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-pay-per-view dates at HBO for his other top fighters, including 140-pound world champion Terence Crawford, super-featherweight 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 … ,” Pacquiao said. “ … A lot of people will be watching. This is an exciting fight because it is the first time I am fighting in this country.”
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 referenced 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 has 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.
Pacquiao trainer Freddie Roach said his fighter has posted several knockdown punches in sparring, and he appreciates the dedication and seriousness the veteran has brought in camp for a foe who appears far 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, Texas.
“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.”