Guarded optimism

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ED C. TOLENTINO

As he plunges into his 68th pro fight in his 22nd year in pro boxing, World Boxing Organization (WBO) welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao remains the smart money favorite opposite Australian challenger Jeff “Hornet” Horn when they square off Sunday (Manila time) at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

The prognosis, however, is that the life of Pacquiao’s career is now on a per-fight basis and can come to a screeching halt anytime. Pacquiao is already 38 years old, dog years in boxing, and experts aver that he needs nothing less than a devastating win over Horn to revive the fans’ interest on him. Pacquiao has not scored a knockout since 2009 and has been through a series of ho-hum fights, including the 12-round stinker with Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, and these have caused serious dents in his marketability.

Pacquiao never wanted to fight Horn and readily admits that he knows nothing about the guy. Pacquiao had earlier dumped Horn to pursue a fight with former world champ Amir Khan in the Middle East, but their proposed mega fight fizzled out. Pacquiao resumed the negotiations with Horn and a fight was eventually sealed.

Horn, a licensed school teacher, is unbeaten in 17 fights (16-0, 1 draw with 11 knockouts) but is sorely lacking in fight experience. Horn offers a feel-good story; bullied as a kid he contemplated on taking his own life until he discovered boxing. He learned how to defend himself and got so hooked up on the sport he ended up taking it full time. He represented Australia in the Olympics before turning pro in 2013.


Boxing-wise, Horn offers a style seemingly tailor-made for Pacquiao. Horn stands 5’9” and owns a good right straight, but his defense leaves plenty to be desired. He does not move his head and upper body well and tends to plod forward with his hands down, making him a prime target for Pacquiao’s sizzling combinations. Horn’s jaw is also suspect, as he had kissed the canvas against a shopworn Randall Bailey and an unknown Ali Funeka.

Undeniably, though, the 29-year-old Horn is the hungrier fighter. Horn, who still drives an old, beat-up Camry, looks at the Pacquiao fight as his ticket to a higher tax bracket. He has trained in earnest for the fight, working on his stamina (he went 16 rounds with his fitness coach) and his ability to take a punch. He boldly claimed that he is ready to trade at close range with Pacquiao and introduce the Filipino to his version of Juan Manuel Marquez’s counter right straight.

Still, Horn’s inexperience and Pacquiao’s still above average hand speed and punch rate figure to manifest in the fight and result in a victory for Pacquiao. Pacquiao’s lateral movements and his innate ability to throw punches at a distance and even at the most unimaginable angle figure to expose the loopholes in Horn’s defense.

Then again, Pacquiao is under pressure to end his knockout streak, and this means he will have to take chances. This is Horn’s best chance; if Pacquiao reverts to his old style of recklessly lunging in, Horn can step back and counter with the right. It took Marquez four fights and almost 42 rounds to land the perfect counter right hand, Horn can only hope that Lady Luck will be more kind to him.

The “Battle of Brisbane” has all the trimmings of a knuckle-buster. Horn will be aggressive (expect some wayward elbows and rough tactics from the guy), but his defensive lapses and predictable offense will seal his fate. A knockout win for Pacquiao within seven rounds is within the realm of possibility.

Make no mistake, Horn is determined to bring the Thunder from Down Under, but Pacquiao, the proud son of Gen-San, is out to prove that he is still not Old-Gen.

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For comments, the writer can be reached at atty_eduardo@yahoo.com.

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