Manny Pacquiao is not the great he once was

Manny Pacquiao is not the fighter he once was and that’s what brings him to Suncorp Stadium on Sunday.

Pacquiao is ripe for the picking. The question is whether Jeff Horn is good enough to bring him crashing down.

I was ringside in Las Vegas for Pacquiao’s last fight against Jessie Vargas at the Thomas and Mack Centre and the Filipino’s performance wasn’t that impressive. Sure he won the fight, but it wasn’t like the Pacquiao of old.

He dominated the fight and won most rounds, but Pacquiao should have got Vargas out of there early and really made a statement.

His hand speed was still there, but the pop was missing from his punches. That power has often covered Pacquiao’s mistakes. He’d leave himself open, but hurt the guy enough that he couldn’t get caught in return.

Pacquiao vs Vargas.

His team put a PR slant on the performance saying Pacquiao didn’t want to hurt Vargas, but the action inside the ring said otherwise.

Jessie Vargas is a world class fighter who knows how to mix it with the best of them — you don’t need saving when you’re the WBO welterweight champion.

There’s always a reason when a fight doesn’t go to plan. It’s the art of boxing. Injury, interrupted build-up, difficult weight cut — these tales are more often heard in defeat than victory though.

A shutout win over Vargas for Pacquiao was preceded by a comfortable win over Timothy Bradley. Those fights came after his clash with Floyd Mayweather where the Filipino was comfortably beaten — an injured shoulder the reason given for his loss post-fight.

The only reason this fight with Horn is happening is because Pacquiao cannot command what he once did. The Battle of Brisbane is his best offer on the table — he doesn’t have a big fight out there for him.

His team doesn’t want to risk a fight against someone like Terence Crawford or Amir Khan — not yet anyway.

Yes, he’d make a lot of money against a more recognisable name like Crawford or Khan, but if he loses, there goes any future paydays. Plus, the marketplace isn’t ready for those fights. Brand Pacquiao needs a boost first.

Pacquiao’s last fight against Vargas was on HBO basic cable. The Horn fight is going worldwide for free (except in Australia) on ESPN — the first time a Pacquiao fight hasn’t been on pay-per-view in 11 years. It’s a sign the Pacquiao brand isn’t what it once was.

Essentially, Horn is a pawn in the Team Pacquiao game. It wants a strong performance against a credible challenger. Horn is seen as that marketable challenge, but a low-risk opponent. Quality, but lacking experience and seasoning on the big stage.

Boxing is all about risk vs reward, and Horn fits the bill best, given Pacquiao’s current predicament.

His team hopes Pacquiao gets past Horn, impressively, and then it will target those lucrative showdowns against Crawford, Khan and Errol Spence Jr. There’s even talk of a rematch with Mayweather.

Pacquiao has been in the ring with the best of them — Mayweather, Ricky Hatton, Juan Manuel Marquez, Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley. But look at the opponents Pacquiao has faced in recent fights — Chris Algieri, Brandon Rios and Jessie Vargas (either side of the blockbuster Mayweather showdown).

Rios was coming up from the lower weight divisions and didn’t win a round and Algieri was knocked down six times in a one-sided fight. Both were seen as credible challengers, like Horn, but neither stood on the true “elite” pedestal of boxing.

The question remains whether Jeff Horn exists on that level. We’ll soon see.

Ali Funeka (39-5), Rico Mueller (20-1), Randall Bailey (46-8) and Ahmed El Mousaoui (22-1) are the biggest names on Horn’s record. Duco Events, his promoters, have managed Horn well and every time he has fought they have stepped him up in class. Every time he’s been given a test, Horn has passed — but this is his biggest test ever.

It’s clear Team Pacquiao doesn’t respect Horn.

“Who the f*** is Randall Bailey?” trainer Freddie Roach asked the Australian press on Wednesday. “I’ve heard of Randall Bailey, but not in like 10 years. He might be the best guy he’s (Horn) fought but they’re not going to scare us with that.”

If Horn wins, there’s big fish to fry. The fights on the outlook for Pacquiao could suddenly fall his way, along with millions of dollars.

The Australian public and worldwide boxing audience will now know exactly who “The Hornet” is.

The intriguing aspect of this fight is the questions it presents.

Horn doesn’t really have the power to trouble Pacquiao and will therefore have to outbox him over 12 rounds. Matching the intensity of the Filipino legend is a difficult task. Is he good enough?

But there are some real doubts over Pacquiao too. His team came out in the early weeks of fight camp and said he’d been misfiring and initially was doing some of the worst sparring he’d ever done in his career. Yet this week, his camp is saying his preparation is better than it’s been for his last two fights against Vargas and Bradley. So which one is it?

We hear this a lot from the Pacquiao camp. The Filipino obviously has a lot on his plate and he manages his time differently.

Is it just his trainer Freddie Roach publicly coming out and criticising his fighter, like he has in the past, to spur Manny on? Or is there some truth to it?

There’s no doubt he has a divided camp. Boxing promoter Bob Arum had signed him initially to the Horn showdown and then his adviser Michael Koncz announced he’d agreed to a fight with Amir Khan in the Middle East.

It remains to be seen whether there is truth to everything going on behind the scenes. Maybe there is a bit of fracture.

Horn hasn’t had the level of opponent Manny Pacquiao has. He hasn’t really fought a legitimate world title contender either. But it’s not like he’s jumped the queue — he’s worked his way to be the mandatory challenger for Pacquiao’s title.

Credit to Duco for getting him this shot. The timing may prove to be perfect.

Boxers can age overnight, Horn isn’t the first fighter to be undervalued or written off in a world title fight. History has already shown him what can happen.

It is now on Horn to deliver, but this is like him just starting high school and being asked to sit his year 12 exams.

If anyone was to complete that task, perhaps “The Fighting School Teacher” would be best placed, and on Sunday he could be in the position to shock the world.

This article was reproduced with permission from Fox Sports Australia