Tuesday, March 21, 2023  |



Manny Pacquiao can save uninspiring fight with KO of Jeff Horn


To find the last time Manny Pacquiao finished off anyone inside the distance, you’ll have to travel back to November 2009. That’s when he stopped Miguel Cotto on his feet in the final round of perhaps the Filipino’s finest performance.

Since then, opponents have tasted Pacquiao’s power, picked themselves off the canvas when they’ve landed there and crawled to the finish line.

Chris Algieri suffered six knockdowns but survived in a 2014 defeat. Timothy Bradley hit the deck in both Rounds 7 and 9 of their third meeting last year but heard the final bell. And Jessie Vargas, who Pacquiao topped in November to reclaim a welterweight title, went down in Round 2 and was hurt several more times but finished the fight on his feet.

And there was Juan Manuel Marquez, who fell to the mat in the fourth bout of their epic series only to score a sensational one-punch knockout of Pacquiao later on in the fight.

Just maybe, though, the drought ends Saturday.

That’s when Pacquiao (59-6-2, 38 knockouts) meets Australian no-hoper Jeff Horn (16-0-1, 11 KOs) in the first defense of his 147-pound title live on ESPN from Brisbane, where Horn was born and raised.

Horn, you see, is virtually unknown in the U.S.. And for good reason. The 29-year-old has accomplished little in the pros. He is undefeated but has faced no one of note, at least no one in their prime. “The Hornet” was on the canvas in two of his last three outings, wins over aging former champions Randall Bailey (41) and Ali Funeka (38).

It will be a wonder if Horn’s chin holds up to the power of Pacquiao, who may not be at his peak but proved last year he’s still pretty damn good. And he will land some big shots.

When pressed, Horn didn’t express confidence in his chin but sounded hopeful. The school teacher spewed lines like “if I can find the right shot, you never know what happens” and “I don’t know if he’s lost his knockout power, but I hope I don’t find out.”

Horn did suggest his style could give Pacquiao trouble. How? He insisted that the eight-division titleholder and veteran of 22 years has never seen a style like his. Of course, that’s nonsense, nothing more than banter meant to sell a fight.

Pacquiao has faced a who’s who of hall of famer-caliber talent, fighters like Floyd Mayweather Jr., Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera. The Filipino Senator has stood toe-to-toe with pressure fighters twice his size, like Antonio Margarito, boxer-punchers like Cotto, crafty counter-punchers like Marquez, and athletic-types like Bradley.

Anything Horn will present should be no surprise to the 38-year-old.

Horn’s trainer, Glen Rushton, proceeded to rip page after page from the underdog playbook. Lines like “Jeff hates losing at anything, whether it’s poker or table tennis. … At the end of the day, Manny Pacquiao is just a name. … “It will come down to who wants this more. And trust me, there is no one in the world who wants this more than Jeff Horn.”

And, finally, Horn said: “I’m putting everything into it. I’m training hard. All that is going to pay off for me. Manny Pacquiao is going to be surprised.”

Pacquiao was asked whether he considered facing an elite opponent, one who would generate far more interest and be more competitive than Horn – such as Keith Thurman or Errol Spence Jr. Pacquiao simply answered “yes” without elaborating.

If Pacquiao wants to take a soft touch at this stage of his career – and make no mistake, that’s what this is – he’s certainly entitled. He has given more to this sport than anyone could ever ask and has thrilled the masses with some of the best action fights of this generation.

At least this isn’t on pay-per-view. Instead, it’s the start of Top Rank’s new series on ESPN, which appears to be all-in with plans to televise the three-fight undercard starting at 10 p.m. ET.

Top Rank CEO Bob Arum said in another moment of hyperbole that the event “should be viewed as a gift to the American public from Manny.”

If Pacquiao can score the knockout, though, that certainly would be a treat to both his hardcore fans and boxing in general given the many casual or non-fans expected to watch the debut of ESPN’s new foray into high-level championship boxing.

“We’re focused on throwing a lot of punches and doing our job. If the knockout comes, it will come,” Pacquiao said. “If I have the chance to knock him out, I will have to grab the opportunity.”

Freddie Roach seemed confident that Pacquiao will, indeed, get Horn out of there. The acclaimed trainer said Pacquiao scored a couple of knockdowns in sparring during this training camp, something he hasn’t seen in some time.

“The difference in this camp from recent ones has been his aggression,” Roach said. … “He has kept his foot on the pedal throughout, even when he’s had a sparring partner in trouble. After his ring work he is singing and dancing – not well – but that’s not the point. He is really hungry to make a statement in this fight against Horn. He’s even playing Shakira during his workouts again, which he hasn’t done in years.”

Pacquiao’s hips may not lie in camp, but can he channel that energy into fight-ending power once more? That would save an fight that otherwise isn’t very compelling.

Mike Coppinger is the Senior Writer for RingTV.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCoppinger