Manny Pacquiao. Credit: Creative Commons.

If you’re slightly surprised to be reading a preview featuring Manny Pacquiao this weekend, you’re most definitely not alone. You’d be hard pushed in many respects to know Pacquiao was returning to the ring Saturday night, with Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor largely dominating the public’s interest.

Pacquiao has fluttered in and out of boxing in recent years, competing in just six fights over the course of the past four years. Plagued by injuries, as well as a blossoming political career in the Philippines, there’s a case to be made that the “Pac-Man” has become somewhat of a forgotten entity in an ever changing landscape.

The shoulder injury he carried during the Mayweather bout back in 2015 required major surgery and saw the Filipino spend just short of a year on the sidelines. His most recent outings in a boxing ring have been against lacklustre opponents in both Jessie Vargas and Timothy Bradley, and whilst Pacquiao put in impressive display during both bouts, they merely left the public clamouring for something bigger from the former ‘WBO Boxer of the year.’

Pacquiao was once considered a big money draw on pay-per-view. At the peak of his career he was averaging between 700,000 – 1.25 million buys per fight, however his three most recent bouts – with the exclusion of the Floyd Mayweather fight – have barely scuppered over 400,000. By and large, Manny has still been putting on impressive displays, lacklustre opponents as mentioned prior, have clearly hindered rather than helped when it’s come to his pay-per-view success.

Pacquiao’s return falls in line with new boxing TV trend

Whilst Pacquiao has taken a step back from full-time competition in boxing, rather focusing on what he and his management would deem as ‘money fights,’ it’s worth pointing out that the sport has seen somewhat of a resurgence in it’s appeal to the public and it’s competitiveness when it comes to television markets. A surge of talent has arrived across multiple weight divisions in boxing mainstream over the past three years, bringing intriguing and entertaining fights almost every few weeks, the number of pay-per-view events taking place has also significantly increased. This is a stark contrast with boxing’s output in the 10 years prior, when Pacquiao was considered a huge draw on pay-per-view. Paying customers now have much more varied choice when it comes to spending their cash on boxing events, they no longer need to feature the names Pacquiao or Mayweather to see success.

It’s clear that Pacquiao is looking to capitalise on this and it can be interpreted that this fight with Horn is part of a bigger plan to revitalise his career.

Originally it was an attempt to make a superfight with Brit Amir Khan which fell through due to issues with foreign investors. That was a superfight that hypothetically would have drawn well on pay-per-view and still could be booked later down the line. However with negotiations falling through, a different route has been taken and Pacquiao has since booked himself a fight against relatively unknown Australian, Jeff Horn.

Horn is a durable 16-0-1 competitor. The general consensus among boxing experts all but suggests Horn is yet another step down in opponent for Pacquiao, even in comparison to Bradley and Vargas. Whilst the Brisbane native boasts a respectable 65% knockout rate, Horn seriously lacks experience and hasn’t truly been face-to-face with any top-level opponent yet, only competing in 17 professional bouts during his career, a stark contrast to Pacquiao’s 67. Horn is truly being thrown in at the deep end when it comes down to first real tests in boxing.

Presuming Manny fights like most expect him too, it’d be wrong to presume anything less than him leaving with another win. But for how much longer can the 38-year-old keep performing with such speed and output? Age eventually catches up to everyone in professional sports, will this be the inevitable end for Pacquiao?

Whilst it’s highly unlikely Horn causes the upset, he does possess power and Pacquiao will need to be wary of that, Horn is also considerably younger than his opponent, at the age of just 28. There really is little else for him to lose, especially with the experience of facing an all time great in front of 60,000 of your own fans.

Still, given the circumstances, this should be viewed as a showcase bout for the Filipino. Since his fight with Mayweather, Pacquiao’s drawing power, as noted earlier, has dwindled. Many customers left the Mayweather bout with a sour taste, watching a dull affair between the two, that cost significantly more than the usual rate for a boxing event, whether that was at home via pay-per-view or live in attendance. Many have lost faith in two of the sports’ supposed greats.

In a twist from the norm, for the first time in over a decade, a Pacquiao fight will be airing on network television rather than traditional pay-per-view in the United States. Perhaps this is a masterstroke from Pacquiao’s team – who are describing the free presentation as a “gift to all fans of boxing” – to help bring back some of his former stock, especially among fans still frustrated from 2015. There is no investment for die-hard boxing fans or casual fans to watch, they have no reason to not watch in a sense, it’s free and it’s still a world-renowned boxer, these opportunities rarely occur in this day and age. Presuming Pacquiao can go out and deliver against Horn with one of his usual performances, later down the line, perhaps with the right opponent, there will be a significant demand once again to pay to see Pacquiao fight again.

It’s clear we shouldn’t be expecting this fight to be done in the opening few rounds, even if it is considerably one sided. If you analyse the scenario a little deeper, the Pacquiao camp has specifically chosen an opponent that is durable in Horn, he poses a threat to Pacquiao with his power and should be willing to engage in a striking battle that will hopefully deliver an entertaining bout. Horn’s durability should allow Pacquiao to demonstrate his true ability over a number of rounds, attempting to re-capitalise some of those in the market that have fallen out of love with him.

Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum has been keen to push the bout in this direction, highlighting the Aussie opponent’s abilities, doing so during the pre-fight press call:

“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.”

Come bell-time Saturday evening, we should have an intriguing bout in front of us one way or another. Many questions will be answered, can Pacquiao still showcase his form and compete at the top-level or can a relatively unknown cause a major upset in front of 60,000 rabid home fans? Where does the bout take Pacquiao’s career next? If Horn wins does it propel him into stardom? Saturday will hopefully tell us…

Jeff Horn faces Manny Pacquiao live Saturday July 1 from 2AM GMT. The bout is being aired on BoxNation in the UK & ESPN in the US.