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Manny Pacquiao remains fan favourite in Australia

BRISBANE, Australia -- There's only one thing Australians love more than a great sporting backstory and that's a great sportsman. In 2017 alone, Lionel Messi, Roger Federer and Usain Bolt, among others, have all graced Australian shores, and star struck locals have turned out in droves to support and cheer them on.

Jeff Horn's well documented rise in Australian boxing has certainly netted him thousands of fans in recent weeks but his legendary opponent for Sunday's WBO World Welterweight title fight, Manny Pacquiao, is still expected to be the favourite amongst the 60,000 capacity crowd at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium.

Manny Pacquiao and Jeff Horn. PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP/Getty Images
While it isn't unexpected, the contingent of support which has already rolled into town for Pacquiao -- who is fighting in Australia for the first time in his career -- has been utterly impressive. Thousands of fans sporting 'Pac Man' t-shirts and draping themselves in Filipino flags have descended on Brisbane and they are certainly bullish about their hero's chances.

"He is one of the greatest [boxers of all time] and there is no chance I would miss seeing him fight live in Australia," Eric Renshaw, a life-long Pacquiao fan who had travelled to Brisbane from Adelaide, tells ESPN. "If Jeff was fighting anyone else he would be a clear fan favourite here but against Manny, it's going to be tough."

"If [Pacquiao] can get on top of him early it's going to be an electrifying atmosphere and with all of his class and experience it's hard to see him losing."

It has been a storied career for Pacquiao -- who is a certainty to one day be inducted into the boxing Hall of Fame -- that has seen him develop a legion of fans around the globe, and Australia is no exception. He has claimed eight major world titles, fought in some of the biggest bouts in history and as a result has raked in over US$1billion in revenue.

Now, 38, the Filipino star has cast his eyes on the relatively unknown but likeable Horn; a man with a backstory that would make even the greatest Pacquiao fan wish him luck on Sunday. But even with the fight being staged in Horn's backyard, when the pair enter the ring, the energy of the crowd will feel more akin to Manila than Brisbane.

Pacquiao says he's relishing the chance to fight in an unfamiliar location.

"I am so thankful for this great opportunity to be here in Australia, and the warm welcome of the people here," Pacquiao said. "This is one of the biggest crowds that I'm going to fight to and I want to show my best in the boxing ring in Brisbane for my fans."

So what is it that makes Pacquiao so popular?

Legendary boxing trainer and ESPN commentator Teddy Atlas says there are many factors that have led to Pacquiao's rise in fame and popularity over the years.

"With Manny you don't have a common guy," Atlas tells ESPN. "You have a star, a big shot, an athlete with great talent who has been successful on the world stage in some of the biggest fights of this generation.

"Then when you add in the charitable and philanthropic work he does, you've got something special. He has people that come to his door with nothing and he helps them, he spends a lot of his money on charity.

"Not everyone has a whole country that follows them, that doesn't happen all of the time. Even some of the greatest athletes don't have a whole country that follows them. You have to be in a certain situation. But he's a legend and legends have huge fan bases that travel everywhere to see them."

Pacquiao's mere presence in Brisbane has already been enough to warrant Queensland Police to insist he keep a low profile and refrain from making any further public appearances.

He was scheduled to appear Thursday for an open training session in the CBD -- an event expected to see in excess of 5,000 fans flocking to the pop-up ring -- but was forced to cancel amid rising safety concerns. Meanwhile, Horn's public session, held the same day, saw barely 1,000 fans in attendance.

The overwhelming support for Pacquiao could end up being to Horn's detriment. Not so much because the crowd will be cheering on his opponent, but more for the shock factor of him being the outsider in his own city.

Despite the fight being staged in Horn's own backyard, Pacquiao will still be the man everyone is cheering for on Sunday in what is his first fight outside of Las Vegas and Macau in over a decade.

Source: http://www.espn.com/boxing/story/_/id/19778915/manny-pacquiao-fan-favourite-australia-ahead-jeff-horn-fight

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