Manny Pacquiao returns, after more than a year out of action, against Lucas Matthysse at the Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Saturday (Sunday morning local time). It's his longest absence from the ring since starting his career 23 years ago.
The pair will duel for Matthysse's WBA (regular) welterweight title in south-east Asia, and Pacquiao's advisor Mike Koncz said Malaysia's tremendous offer was hard to refuse, per Abac Cordero of the Philippine Star.
ESPN.com's Dan Rafael more recently reported the fight was confirmed after Pacquiao's MP Promotions missed several deadlines to pay a $2 million fee due in an escrow account before it could go ahead.
Jeff Horn beat the Filipino legend in a controversial unanimous-decision upset in Brisbane last July, and Pac-Man will be eager to get back to winning ways after suffering two of his four career defeats in little more than two years.
Koncz added that Pacquiao stands to earn more than he has in his previous three or four fights, having netted $10 million for his defeat to Horn, and $20 million and $4 million for his wins over Timothy Bradley and Jessie Vargas, respectively.
Manny Pacquiao: 47-100
Lucas Matthysse: 31-20
Odds courtesy of OddsShark.
Slow-but-Steady Pacquiao Wins the Race
Twelve months after suffering the most surprising defeat of his career at the Battle of Brisbane, Pacquiao is sure to be careful in how he goes about avoiding successive defeats for a second time in his career on Saturday.
Although this is a big opportunity and step up for Matthysse, 35, in the stature of his opponent, a Motivedia segment analysed "La Maquina" as an opponent who should not be underestimated:
The Argentinian holds a record of 39-4 and won the vacant WBA welterweight strap in his last outing, an eighth-round KO victory over Thai boxer Tewa Kiram. Kiram was previously undefeated in 38 fights, per BoxRec, though he'd only once before fought outside his native Thailand.
Pacquiao, meanwhile, might have had a year out of action, but he looks to have lost none of his acceleration during his time away from fighting, based on his recent training updates:
The bout is far from risk-free for Pac Man. Matthysse has only been stopped once in 44 fights, and Pacquiao's last finish came against Miguel Cotto nine years ago. This makes it difficult to buy into the words of his strength and conditioning coach, Justin Fortune, who recently told the Manila Times (h/t BoxingScene.com):
“We've been watching tapes of Matthysse's latest fights, including his losses to (Victor) Postol and (Danny) Garcia, the past several days, and we've found several defects and weaknesses in his style, which we'll try to exploit.
“Of course, we also found where his strength [is], and we, certainly, will find solution to offset. Lucas is definitely strong and dangerous and has one the best trainers in the business [in Joel Diaz]. But as we've noticed, he has got a few bad habits and weaknesses Manny can easily capitalise on."
Matthysse's coach Diaz told Fight Hub TV his fighter has the power to catch Pacquiao off guard and hand him his first knockout defeat since losing to Juan Manuel Marquez in the ninth round five-and-a-half years ago:
And despite the fact Matthysse has notched KOs in 36 of his 39 wins, including 10 stoppage wins in his last 13 fights, he's facing an on-alert Pacquiao, who despite ageing has shown a willingness to adapt to his changing physiology.
The 39-year-old's speed having not deteriorated too drastically, he's still got the wit to draw a bout into the latter stages and a gas tank that lends itself well to draining the power-packing Matthysse into deeper waters.
The thought of Pacquiao beginning another world-title reign at his age seems a tad preposterous, but then fighters of his calibre are there to break those boundaries.
Prediction: Manny Pacquiao wins by majority decision.