Welterweight world titleholder Manny Pacquiao (59-6-2 with 38 KOs) is set to defend his title this weekend at an unfamiliar venue, at an unconventional hour and against an unknown opponent. Pacquiao traveled to Australia to face a former physical education teacher who made his professional debut in 2013 and is already ranked second by the WBO: Jeff Horn (16-0-1 with 11 KOs).
The bout will take place at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane in front of an estimated record crowd of 60,000. The main event is set to begin on the morning of Sunday in Australia, but due to the time difference, the undercard will be shown on ESPN and ESPN Deportes starting at 9 p.m. ET on Saturday.
Pacquiao's career could hinge on this bout, which he goes into as the huge favorite. To a large extent, the future of his career will depend on the result and his performance. A resounding victory would increase the likelihood of a possible rematch against Floyd Mayweather as his trainer Freddie Roach said, or perhaps he would aim to unify the division against other champions as Pacquiao himself claimed in his most recent teleconference.
The great unknown, however, is whether Pacquiao's status as favorite going into the fight is enough to guarantee victory in advance. Let's see if we can clear up any doubts in the following keys to the fight.
Experience and speed are Pacquiao's greatest strengths, but they are not the only ones. Horn finds it virtually impossible to control the ring, an integral part of any game plan. Pacquiao always employs the same attacking strategy, but when it comes to throwing punches, he is completely unpredictable -- he is able to throw punches from improbable positions and from any angle. Pacquiao is very difficult to block at close quarters and midrange. Allied to that unpredictability is Pacquiao's explosiveness and the frenetic pace at which he operates.
Jeff Horn is a relative newcomer to elite boxing, and that could be his main strength. This fight is his chance, possibly his only chance, to showcase his skills in front of a global audience. Winning is the key to the future, while losing means a return to anonymity. Horn, who is nine years younger than Pacquiao, will be fighting at home in front of a partisan crowd. He's the bigger fighter and has a reach advantage. Horn uses good lateral movement while maintaining the distance with his jab.
It is clear that time has diminished some of Pacquiao's boxing strengths, but there are other factors which have contributed to this version of PacMan looking far from his best. His political and social commitments outside the ring are one possible cause.
Pacquiao appears to have lost his impetus, he no longer overwhelms his opponents and he seems to have lost his power -- the most worrying of his weaknesses. Of his past 12 fights, he has won just one by knockout. There are also questions surrounding the Filipino's motivation for this fight and how the unfamiliar timing of the fight may affect him.
Horn is fighting at home for the first time on a card of this magnitude. Nerves and stage fright can play tricks on you. Horn is slow and that slowness will be doubly exposed against an opponent whose greatest strength is his speed. Horn's movement and good use of the jab will consistently enable him to use the distance as a barrier, but, when Pacquiao closes the distance, Horn will struggle to block him. If the fight takes place at a short distance, Horn's plan will fall apart and he could end up being knocked out in this scenario.
There is no question which tactics Pacquiao should employ if he wants to win this fight: attack, close the distance and land multiple-punch combinations. When Pacquiao finds room to punch, he needs to overwhelm his inexperienced opponent and try to finish him.
Horn's success depends on his shots from long distance, his movements and his jab. The latter will be crucial to avoid giving Pacquiao the room he needs to unleash his explosive power. The other tool the Australian will need to have at his disposal is the element of surprise, and he should look to counterattack each time PacMan closes the distance. Horn has already said as much when he announced his intention to repeat the brutal knockout that Pacquiao suffered at the hands of Juan Manuel Marquez in December 2012.