Wednesday, March 22, 2023  |


Pacquiao’s camp not concerned by shaky start of training

Photo by Alecs Ongcal

MANILA, Philippines – Earlier this year, during a period of uncertainty about whom he’d fight next, Manny Pacquiao had said he had never heard of Jeff Horn. A couple weeks into training camp for his July 2 showdown with the unbeaten Australian, Pacquiao had familiarized himself enough with Horn to formulate an opinion about him.

“Jeff Horn? He’s OK, he’s OK. I cannot underestimate him,” said Pacquiao following a workout Friday at the Elorde Gym at Five E-Com Center in Pasay City, Philippines. “We have to make sure we’re 100 percent conditioning.”

The fight had seemed destined for a drama-less build-up until this past week, when Freddie Roach voiced his concern about Pacquiao’s sluggishness in sparring against local fighters Leonardo Doronio and Sonny Katiandagho. He told reporters then that Pacquiao was behind schedule in his training, and that the sparring was the worst he’d ever seen from him. But on this day, Roach took some of the sting out of that assessment, calling it something to be expected for someone who splits his time as much as Pacquiao does.

“He hasn’t boxed in eight months, give me a break,” said Roach of Pacquiao, who hasn’t fought since defeating Jessie Vargas last November. “The thing is, boxing, when you take time off, you lose a lot. It takes a while to come back. That’s normal. I didn’t expect him to look good, but I’m not gonna say he looked great and lie to him, because I have to be honest with him. If you’re not honest with your fighter, who can be?”

“It’s his first and second sparring sessions. Everybody is the same, it’s just a matter of getting your timing down, getting a bit of ring rust out,” echoed Justin Fortune, Pacquiao’s strength and conditioning coach. “We never expect much out of those first or second sparring sessions. Just because of that reason specifically, everyone’s timing’s off. But he progresses fast and gets better quickly.”

Roach appeared far more comfortable with where his fighter was Friday, working 12 rounds on the pads with the current WBO welterweight titleholder on a non-sparring day. He says Michael Koncz will arrive in the Philippines on Saturday with a sparring partner from Mexico whose name he couldn’t recall, but says he was handpicked by Top Rank matchmaker Bruce Trampler. He has another in Australia “waiting for a call.”

Pacquiao insisted that not only is he not behind in his training schedule, but that he’s ahead of schedule, saying, “Every training camp I’m always motivated.”

What Roach is concerned about is where exactly they’ll be training. They’re currently in Metro Manila at the same facility near the Philippine Senate where they’ve set up camp since Pacquiao was elected as a legislator, but that could change due to factors which include the declaration this week of martial law in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.

“Depends on whether we move or not, when we move, if we move,” said Roach about Pacquiao’s sparring schedule. “I don’t want to fly those guys in and then have to fly them all the way into General Santos [City] if we go there, or we go to Australia. Wherever we go.

“He hasn’t made his mind up. There’s martial law now so that could change things. Changes in the Senate also. His schedule could change.”

Still, Roach is confident about their chances against Horn (16-0-1, 11 knockouts), who at 29 is nine years younger than the eight-division champion Pacquiao (59-6-2, 38 KOs).

“If we’re at our best, we’ll destroy him,” said Roach, who described Horn’s style as a “typical Australian fighter” not unlike Fortune when he was an active heavyweight.

“We’re never not at our best going into the ring.”

Fortune remains cautious of Horn, expecting him to rise to the occasion with thousands cheering him on at the Suncorp Stadium in his hometown of Brisbane, Australia.

“[Pacquiao] won’t be fighting a bum,” said Fortune. “What we’ve seen on tape of Jeff Horn will not be the same guy that gets in the ring, just because when you fight Manny Pacquiao, you’re at a different level. You fight way way above your pay grade.”

Ryan Songalia is the sports editor of Rappler, a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) and a contributor to The Ring magazine. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @RyanSongalia.