For the first time in more than a decade, spanning 22 fights, Manny Pacquiao is not fighting on pay-per-view. You can save the $74.95 or whatever they would have charged had promoter Bob Arum taken Pacquiao’s fight Saturday with Jeff Horn to HBO, where it would have inevitably wound up on pay-per-view, instead of putting it on ESPN.
Promoter Bob Arum tried to frame it as Pacquiao’s gift to boxing fans.
The news here is that the fight is on ESPN and in Brisbane, Australia, not so much that it’s Horn who will be challenging for the WBO welterweight belt.
That says much about the level of opposition Pacquiao will face.
Horn is a massive step down in competition for Pacquiao, inarguably his weakest opponent in more than a decade and, arguably, his weakest since he debuted in the U.S. in 2001.
Pacquiao at his peak was a rare combination of speed, power and boxing ability. He picked apart excellent fighters and destroyed good ones.
He’s lost much of what made him great, but still is among the best in the world. There’s a big gap between Pacquiao and the top five or six guys in the world, and there’s a legitimate question whether Pacquiao is still the best in his division.
At this stage, WBA-WBC champion Keith Thurman and IBF champion Errol Spence Jr. would seem to be ahead of Pacquiao in the welterweight pecking order.
Pacquiao did a Twitter poll asking his fans who they wanted to see him fight. Amir Khan came out on top with 48 percent of the vote. Kell Brook was second at 24 percent. Terence Crawford got 21 percent.
Horn received just seven percent.
But here we are, and Pacquiao is fighting Horn instead of any one of a dozen guys who would make a more interesting and competitive fight.
There’s a logical reason the fight is in Brisbane: There is demand for it. Horn is from Brisbane and is Pacquiao’s mandatory challenger despite not having beaten a legitimate welterweight contender in his prime.
The Pacquiao-Horn bout has been the hottest ticket in Brisbane, where in local time the fight will be held on Sunday afternoon so that it can be shown in prime time in the U.S.
Over 60,000 fans are expected to fill Brisbane’s SunCorp Stadium to see it. There might have been 6,000 if the fight was in Las Vegas.
In Australia, Pacquiao is a big name, he’s fighting the local guy and it’s a rare appearance for the biggest of big-time boxing.
In the U.S., Horn is an unknown, the match is uneven and Pacquiao’s pay demands would guarantee that Top Rank would lose money, and lots of it.
It doesn’t hurt to take a fight like this once in a while, particularly considering the competition that Pacquiao has faced in his career.
And it’s not as if Muhammad Ali wasn’t above taking a breather now and then. Remember Jean-Pierre Coopman, the Lion of Flanders? How about “Aussie” Joe Bugner? Or Rudie Lubbers?
This fight would have been an outrage had Top Rank chosen to put it on pay-per-view, but it costs nothing to watch so it’s hard to complain too vociferously, even though fights versus Thurman, Spence, Danny Garcia, Shawn Porter and even Khan would have been vastly more compelling.
Pacquiao sleepwalked through a conference call the other day, saying nothing of substance and doing little to generate interest in his bout.
Horn and trainer Glenn Rushton did their level best, but it’s hard to believe they believe what they said.
Arum, ever the showman, did his best to sell it toward the end of the call.
“Regarding Jeff Horn, this was not a case where my matchmakers picked out a fighter and put him in a fight,” Arum said. “This is a case where I saw the kid fight myself in New Zealand in the principal undercard [fight] to the [Joseph] Parker-[Andy] Ruiz event. I’m telling you, this kid can fight. He’s a strong kid and he’s going to give Manny a run for his money.
“Is he necessarily going to beat Manny? No. But he will make it a very, very competitive fight. I have to say this: It’s on me; the result of this fight and how it turns out is not on [Hall of Fame matchmaker] Bruce Trampler. It’s not on [matchmaker] Brad Goodman. It’s on Bob Arum because I believe Jeff Horn is competitive, very competitive, with Manny Pacquiao and it will be a hell of a fight.”
No one this side of Don King is better at hyperbole than Bob Arum, so take what he says with a huge grain of salt.
That said, there is no investment. It won’t cost you $75 to watch.
So perhaps the best we can say about this fight is that if Arum is right, you’ll have seen a great fight and perhaps a significant upset and if he’s wrong, you’ll still have your $75 in your wallet.
Pop the popcorn, order the pizza, ice the beers, tune in and enjoy. Remember, you could have had to pay for this.
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