Pac­quiao goes Down Un­der

WBO wel­ter­weight cham­pion is look­ing for­ward to his first match in the coun­try.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Lance Pug­mire lance.pug­mire@la­times.com Twit­ter: @la­time­spug­mire

He orig­i­nally didn’t want to face un­beaten and un­her­alded Horn in Aus­tralia.

Manny Pac­quiao calls his Satur­day night fight in Aus­tralia against that coun­try’s former Olympian Jeff Horn a “gift,” an ap­pro­pri­ate de­scrip­tion given the near cer­tainty that Pac­quiao will record his 60th vic­tory.

While the bout ap­pears to be a mis­match, there are se­ri­ous things on the line.

Pac­quiao (59-6-2, 38 knock­outs) is de­fend­ing the World Box­ing Or­ga­ni­za­tion wel­ter­weight belt he re­gained in Novem­ber by de­feat­ing Jessie Var­gas. The card will also be the first be­tween Pac­quiao’s pro­moter Bob Arum and ESPN, which will bring sig­nif­i­cant fights to ba­sic ca­ble.

Now 38, Pac­quiao orig­i­nally balked at fight­ing Horn in a card that aims to ex­pand the box­ing au­di­ence in Aus­tralia, where a crowd of 60,000 could fill Bris­bane’s Sun­corp Sta­dium.

When his own ef­fort to stage a meet­ing against former sta­ble­mate Amir Khan failed to ma­te­ri­al­ize, Pac­quiao leaned on Arum’s ex­pe­ri­enced busi­ness acu­men to ac­cept the con­ti­nent-wide show­case event that is the top sports story in Aus­tralia.

Be­yond that, the Pac­quiao card launches Arum’s bold deal with ESPN, which comes amid grow­ing frustration with HBO. Arum is un­happy with find­ing non-payper-view dates at HBO for his other top fight­ers, in­clud­ing 140-pound world cham­pion Ter­ence Craw­ford, su­per­feath­er­weight cham­pion Va­syl Lo­machenko and feath­er­weight cham­pion Os­car Valdez.

Arum said he ex­pects those cham­pi­ons to be in­volved in “many more” Top Rank fights com­ing to ESPN, with an ex­pec­ta­tion in­side the pro­mo­tion that Satur­day’s 6 p.m. PDT broad­cast will draw at least 2 mil­lion view­ers.

Ir­ish Olympian Michael Con­lan and Pomona’s Shane Mosley Jr. are also on the card in sep­a­rate bouts.

“This is a great op­por­tu­nity to show the fans of box­ing that we are still here and not done. … A lot of peo­ple will be watch­ing. This is an ex­cit­ing fight be­cause it is the first time I am fight­ing in this coun­try,” Pac­quiao said.

It’s on the 29-year-old Horn (16-0-1, 11 KOs) to pro­vide some­thing be­yond show­ing up. Con­sid­ered an ag­gres­sive fighter, Horn has to an­swer how he’ll fare fight­ing in front of a crowd six times larger than he is used to while fac­ing a record seven-di­vi­sion cham­pion whose power and punch­ing speed re­main world-class.

“It has been more than my dream come true … this is next level for sure,” the awed Horn said this week. “I have a style that Pac­quiao has not fought be­fore. I think he is go­ing to strug­gle. I am big­ger. I am pretty quick, as well. I could hit him with the right shot.” Horn’s trainer has spo­ken

of how Pac­quiao was stunned by a knockout punch from vet­eran ri­val Juan Manuel Mar­quez, but that was nearly five years ago, and Pac­quiao’s so­phis­ti­cated skill and at­ten­tion to de­fense since that loss have al­lowed him to dom­i­nate ev­ery op­po­nent but Floyd May­weather Jr.

And with May­weather, 40, end­ing his re­tire­ment to fight UFC cham­pion Conor McGre­gor in an Aug. 26 box­ing match, Pac­quiao ex­pressed hope that scor­ing his first knockout since 2009 would en­cour­age May­weather to con­sider a re­match.

Trainer Fred­die Roach said Pac­quiao has landed sev­eral knock­down punches in spar­ring, and he ap­pre­ci­ates the ded­i­ca­tion and se­ri­ous­ness the vet­eran has brought in camp for an op­po­nent who ap­pears ex­tremely out­classed.

The West­gate Su­per­book in Las Ve­gas has Horn listed as a 5-1 un­der­dog, near where McGre­gor ranks ver­sus May­weather at 7-1.

“We don’t take any­one lightly,” Roach said.

Pac­quiao ex­pressed en­thu­si­asm for the prospect of be­ing so in­tently rooted against, com­par­ing it to his break­out vic­tory 15 years ago against Mexico’s Marco An­to­nio Bar­rera in San An­to­nio.

“I had only five fans for me, and four of them were Fred­die and my cor­ner,” Pac­quiao cracked. “It gives me more in­spi­ra­tion and fo­cus.”

Chris Hyde Getty Im­ages

MANNY PAC­QUIAO works with trainer Fred­die Roach ahead of fight Satur­day in Bris­bane, Aus­tralia.

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