Manny Pacquiao is a legendary fighter and an obvious future Hall of Famer with a résumé a mile long filled with one big win after another. He’s the only boxer in history to win world titles in eight weight classes and he’ll go down as one of the best ever.
But he has also been punching for pay for 23 years and has been involved in numerous grinding, physical battles. They take their toll. He is also no longer a full-time boxer. He holds down a full-time job as a senator in his native Philippines but will return to the ring for the first time in a little over a year — since a hugely controversial decision loss to Jeff Horn that cost his welterweight title — when he challenges Lucas Matthysse for his secondary welterweight belt at Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The fight will take place on Sunday morning Malaysia time, which will be Saturday night in the United States, where the fight, along with undercard bouts, will stream live on ESPN+ beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
So what does the 39-year-old Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KOs), doubling as promoter of the fight with his MP Promotions handling the event, have left? And can “The Machine” Matthysse (39-4, 36 KOs), 35, of Argentina, long known as an all-action fighter and huge puncher – but who is also past his best days — score the biggest win his of his career in his first defense? We’ll find out Saturday.
This is your ESPN.com Ringside Seat for the fight:
Though most thought Pacquiao clearly defeated Horn when he went to his hometown of Brisbane, Australia to face him last July, it was clear that Pacquiao’s skills have eroded. He’s still good, but he’s no longer a force, nor is he as dynamic or as fast as he once was. Father Time remains undefeated.
“I didn’t think he looked shopworn but he did have a bad night,” Matthysse said of the Horn fight.
So a year later can Pacquiao, a southpaw who relies on speed and landing punches from all angles, be any better than he was that day? It’s a tall order, especially with a proven veteran in front of him.
Oscar De La Hoya, who promotes Matthysse — but who also saw his own Hall of Fame career ended by Pacquiao’s hands in an eighth-round stoppage loss in 2008 — weighed in.
“Let’s get on with this fight. I am ready. I have never predicted the outcome of any of my fights, but this training camp is special for many reasons. I am motivated. I am happy. I am hungry. I am excited to show the world a new Manny Pacquiao.”
“Pacquiao has a very unique style. When I fought him, I thought he was going to get tired. He never got tired,” said De La Hoya, who is in Malaysia with Matthysse this week. “So, I don’t know what Pacquiao we are going to see for this fight. I don’t know how distracted he may be. I do know that Matthysse is fully focused and determined. This is the fight of his life. It’s all going to depend on how Pacquiao reacts when the first bell rings. Will it be a distracted Pacquiao? Or a Pacquiao that everyone is used to seeing?”
Pacquiao claims to be rejuvenated.
“I am excited. The fans are excited. Malaysia is ready,” Pacquiao said. “Let’s get on with this fight. I am ready. I have never predicted the outcome of any of my fights, but this training camp is special for many reasons. I am motivated. I am happy. I am hungry. I am excited to show the world a new Manny Pacquiao.”
Boxing’s only eight-division champion Manny Pacquiao shows some power during a training session with now head trainer Buboy Fernandez at the Pacman Wild Card Gym in General Santos, Philippines. Buboy has been with Pacquiao for all his professional fights
One of the major differences in this fight for Pacquiao is that it will be his first in 34 bouts over the past 16 years that Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach was absent from training camp and will not man his corner.
Roach helped guide Pacquiao to titles in seven of the eight divisions he has won them in during a glorious run in which Pacquiao became a global icon. But the last time they saw each other or spoke was as they left the ring last July following Pacquiao’s controversial loss to Horn, during which Pacquiao was unhappy that Roach did not speak up to the referee about Horn’s constant head butting and borderline fouling.
Pacquiao fired the seven-time trainer of the year — though he never bothered to actually tell him or have anyone else do so — and replaced him with close friend and longtime assistant Buboy Fernandez. Pacquiao also added noted trainer (and fellow Filipino) Nonito Donaire Sr. to his corner as an assistant and strength and conditioning coach Justin Fortune, who used to work with Roach.
“A young Manny Pacquiao throwing a lot of punches, and more footwork, head movement, side by side (movement) — that’s my goal to achieve for this fight,” Pacquiao said. “Buboy adapted the style of Freddie Roach and he knows what to do for this training so I am confident with Buboy. … We are locked and loaded. I am more than ready and excited to show Malaysian fight fans the fruits of hard training and preparation. We had a very great training camp and I cannot wait to fight.”
Pacquiao power outage
Pacquiao, who will come into the fight off the longest layoff of his 23-year career — 378 days — used to be known as one of boxing’s most devastating puncher. He scored many impressive knockouts against opponents such as De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton, Miguel Cotto, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales (two of them).
However, while Pacquiao has still scored knockdowns in many of his most recent bouts, including against Jessie Vargas, Timothy Bradley Jr., Juan Manuel Marquez and Chris Algieri, and nearly stopped Horn, he has not scored a knockout in his last 13 fights — since stopping Cotto in the 12th round of their 2009 welterweight title fight.
“My style is to be aggressive. Obviously, I’ll have a game plan and may need to adjust during the fight, but that’s my style. I feel 100 percent sure that I will succeed in this fight. This is my biggest fight because Manny Pacquiao is a legend.”
Matthysse, on the other hand, is still scoring knockouts with regularity. Other than a decision win over Ruslan Provodnikov in 2015, Matthysse has not heard the final bell in a victory since a 10-round decision over Carlos Jerez in 2008.
“My two fists are my strongest assets as a fighter,” Matthysse said. “I always prepare for 12 rounds, but I’m always hoping to finish the fight by knockout.”
Manny Pacquiao and Lucas Matthysse hit the ring for the open media workout.
Matthysse, an admitted Pacquiao fan, has wanted to fight him for the better part of the past five years and finally is getting the opportunity in a fight Pacquiao sought after Matthysse claimed a vacant secondary title in a shaky eighth-round knockout of unknown Thai fighter Tewa Kiram in January.
“I’m excited and happy for the opportunity to fight Pacquiao. It’s an honor. But it’s also a risk,” said Matthysse, who is trained by Joel Diaz. “I’ve faced a lot of tough opponents, but not with his style. I’ve faced a lot of southpaws including Zab Judah and Devon Alexander, so I don’t have any difficulties facing southpaws. Fighting a legend like Pacquiao is about pride. I feel great to fight a future Hall of Famer like him. It would be very huge for my career to defeat him.”
Said De La Hoya: “The fact that he always wanted this fight, a dream fight for him — believe me he will be in the best condition for this. He is very focused. This is an even fight. This is a dangerous but winnable fight.”
Matthysse was once the most feared fighter in the junior welterweight division. He was a wrecking machine who destroyed opponents such as Lamont Peterson and Humberto Soto before suffering an upset decision loss to then-junior welterweight champion Danny Garcia. Matthysse won his next three fights in a row but then suffered an upset 10th-round knockout loss to Viktor Postol for a vacant title. Postol broke Matthysse’s orbital bone and sent him into a 19-month layoff. He has won two fights in a row at welterweight since, but looked out of sorts against Kiram.
“There were some difficulties with Kiram because of his size,” Matthysse said. “But in this fight I expect to do much better and win by knockout, which is what I am hoping. Manny and me are the same size and I will be able to give a better fight.
“Pacquiao has done a lot throughout his career. He’s still a great fighter and he must not be underestimated. My style is to be aggressive. Obviously, I’ll have a game plan and may need to adjust during the fight, but that’s my style. I feel 100 percent sure that I will succeed in this fight. This is my biggest fight because Manny Pacquiao is a legend.”
Rafael’s prediction: Pacquiao by decision.