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Jeff Horn wants to prove he deserved fight with Manny Pacquiao

Jeff Horn was asked to name the toughest opponent he has fought. The Australian boxer paused for a second before saying he has faced plenty of tough opposition.

Horn eventually said Randall Bailey was the hardest puncher he has fought in his 17-bout career. He also mentioned Rico Mueller and Naoufel Ben Rabeh.

Who? That’s probably the most common response when hearing Horn’s obscure resume.

The little-known Horn often has been asked this week to explain why he belongs in the ring with the legendary Manny Pacquiao. Horn (16-0-1, 11 knockouts) will challenge Pacquiao (59-6-2, 38 KOs) for his WBO welterweight belt Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia.

“I could name a heap of my past fights that were tough,” Horn said Tuesday during a conference phone call. “Yes, this is definitely jumping a few steps at a time. I have fought some tough guys, some high-level competition, but Manny Pacquiao has that legendary status.”

Horn, a 29-year-old former physical education teacher, is starting to make a name for himself in Australia, but he was virtually unknown in the U.S. when his name popped up as Pacquiao’s next possible opponent.

Boxing fans preferred that the future Hall of Famer fight Keith Thurman or Errol Spence in unification bouts, or a passing-of-the-torch match against Terence Crawford.

Michael Koncz, Pacquiao’s longtime adviser, wanted a fight against Amir Khan for a big payday in the United Arab Emirates. Both camps went as far as announcing an April bout.

Only Top Rank promoter Bob Arum wanted the Filipino senator to fight the Australian. Arum never flinched when Koncz announced the Khan fight. The legendary promoter knew that money wasn’t real as the Khan fight quickly fell apart.

Arum’s plan has come to fruition, and his most prized fighter will go into Horn’s backyard for a stadium bout before an expected crowd of more than 55,000.

Pacquiao isn’t new to fighting before 50,000-plus fans. Horn’s biggest bout was watched by 10,000 spectators when he fought on the undercard of Joseph Parker-Andy Ruiz in December at Spark Arena in Auckland, New Zealand.

“This is next level for sure,” Horn said.

Arum has quieted the fans’ uproar by having Pacquiao’s fight on ESPN instead of pay per view. This will be Pacquiao’s first non-PPV bout since 2005. The ESPN/ESPN Deportes telecast will start at 6 p.m.

“This is a great opportunity to show the fans of boxing that we are still here, and not done in boxing, so this is a good chance, and we believe that a lot of people will be watching,” Pacquiao said of fighting on ESPN.

“We spoke to Bob, and we decided to give the people a chance to watch the fight on a free station in America.”

Even with the free telecast, the question of why this fight is happening continues to be asked.

Arum could have easily blamed the WBO for making Horn the mandatory challenger. The longtime promoter made it clear that it was his idea to make the Pacquiao-Horn fight and the outcome doesn’t fall on his matchmakers.

“This is not a case where my matchmakers picked out a fighter and put him in a fight,” Arum said. “This is the case where I saw the kid (Horn) fight myself in New Zealand. I’m telling you, this kid can fight. Is he going to beat Manny? No, but he will make it a very, very competitive.”

Pacquiao, 38, is coming off a unanimous decision over Las Vegan Jessie Vargas at the Thomas & Mack in November. The former eight-division champion said he won’t underestimate Horn.

“We wanted to give Horn a chance,” Pacquiao said. “He’s undefeated. He has earned it.”

More Boxing: Follow all of our boxing coverage online at reviewjournal.com/boxing and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact Gilbert Manzano at gmanzano@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GManzano24 on Twitter.

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