Making Pacquiao great again

MANILA, Philippines – It wasn't very hard for Manny Pacquiao to contain his excitement about the prospect of fighting Jeff Horn. That's because there wasn't any to contain.

By the point in January when we spoke face-to-face at his office in the Senate, he had been briefed and asked several times about the possibility of fighting the unbeaten but untested Australian, but still referred to his unfamiliarity in the present tense.

"This is my first time to hear his name," said Pacquiao. 

Pacquiao may be accustomed to lengthy speeches on the Senate floor and in his sermons as a pastor, but he's a man of few words when it comes to boxing. When I asked him about the lightly regarded challenge of Chris Algieri, Pacquiao answered there was "nothing to worry about."

Or when he was scheduled to face Jessie Vargas, the last man in the Top Rank assembly line of Pacquiao's opponents, he allowed that Vargas' style was tailor-made for his own but wouldn't take him lightly.

Pacquiao usually has a reason to say what he says, and he isn't hiding the lack of interest he has in fighting Horn, a 4-year pro who competed at the 2012 Olympics but has yet to face a name people would recognize in 2017. Horn is a good fighter and may even become a world champion some day. But he's a significant step down in notoriety from Pacquiao's recent opponents.

Pacquiao is a big fight boxer accustomed to headlining pay-per-view events and selling out arenas. He's also 38 years old and a 21-year veteran of the ring. It isn't easy to get motivated to spar dozens of rounds and run those miles early in the morning to prepare for your first opponent in 10 years who hasn't won a world title.

That, and the relatively modest earning potential of a fight no one would buy on pay-per-view outside of Queensland, may explain the delay in announcing Pacquiao's opponent for his April 23 fight date, which he himself announced on Twitter would take place in the United Arab Emirates and not in Australia, where Horn's promoter Dean Lonergan of Duco Events figured Pacquiao would face Horn through conversations with Top Rank boss Bob Arum.

It may also explain his other Twitter chess moves, like issuing a poll in which 48% of the nearly 45,000 respondents preferred Amir Khan to be his next opponent, and just 7% picked Jeff Horn. Kell Brook, the IBF welterweight titleholder, came in second at 24% while Terence Crawford came in at 21%.

Who do you want me to fight next in the UAE? — Manny Pacquiao (@mannypacquiao) February 12, 2017

 

Khan would not only make for an entertaining matchup, but also sound business sense. The English boxer has strong name recognition value, and his last fight, a knockout loss to Saul "Canelo" Alvarez last May, sold a reported 600,000 pay-per-view buys.

Pacquiao and Khan also know each other well, having spent years training together under Freddie Roach in Los Angeles and in the Philippines. It'd also bring their impromptu photo op in England two years ago full circle. Pacquiao wound up fighting Floyd Mayweather instead, understandably.

Is it interesting that Khan has also been tweeting, asking people who they'd like to see him fight next? I think so.

Earlier on Sunday, February 19, Pacquiao appeared to be following the action between Adrien Broner and Adrian Granados, tweeting generic praise for the action like "Good fight so far" and "Now that's a fight! Who won?" Pacquiao could be watching Broner's competitive split-decision win and seeing a beatable yet highly recognizable figure among boxing audiences whose divisiveness could make for an interesting promotion.

Mayweather is only interested in going up against UFC fighters, while Juan Manuel Marquez is content to sit on his win in their fourth fight.

Outside of them, both Khan and Broner, more so than the accomplished but unassuming Crawford, have the best chance to reignite Pacquiao's star power after it waned in 2016 with the loss of sponsorships and the general indifference to his fights among fans.

While all of this is playing out on social media, Arum has not chimed in on Pacquiao's announcements, which shows more autonomy than Pacquiao's typical refrain of "It's up to my promoter." Pacquiao's advisor Michael Koncz made assurances in an interview with FightNews that the decision to fight in the Middle East was due to greater financial incentive and that Pacquiao remains on good terms with Top Rank.

"Manny has made it clear that he will end his career with Top Rank," said Koncz, adding "we all find a way to work things out." Koncz did still say that Horn was "still in the mix" of potential opponents.

Emails to Horn's manager Glenn Rushton and a Top Rank source seeking clarity on recent matters were not returned.

If Pacquiao does pull a surprise when he announces his next opponent, he'll have an opportunity to remind people just how great he is. – Rappler.com