By: Oliver McManus
Mano a mano, or should we say Manny a mano? Basically what I’m trying to say is Manny Pacquaio is BACK in the ring this weekend as he vies for yet another world title – the WBA Welterweight belt – in a battle with, Argentine champion, Lucas Martin Matthysse.
Fighting for the first time since his, allegedly controversial, loss to Jeff Horn last July, Pacquiao is again fighting away from home with this super-bout taking place in the Middle-Eastern hub of Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital.
The Filipino eight-weight world champion will be competing in his 69th bout and aged 39, nearly 40, there is a genuine concern that whilst he may still love being in the ring, the ring may not love having him in there and I say that because against Horn, whether you like it or not, he looked a shadow of his former self with his defence being easily penetrated, his footwork visibly slower and his head getting muddled relatively easily.
Of course being of such a supreme ability means that even the slightest dip in quality will be magnified a thousand times and let’s not suddenly believe that Pac Man is a bad fighter overnight, he’s not, he still possesses quality that many fighters could only ever dream of and what you can never takeaway is the fight intelligence that the 5’5.5 fighter has.
Most notable, in terms of differences, is the lack of Freddie Roach in the corner of the Filipino with Pacquiao seeking to go down a different route despite having secured his highest of successes with his iconic trainer and has, instead, opted to have Buboy Fernandez coach him in the build up to this fight.
A natural talent burgeoning with aggression and a glee for the sport, Pacquiao will go about this bout no different to any that came previously, he will seek to dictate the pace of the fight from the early stages, cutting off the ring whilst jumping in and out of all four corners and flurrying his trademark body punches with grit and desire.
The question mark around such a star is not whether he still possesses the ability, he will always have that, but rather one of how faded he has become? If anyone can beat father time, however, the father of boxing is surely that guy.
For a man coming off the back of such a bloody, brutal loss to Jeff Horn, Matthysse is one hell of a risk with La Maquina being one of the most vicious punchers currently in action, certainly a man with bad intentions who goes into fights wholeheartedly expecting a knockout.
Widely touted as the next big thing, Matthysse’s career took a bit of a bump when he was narrowly out-pointed by Danny Garcia in September 2013 and whilst the rebuild from that went well he was comfortably beaten by Viktor Postol, via 10th round TKO, in October of 2015.
This is a guy who loses to the elite and only the elite – Zab Judah and Devon Alexander are the only other names to have bested the 35 year old – and in his hand, boy does he possess some power. There’s an argument to be made that Matthysse has hands made of bricks such is the extent of his demolition.
Against Tewa Kiram, at The Forum, in January of this year we witnessed an incredible display as with the right hand sending Kiram down to the canvas in the eight before a murderous left finished the job within the same stanza to set up this legacy-defining contest with Pacquiao.
At his best when involved with a brawl, the Argentinian is capable of making even the dirtiest, feistiest, most fearsome of scraps look like a majestic work of art with his elusive body movement, tempestuous shot selection and vicious intent marking him out as a guy you do not want to let into any sort of a rhythm.
This reminds me of a gentle watercolour of a raging bull running through the streets of Pamplona, Pacquiao the artist, Matthysse the bull. But who is it that can claim the glory for such a visual spectacle, the artist or the bull?
We’ll find out on Saturday.