Manny Pacquiao will reportedly face the relatively obscure Jeff Horn, an undefeated, 2012 Australian Olympian, on April 22 to kick off what promises to be a protracted, tedious and entirely unnecessary retirement tour.
A few days ago, ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael broke the news that Manny Pacquiao, boxing’s only eight-division champion, will face the talented but completely unknown Jeff Horn in either Australia or the United Arab Emirates. Pacquiao (59-6-2, 38 KOs), who remains a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter following his dominant decision win over Jessie Vargas, will be sharing the ring with a virtual novice in a fight that serves one specific purpose: to line Pacquiao’s — and his promoter’s — pockets.
According to Rafael’s report, the bout will mercifully avoid Pay-Per-View treatment, which ESPN’s senior boxing writer notes is at least partly a product of declining interest in forking over inordinate sums of money to watch Pacquiao fight. And with an ultra-compelling and logical contest against Terence Crawford in the proverbial ether, who can blame boxing fans for taking a stand?
In December, the boxing community was unfortunately subjected to the arrogant display of mass deception that was Bernard Hopkins’ farewell fight. What Pacquiao’s current “world tour” amounts to is an extended version of Hopkins’ exercise in vanity.
Firstly, Horn (16-0-1, 11 KOs) deserves zero blame for any of this. The 2012 Olympian, who has compiled a respectable record for an emerging contender since turning pro, is in an enviable position: he’s secured a career-high purse (by unfathomable proportions, it should be noted) and will get a unique opportunity to raise his profile and standing in the sport.
However, one extremely revealing quote from Top Rank CEO Bob Arum sheds blinding light on what everyone should think of this matchup (per Rafael): “I thought he [Horn] was a really rugged guy. He’s a good fighter,” Arum said. “Does he beat Manny? Probably not, but he’s going to give him a good fight. He has a very pleasing personality.”
Arum, to his credit, is being blunt, but the fact that he can so flippantly undersell this fight points to the odd crossroads at which Pacquiao finds himself: noticeably diminished from his prime but still one of the best fighters in the sport — someone caught between the seductive earning power of his best years (as well as the Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight) and the harsh reality that he’s firmly in the twilight of his career.
On the most recent episode of the HBO Boxing Podcast, which featured special guests Brian Campbell and Rafe Bartolomew alongside regular co-host Eric Raskin, the salient point was made that Pacquiao’s subtle decline as a fighter, combined with his purse demands, unfortunately necessitates an opponent of Horn’s calibre. To get paid what he’s accustomed to, Pacquiao can’t fight someone like Terence Crawford because the Pay-Per-View revenue just won’t be there.
As for the aforementioned Crawford, one can’t be overly critical, from a strictly boxing standpoint, of Pacquiao keeping the Nebraskan at arm’s length. After all, Pacquiao is pushing 40. The issue, though, is the premise of some extended retirement celebration similar to Derek Jeter or Kobe Bryant’s cringe-worthy hijackings of their respective sports.
Arum told Rafael that Pacquiao could eventually face Kell Brook in England, perhaps in October, which is a legitimate and compelling fight — and exactly the kind of match-up worthy of Pacquiao, even at his advanced age. There’s always the issue, though, of Pacquiao’s senate duties in the Philippines, not to mention the temptation to continue cashing in with Horn-level fights.
Ultimately, the larger, somewhat symbolic, issue at play in all of this is the proverbial passing of the torch and when it’s time to do so. It’s both easy and arrogant to suggest Manny Pacquiao must face someone like Crawford in order to lose and officially cede the mantle he’s carried with distinction for so long. There are legitimate physical risks in such a course of action. However, it isn’t responsible for the likes of Pacquiao — and Mayweather, via his asinine flirting with a Conor McGregor fight — to hold the sport hostage through memories of a bygone era.
If Pacquiao wants to fight Kell Brook or Crawford after he faces Horn, bring it on. But if his retirement tour is supposed to amount to nothing more than the equivalent of a nostalgic reunion of a washed up band, spare us. Pacquiao’s too great a fighter for that, and, more importantly, boxing fans are too long suffering to be subjected to it.