Pacquiao-Broner: Aging Legend vs. Elite Gatekeeper

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By Peter Lim

Public persona-wise, Pacquiao versus Broner plays out like an ultimate good-versus-evil battle. The personification of sportsmanship, Pacquiao has always been respectful, diplomatic and humble in and out of the ring. Broner, on the other hand, is a profanity-spewing, tantrum-throwing villain in the sport. The quintessential antihero, his schtick has always been to sell more tickets to fans who want to see him lose than win.

One is a lawbreaker and the other a lawmaker. Broner’s bad boy image encompasses much-publicized reports ranging from public intoxication to pubic lice and beyond. His run-ins with the law involved domestic violence, gunfire and bowling alley brawls. Pacquiao was elected as a congressman and senator, and given his immense popularity in the Philippines, many have speculated that the presidency lies in his near or distant future.

But in the ring, Pacquiao (60-7-2, 39 KOs) versus Broner (33-3-1, 24 KOs) is a 50-50 tossup at this juncture in their respective careers.

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Nobody, not even the most die-hard Pacquiao fan, is kidding himself that he is anywhere near his heyday that spanned roughly from 2002-2012. The question is, at age 40 has he retained enough skills, speed, savvy and fire in his belly still to be a major player in the welterweight division, which just happens to be the most talent-rich division in the sport today?

Broner might be the perfect mettle detector to answer that question.

Broner, 29, might have been an elite fighter in the 130- and 135-pound divisions. But at 140 and 147, he has been relegated to an elite and high-profile gatekeeper. He barely beat Paul Malignaggi, who was already on a downslide, and fellow gatekeeper Adrian Granados.

But Broner faltered against every elite fighter he has faced above 140. He was dropped twice and outslugged by Marcos Maidana in 2013, outhuscled by Shawn Porter in 2015 and outclassed by Mikey Garcia in 2017. He was competitive in spurts in those fights but he clearly lost.

In his last fight, Broner struggled to a draw against Jesse Vargas, a former caretaker titleholder who was decisively dethroned by Pacquiao in 2016. As their common, Vargas might seem like a good gauge as to how Pacquiao-Broner might play out, but Pacquiao appears to be a diminished version of the fighter who handily defeated Vargas three years ago.

In 2017 Pacquiao lost a highly controversial decision to Australian Jeff Horn in Australia. But even if he had won the fight on the scorecards, as most observers thought he did, it was still a struggle against an obscure 16-0 fighter who had little trouble finding his mark on Pacquiao’s previously-elusive head. Horn’s subsequent lopsided stoppage loss to Terrence Crawford suggests that he’s more ordinary than exceptional.

Pacquiao was dominant in stopping Lucas Matthysse in his only fight in 2018 but Matthysse seemed to be just through the motions in a glorified sparring session. Matthysse’s retirement announcement after the bout seemed to confirm the 36-year-old Argentine was simply cashing out on a rock-em, sock-em 14-year career.

Both Pacquiao and Broner are formidable punchers but both are also relatively easy to hit at this point in their careers, so will the outcome hinge on which fighter is first to find his range and capitalize on it?

Pacquiao has reinvented himself several times since turning pro as a malnourished 106-pound 15-year-old, winning world titles in seven divisions from 112-147, but in the fourth decade of his life, can he turn back the clock enough to outmaneuver and/or overpower a cocky, competent adversary 11 years his junior?

Will Broner remain on course as an underachieving fighter who never met his full potential or will he step up and pull out a career-defining victory against an all-time great?

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