‘PAC MAN’ DOWN UNDER
Filipino great Manny Pacquiao is combining boxing with politics at the ripe old age of 38. Declan Taylor asks if his latest outing will prove much of a test
WHEN it was suggested back in January that Manny Pacquiao, 59-62 (38), would be defending his WBO welterweight title against a man called Jeff Horn, 16-0-1 (11), the multi-weight world champion revealed he had never even heard of the Australian. Join the club.
But in a changing boxing world where the most lucrative fight in the sport’s history will involve an MMA fighter, it is important to understand the context of a contest between a Filipino senator and a primary school teacher before dismissing it as a sideshow.
“Pac Man” is one of the greatest little men the sport has ever seen but, now 38, he currently juggles boxing and politics. In many ways it is surprising that he
decided to box on at all after reclaiming the welterweight crown by outpointing Jesse Vargas in Las Vegas last November.
In that sense it is no surprise to see him eschew a route through the other leading lights at 10st 7lb in favour of what is being billed as a world tour. And what better place to start than in a country which must be considered a true sleeping giant of boxing against a man who should pose him no significant threat whatsoever. He is also expected to bank around £6m, which should ease the jetlag somewhat.
Australia have, at one stage or another over the past 30 years, dominated in cricket and rugby, on the athletics track and in the pool but have only sporadically produced boxers capable of mixing it at world level. But, as was hoped, luring Pacquiao to Brisbane has really captured the imagination of Queenslanders. The Suncorp Stadium has had to secure an exemption in order to increase seating capacity to 60,000 in order to satisfy the huge demand.
It goes without saying that the so-called ‘Battle of Brisbane’ will blow the country’s record boxing attendance of 38,000 – who watched Azumah Nelson knock out Jeff Fenech in their 1992 rematch – out of the water.
And it is not unreasonable to suggest that this weekend’s fight could indeed provoke a shift in the nation’s sporting landscape, much like Joseph Parker’s rise across the water in New Zealand has, particularly if Horn wins.
The 29-year-old is undefeated in 17 fights and forced ageing former welterweight champion Randall Bailey into a seventh-round retirement last year. But, as we saw when his compatriots Mark De Mori and Renold Quinlan came up over from Down Under to fight David Haye and Chris Eubank Junior, the difference in levels is stark.
Pacquiao is by no means the southpaw whirlwind of old and some of his killer instinct might have subsided – but put him in a boxing ring with another human being and watch him go. Just ask former super-lightweight world champ Chris Algieri, who was floored six times in his 2014 mismatch with Pacquiao, whether the little man still bangs or not.
Horn reckons Pacquiao is slowing down and there to be ‘outmuscled’ due to his size advantage but it is worth remembering that when the selfdubbed “Hornet” first walked into a boxing gym 11 years ago, the Filipino was already a two-weight world champion.
Of course, Pacquiao’s Hall of Fame promoter Bob Arum has taken a sideways view of the contest during its build-up.
“You look at a man like Jeff Horn,” he said. “Is he an underdog? Yeah, he’s an underdog. Manny has been one of the great, great fighters of our time and even at 38 possesses skills that no other fighters have.
“But in Jeff Horn, you have a young man who has the tools. If he can apply those tools and if everything goes according to plan, he can not only be competitive but he has the opportunity to pull off the upset. That is what boxing is all about.” And what of the decision to take it to Australia? He said: “The sport of boxing is global now.
“People are looking at it as a major sport all over the world. Manny’s last fight in China was watched in 50 million homes. It is a sport growing by leaps and bounds. Top fighters come from all over the world.”
There is no finer occasion for Horn to prove he belongs in that bracket than July 2, but it’s a huge ask. Victory would go straight in alongside the likes of Donald Curry v Lloyd Honeyghan and Mike Tyson v Buster Douglas as one of the biggest upsets in history.
A self-confessed nerd during his school days, Horn turned to boxing in a bid to beat the bullies. He later became a primary school teacher while also reaching the quarter-finals of the London 2012 Olympic Games where he was beaten by Ukraine’s brilliant Denys Berinchyk, who ended up claiming silver.
But, win or lose, the 29-year-old believes he is fighting for a wider cause in his country and knows July 2 has given him an opportunity to spread a message.
“It’s a bit surreal at the moment because I never thought this day would actually come,” he said at the press conference to announce the fight.
“I like to think I got here not just with my fists but I reckon my main strength which got me here is my head.
‘WHEN HORN STARTED BOXING, PACQUIAO WAS A TWOWEIGHT KING’
“Before I started boxing, I got into a few fights in high school where I lost all of them. I got beaten up.
“I felt bad, I got bullied, I had gangs come up to me. I just felt like I couldn’t do anything, so I wanted to grow some confidence. That was when I went to the boxing gym and decided I needed to learn how to fight just for some selfdefence.
“I have to give a message to children out there and people everywhere actually that if you believe in yourself and you work hard towards a goal, you can get there.
“Pacquiao is one of the greatest boxers in history and people in Australia have supported the fight because of his name and the chance to see an Aussie against him. But I believe this is the start of a new era in boxing and a changing of the guard.’
“I have some advantages over Manny – I’ve got the height, I’ve got the reach, I’ve got age on my side and I’ve got hunger.”
Another interesting plot line in this fight is that it will be shown in America on ESPN, meaning for the first time in his career, Pacquiao will be boxing on basic cable across the pond. It will also be his first non pay-per-view fight for almost 12 years.
With no requirement to generate box office sales, the senator has remained typically pragmatic in his assessment of the fight.
“I chose Jeff Horn because of his competence in the ring,” Pacquiao said, sounding every inch the politician.
“I believe we can create more action in the ring because of his aggressive style.”
It is exactly that which will play into Pacquiao’s hands. Horn’s penchant for pressure will suit Pacquiao’s strategy, and the visitor could well earn his first knockout victory since he rendered Ricky Hatton unconscious in 2009.
Beneath the main event there is also a clutch of intriguing bouts on the undercard. In the only other world title fight, Pacquiao’s compatriot Jerwin
Ancajas, 26-1-1 (17), puts his IBF superfly crown on the line against Japan’s lightpunching Teiru Kinoshita, 25-1-1 (8).
Ancajas is the first world champion in Pacquiao’s MP Promotions stable and this will be the second defence of the title he won by beating Mcjoe Arroyo last year following his victory over Jose Alfredo Rodriguez in Macau in January, when the Mexican retired with an injured shoulder.
Top Rank’s rising Irish star Michael Conlan will have his third pro contest after two stoppages in as many months when he faces local superbantamweight Jarrett
Owen, 5-4-3 (2). Highly rated Las Vegasbased Russian Umar Salamov, 19-0 (14), who is just 23 years old, is also in action against Queensland’s light-heavyweight hope Damien Hooper, 12-1 (8), who was one of Horn’s teammates at London 2012. Another Aussie in action is 10-0 (8)
David Toussaint, of Canberra, who faces Shane Mosley Jnr, 10-1 (7), over eight at super-middleweight. There are high hopes for Toussaint, who beat World silver medallist Hooper twice in the amateurs, but just 10 fights in almost four years since turning over has not been ideal for the former electrician. A win over Mosley Jnr will spark more life into his quest for world honours.
THE VERDICT A first knockout win in over eight years could be on the cards for Pacquiao.
‘I LEARNED TO BOX BECAUSE I WANTED TO GAIN SOME CONFIDENCE’
THE UNKNOWN: Horn [right] is an unheralded foe for Pacquiao
HARD WORKER: Pacquiao has to mix training with his political duties