Manny Pacquiao and Errol Spence Jr announce 21 August fight in Las Vegas

Manny Pacquiao is ending his two-year absence from the prize ring in the same audacious fashion that marked his improbable ascent up boxing’s divisional ladder during a legendary 26-year professional career: by picking out the most formidable challenge available and daring to be great.

The eight-division world champion from the Philippines has signed on for a whale of a test in unbeaten unified welterweight title-holder Errol Spence Jr on 21 August in Las Vegas at a venue to be determined. Both fighters announced the bout on their social media feeds on Friday afternoon with a source close to the promotion independently confirming to the Guardian the fight was signed.

“Done deal!” Spence wrote on Instagram. “See y’all in Vegas for the biggest fight of the year.”

Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, which has promoted Spence since the company’s 2015 inception and Pacquiao since 2018, also confirmed the fight later Friday in a joint social media post with Fox, the network that will broadcast the card via pay-per-view in the United States.

The 42-year-old Pacquiao (62-7-2, 39 KOs), the only man in boxing history to capture world titles in eight different weight classes, from 112lbs to 154lbs, is coming off a signature win over then-undefeated Keith Thurman to win the World Boxing Association’s version of the welterweight title in July 2019.

The WBA later designated Pacquiao a champion-in-recess due to his inactivity, though not before he became the first boxer ever to hold a world championship in parts of four different decades.

Spence (27-0, 21 KOs), a 2012 US Olympian and native of the Dallas suburb of DeSoto, holds the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Council championship belts at 147lbs and is widely regarded as one of the world’s best pound-for-pound boxers today, if not No 1 outright.

The Texan first won the IBF title with an 11th-round knockout of Kell Brook at Bramall Lane in May 2017, before adding Shawn Porter’s WBC strap in a split-decision thriller in September 2019.

Spence’s career was thrown in turmoil less than two weeks after the Porter fight, when he was involved in a frightening high-speed Ferrari crash that landed him in intensive care. But he was dominant in his first and only outing since the wreck, picking apart Danny Garcia over 12 rounds and winning a one-sided unanimous decision in December 2020.

Among the possible venues for August’s fight is Allegiant Stadium, the $1.9bn, 72,000-seat home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders that opened last year near the Strip.

For Pacquiao, a first-term senator and head of the PDP-Laban party who has reportedly mulled a run for president in the country’s 2022 elections, it could be the final fight of a panoramic career that began more than a quarter-century ago, when he stepped onto the scales for his pro debut aged 16 with rocks in his underwear to make the minimum weight of 105lbs.

He’s taken on the best of multiple eras in the decades since, often entering as the smaller man while scaling one division after another and scoring famous victories over a laundry list of current or future Hall of Famers including Marco Antonio Barrera (twice), Érik Morales (twice), Juan Manuel Márquez (twice), Oscar De La Hoya, Miguel Cotto and Shane Mosley.

It won’t be easy: Spence, who is viewed by many as the world’s best boxer regardless of weight, will enjoy advantages of 4in in height and 5in in reach in addition to the 11-year age difference. Against a younger, primer, physically bigger champion, Pacquiao will almost certainly go off as an underdog with the oddsmakers for the first time since his money-spinning 2015 showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Pacquiao will also have been inactive for more than 25 months by the night of the fight, representing the longest layoff of his career by a wide margin.