He’s a fading star who can still garner attention when he fights. Since losing a unanimous decision in the highest grossing bout in boxing history, he hasn’t been stimulating fans as he once did. But he still holds the WBO welterweight title and is defending it against little known Jeff Horn 16-0-1 (11) this weekend in Australia. Yes, superstar Manny Pacquiao 59-6-2 (38) is defending his title and its being broadcast on ESPN, his first fight on free TV since 2005. At one time it was a legitimate debate as to who was the bigger box-office attraction between Floyd Mayweather and Pacquiao. That was until they finally fought in 2015 and Manny wasn’t nearly Floyd’s toughest opponent.
There was a time, not too long ago, after his memorable stoppages of Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto, when Pacquiao, now 38, could’ve signed to fight a novice golden gloves runner-up and it would’ve been huge news and considered must-see. But that’s no longer the case. The less than stellar showing vs. Mayweather really nicked the perception of Pacquiao, the whirlwind fighter. The reality is that aside from his somewhat cultural following, most quasi-boxing fans had little use for Pacquiao once they saw he couldn’t beat Mayweather. Since then, he’s had two fights, a rubber match with Timothy Bradley and a fight with Jessie Vargas. The fight with Bradley had a good storyline because of their two prior fights, but only did 400,000 PPV buys, and his next outing against Vargas only produced 300,000 buys.
Sure, Pacquiao is still a name and a relevant fighter, but to be part of a major PPV card again he needs a legitimate opponent. Once he was considered the number one fighter atop boxing’s pound-for-pound list, and now, as he enters the bout with Jeff Horn, his name isn’t among the top 10. In fact, he’s not even considered the top fighter in his division. At best, I’d surmise Pacquiao is viewed as no higher than the third best welterweight in the world behind WBA/WBC title holder Keith Thurman and IBF titlist Errol Spence. The ironic thing is, if Floyd Mayweather were still fighting as a boxer instead of solely for attention and money, it’s conceivable he would have his hands full with Thurman, and I’m sure some observers would favor Spence to beat him if they signed to fight before the end of 2017.
Based on having watched Jeff Horn fight, Pacquiao will have to have really slipped for him to lose. Horn is taller than Pacquiao and has a longer reach, but not much else stands out. His offense is pretty vanilla and his only somewhat finishing punch is his right cross, but it’s easy to predict when he’s going to let it go and time it. He’s also not quick handed or footed, and Manny should have no trouble reaching his chin and getting the better of him once he’s inside. In all honesty, Horn has really only faced regional level opposition, excluding Randall Bailey 46-9 (39) who was 41 years old and didn’t come out for the eighth round, and Ali Funeka 39-6-3 (31) who was 39 years old and was stopped as the sixth-round was winding down.
The biggest question is whether Manny will be extended the 12-round distance or score his first stoppage win in nearly eight years. Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach has said it’ll be a short fight and hopefully a stepping stone to a rematch with Mayweather — which is laughable because there’s no way in the world that Mayweather ever enters a ring again after his upcoming spectacle with Conor McGregor, and with Floyd having conclusively defeated Pacquiao, you can bet everything you own that Pacquiao will never see the day he gets a do-over with Mayweather.
So where does that leave him, assuming he beats Jeff Horn? With Mayweather off the table as a future opponent, there would be huge interest in Pacquiao fighting Spence or Thurman in a battle of the division’s elite. Today the welterweight division is a faster track than it was just a few years ago when Manny and Floyd were the marquee fighters in it. Not only would Pacquiao be an overwhelming underdog against Spence and Thurman, but due to promotional ties, both fights would be hard for Manny’s promoter Bob Arum to make, if he even wanted to, which is dubious — because when Pacquiao is defeated by a fighter representing the new guard, Arum wants to control him.
For that reason alone, since Manny has been Arum’s biggest star fighter for more than a decade, Arum wants to insure that when Pacquiao is finally done as a major attraction, it will be at the hands of one of his fighters. And it just so happens that Terence Crawford, a multiple title-holder and the best fighter on the planet in the junior welterweight division, is going to move up to the welterweight division in 2018. Nothing would suit Arum and Crawford better than to set it up for Terence to meet Pacquiao for the WBO title in his maiden bout as a welterweight.
Arum in that scenario couldn’t lose, and he could argue with a straight face on Pacquiao’s behalf that Crawford isn’t quite as physically big as Spence or Thurman, thus enhancing Pacquiao’s chances of winning — which isn’t true because Crawford is a more natural fighter and more versatile than either Spence or Thurman. On the flip side, it would easy to lure Crawford to sign on to fight Pacquiao. Arum can stress that Pacquiao is a little smaller than the other title holders but has a bigger name and Crawford would gain more notoriety beating him than beating anyone else for a title at 147.
The truth is, without his name paired with Mayweather, Pacquiao is now just another excellent fighter on the decline. Due to his erosion and the track being faster than when he was on top, Pacquiao is near the end of the line at almost 39 years old. In his last bout against Vargas, Pacquiao just floated around outside looking for an opening, then jumped in, scored, couldn’t finish Vargas, and then got out and repeated the sequence. The performance wasn’t anywhere close to being stellar and if he looks ordinary against Horn his options shrink even more.
Manny Pacquiao is the only fighter to win world titles in eight different weight divisions. It’s been a great run but as they all do, it is close to being over. I doubt the public, even though they don’t have to pay for it, will accept another B-level opponent for Pacquiao. He set the expectations high and now he can no longer maintain them. I believe regardless of whether Pacquiao looks great or washed up against Jeff Horn, we’ll more than likely see him fight Terence Crawford next year in what would be the equivalent of being rewarded with a gold watch for a job well done. A bout with Crawford would stimulate great interest, there’d be no shame in losing to him and if by miracle he won, the show continues on.
I predict he’ll lose to Crawford when they meet and then take one more very easy fight in the Philippines to say goodbye to his fans.
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com