the memory of him unconscious on his face thanks to Marquez will linger for a long time – so if the fight ends early, it will probably be Bradley with the victory.

Either way, the new champion should have two possible contenders lined up for big-money fights, thanks to the Brook-Khan and Thurman-Porter matchups.

The British matchup is going to be Khan’s last chance to establish himself as the superstar he has always supposed to become. His career went off the rails early when he was destroyed in 54 seconds by little-known Breidis Prescott in 2008, and after he had recovered to move to the top of the 140-pound weight class, he lost to Lamont Peterson in 2011.

Still, he had an excuse – he would have won the decision if he hadn’t had two points deducted for pushing – so his star wasn’t dimmed too badly by the loss. Seven months later, he was obliterated by Danny Garcia in four rounds.

Since then, Khan has looked for one more shot at 147 pounds. He wanted to be Mayweather’s last fight and practically begged Pacquiao to fight him, but he will have to settle for Brook. That’s not good news – he’ll be fighting an undefeated champion who will have just turned 30, not an aging superstar pushing 40 – but at least Brook isn’t a huge puncher. The last thing Khan’s career needs is him staggering blindly into the embrace of another referee.

Porter and Thurman will be an entertaining matchup of two Americans. Porter’s only career loss is a majority decision to Brook in a fight that saw both men cut by head butts, and he bounced back to survive a 12th-round knockdown to beat Adrien Broner this summer.

He’ll be a good test for the 27-year-old Thurman, who hopes to be the future of the division. He’s 27-0 with 23 knockouts, but Porter would give him the first signature win of his career.

No matter what happens, though, fans of the 147 pounders should get three entertaining fights that should lead to more down the road. The welterweights have been a great division throughout boxing’s history, and it appears that they have another exciting period ahead.

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