What's next for Manny Pacquiao after Jeff Horn?

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Jeff Horn is undefeated, but not all undefeated records are the same. His résumé is filled with fighters who either never amounted to anything or those who did who were far past their primes when they faced him.

In Manny Pacquiao, Horn will see by far the best athlete he’s ever faced, the best boxer he’s ever faced, the most savvy fighter he’s ever faced and the quickest fighter he’s ever faced.

Pacquiao is in decline from his peak, but he was so high at his peak that even at 38 and on the downward slide, he’s still among the top five or 10 pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

Horn challenges the Filipino senator for the WBO welterweight title on Saturday (Sunday in Australia) before 60,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium in a bout televised on ESPN.

Horn’s backstory is familiar to anyone who has followed boxing for more than a week: He was bullied as a boy, went to a gym to learn to defend himself and has worked his way into position to face one of the sport’s all-time greats.

It will be a treasured memory, win or lose, but if he happens to win, he’ll make himself an instant multi-millionaire. He’d undoubtedly get a rematch with a significantly higher purse, and even with a loss in that rematch, he’d have established himself as a legitimate name in the division that he would put himself on the radar of many of the other elite welterweights.

Jeff Horn challenges Manny Pacquiao for the WBO welterweight title on Saturday. (Getty Images)

Horn comes across as supremely confident, relaxed and prepared, as his big moment in front of his hometown crowd against a future Hall of Famer.

He knows Pacquiao’s style inside out but isn’t sure if Pacquiao knows much about him beside his name and hometown.

“To me, not being known as a fighter, that might be handy in this fight,” Horn said. “Manny has not been able to study what I can do and maybe [he may] underestimate me in this fight. In the same way, Pacquiao has fought so many tough guys, that we all know and have watched, so he has definitely got the experience on me. But will he use that experience? We will see.”

Pacquiao is a massive favorite, 5-1 or higher depending upon where one looks. Horn isn’t expected to provide him much opposition and perhaps Pacquiao’s biggest challenge will be to get himself up to the same mental level that he was able to for the slew of elite boxers he’s faced.

In a way, he’s in a no-win situation. He hasn’t scored a knockout in more than seven years, and if he gets one on Saturday, he won’t get much credit because of the perception of Horn as an easy opponent. But if Horn is better than people think and gives Pacquiao a battle, undoubtedly many will point to Pacquiao’s age and insist he’s in decline.

His future is cloudy, to be honest. If, as expected, he defeats Horn, there is no logical next opponent. After he defeated Jessie Vargas in Las Vegas in November to win the WBO welterweight belt back, promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank mentioned Terence Crawford and Vasyl Lomachenko as potential opponents in either the next fight or shortly thereafter.

But neither was ever considered for this match, and it’s unlikely a Lomachenko-Pacquiao fight will ever come to fruition. Lomachenko is still fighting at super featherweight, and isn’t ready to move up yet, Arum said.

“Lomachenko is such a perfectionist, he’s not going to move up until he feels he has everything at one weight exactly where he needs it to be,” Arum said. “So that’s not really an option now.”

Crawford is the best super lightweight in the world, and would seem to be ready for a move to welterweight. But that’s going to be a tricky deal to negotiate, because Pacquiao’s financial demands to face Crawford would be high and the bout probably won’t draw enough to make it feasible.

Manny Pacquiao’s future is unknown after Saturday’s fight. (Getty Images)

There is little hope that Pacquiao gets in with one of the top welterweights controlled by manager Al Haymon. Haymon has WBA-WBC champion Keith Thurman, IBF champion Errol Spence Jr. and former champions Shawn Porter and Danny Garcia under contract, and any of them would make a sensational fight with Pacquiao.

Thurman is coming off a win over Garcia on CBS that drew 5.1 million viewers, the largest audience for a primetime boxing telecast since 1998 and the second-largest overall in that span. Prior to that, Thurman defeated Porter in another bout on CBS which peaked at 3.94 million viewers.

That, though, is not enough to get Arum’s attention, apparently.

“With all due respect to Al, Haymon hasn’t built his guys,” Arum said. “He fights them once a year, they’re not household names and they’re not somebody – I’m not saying they’re not good fighters – but they’re not somebody I consider marquee with Manny Pacquiao to know that I could risk my money to do it on pay-per-view.

“Thurman did five point something million viewers on CBS, but you have to build on that and they never built on it. If Keith Thurman walked into my office right now, I wouldn’t recognize him.”

So the most likely path for Pacquiao, should he defeat Horn and decides he wants to keep fighting, is to travel the world and fight outside the U.S. until an opponent emerges whom Arum is comfortable will sell on pay-per-view.

That could be Crawford, who will have a super lightweight unification bout with Julius Indongo later this year, or it could be Amir Khan.

But Pacquiao’s days of being a Las Vegas staple appear close to being over.

“We’ll have to see what happens in this fight because Manny is fighting a big, strong kid who, ordinarily, he shouldn’t have that much trouble with,” Arum said. “But he might now because he’s an athlete who is getting old and his first vocation is as a senator in the Philippines. I can’t predict what is going to happen in the fight and I can’t predict what Manny is going to do down the road.

“This might be his last fight. It might be three more fights. I saw an article in the Philippines [which said] three more years. Who knows? I don’t know. He doesn’t know. He has to get through this fight, despite what you and many others may think, is no guarantee and then we’ll see.”