Monday 19 February 2018

With the end of his career in sight, Manny Pacquiao is fighting for more than just gold against Jeff Horn

Boxing on TV: Nobody knows how long Pacquiao will keep on fighting for, least of all the man himself. Against Horn he will take one step further to determining his future

Martin Hines

For all of the positive differences this sport can make in people’s lives, boxing rarely thrives on sentiment. Though a few fighters have the ability to transcend history and remain relevant past their own generation, most who step into the ring will lose their aura as time goes by.

There is a rarely a perfect ending. Even the greatest are goaded out of comfortable retirements for one last stand, which often result in failure. One round too many can forever change the reputation of a fighter, as dimmed reflexes and slowed speed combine to harrowing effect.

For the purists, an aura remains forever, but to join the echelon of icons, one has to time their exit to perfection.

At around 4am Sunday morning, Manny Pacquiao will take one step further to determining his future when he faces undefeated Australian Jeff Horn at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

At 38-years-old, tonight will be Pacquiao’s 68th professional fight, and he comes into battle after two solid victories over Timothy Bradley and Jessie Vargas. Recent statistics look kind to Manny, with five wins out of his last six, and the lone defeat being that famous loss to Floyd Mayweather in May 2015.

Statistics only tell part of the story though. What they don’t tell you is that despite the victories over solid opposition, the excitement around Manny Pacquiao has significantly dimmed over the years.

The Filipino star has not finished an opponent in eight years, and public interest has dropped dramatically in recent fights. Yes the Mayweather fight attracted the largest Pay-Per-View audience in sporting history, but his other bouts have resulted in decreasing audiences each time.

There are plenty of theories as to why Pacquiao’s power has waned over the past decade. He’s an older man now, and the wrecking ball who demolished Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto is now approaching his 40s.

He still possesses tremendous energy, but the snap of his punches has dipped. He can still stun and drop opponents, but the relentless assassin of old has been replaced with a calm storm. Still dangerous, but slightly manageable.

You can understand his reticence to fully engage. Mayweather nullified his attacking game with ease even considering Pacquiao’s shoulder injury heading into the fight, while Juan Manuel Marquez’s brutal December 2012 knockout will still haunt his memory. Tonight though, things need to be different.

Put simply, we have no real idea how good Jeff Horn is. The 29-year-old reached the quarterfinals of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and has amassed a 16-0 professional record, with notable wins against faded names including Ali Funeka and Randall Bailey. For all the skill and power Horn may possess at the top level, he has been an overwhelming favourite in all of his professional fights thus far, and has never really had to work especially hard.

Horn will have the home advantage tonight as tens of thousands of people emanate upon Brisbane’s beautiful stadium, but how will that affect his mentality? Last month Kell Brook was expected to soak up the Bramall Lane crowd’s support against Errol Spence, but was stopped unceremoniously in the latter stages of the bout.

Even the serene Anthony Joshua was momentarily overwhelmed by Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium. The roar of thousands doesn’t always equate to home delight.

The Australian is the younger man by nine years and is fresher, but he has been prone to cuts before, and if Pacquiao is accurate, his variation could cause significant issues. Pacquiao’s ringcraft is also underrated having competed in over 300 more rounds than Horn, while his experience and versatility could be a key component in unraveling his relatively inexperienced opponent.

Horn is a 5/1 underdog with the bookmakers, with Pacquiao a significant ⅕ favourite. Even money is available for the Filipino to win by stoppage, while a Horn knockout win is available at 8/1.

Nobody knows how long Manny Pacquiao will keep on fighting for, least of all the man himself. The gregarious politician is a much more complicated man than he lets on, and the pressure he assumes not just for his friends and family, but for his nation is extraordinary. The WBO welterweight title is on the line tonight, but after nearly two decades of winning world titles, tonight’s fight isn’t about gold for Pacquiao.

Instead it’s about the one asset we all crave as we get older. Relevancy. Proof that we can still mix it at the top level, that we’re not yesterdays news. The knowledge that amidst the curse of time, the clock can be turned back. If Manny Pacquiao knocks out Jeff Horn in Brisbane, as flashbulbs pop and thousands watch in awe, people will still believe he’s a super man, rather than a man who used to be super.

(© Independent News Service)

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