All eyes will be on eight-division world boxing champion and Philippine Senator Manny Pacquiao when Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League brings its act in the Middle East for the first time via the much-awaited two-day Dubai Invasion 2019.

The 40-year-old Pacquiao, fresh from a stirring split decision victory over American Keith Thurman for the WBA super-welterweight title last July, is expected to hog the lion’s share of the spotlight as he leads the Filipino delegation for the Sept. 27 and 28 showpiece organized by DJMC events at the sprawling Hamdan Sports Complex in Emirates Road.

Pacquiao, himself an avid basketball fan who even plied his trade as a playing coach for Kia franchise in the Philippine pro league, is excited to lace up his basketball shoes—and not boxing gloves—this time as he plans to take part in an exhibition match in front of a capacity crowd of 30,000 fans for the hoops extravaganza.

“I am really excited to come over to Dubai to spend time with our Kababayans out there and inspire them like what I’ve been doing for the past three decades when I am fighting inside the ring,” said Pacquiao.

“We consider Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) as the country’s modern-day heroes so it’s only fitting that we give it back to them. For two days, there won’t be any shortage of fun and excitement for them as we will do our fair share to entertain them thru the sport that’s very close to their hearts.”

Such enviable task will fall mainly on the protagonists from three MPBL teams—Imus Bandera, Davao Occidental Tigers and inaugural champion Batangas City Athletics—which are all vying for crucial victories in the marathon-like Lakan Cup, the third season of the fledging nationwide cage league—a brainchild of Pacquiao.

One-time PBA league MVP J-Jay Helterbrand and popular Kapamilya actor Gerald Anderson will lead the way for the Bandera, who will take on the veteran-laden Tigers crew, led by bruising forward Mark Yee, on Friday, September 27.

Then the Bandera won’t have any luxury of rest as they plunge back to action the following day as they duke it out with the loaded Athletics, spearheaded by grizzled guard Jeff Viernes, Rajah Cup Finals MVP Val Acuna and Derek Ramsay, another celebrity baller.

“We know how passionate Filipinos are on basketball that’s why we really plan to invite the best teams possible. Aside from elite players, notable Filipino celebrities will also see action to spice up the games,” said Dunstan Rozario, Chairman at DJMC Events.

“This is a historic event for MPBL since this will be the first time that they will play outside of the Philippines. And we want it to be really memorable, not only for the MPBL family but also to great basketball fans here in UAE,” said David John, Managing Director at DJMC Events.

The basketball showpiece is made possible by the Dubai Sports Council, Dubai Tourism and Hamdan Sports Complex, with The Filipino Channel (TFC), The National and The Filipino Times as media partners.Ticket prices are pegged at Dh200 (VIP), Dh100 (Gold) and Dh50 (Silver) and are still available on meraticket.com, the event’s ticketing partner. Interested parties can also send a DM to DMJC official Facebook Page.