Meet the former school teacher from Brisbane who’s taking on legendary boxer Manny Pacquiao at Suncorp Stadium, and the man who made it all possible.
The phrase ‘larger than life’ was invented for people like Manny Pacquiao. An 11-time world champion, he’s generated over $1 billion in revenue from his pay-per-view fights — but he also moonlights as an actor, musician, pro basketball player and politician in his home country, where he currently serves as a Senator of the Philippines.
Brisbane’s Jeff Horn, on the other hand, holds no political titles or ambitions (although Lord Mayor Graham Quirk is his second cousin). He currently holds the IBF Inter-Continental Welterweight Title and the WBO Inter-Continental Welterweight Title, but even his most fervent fans would hesitate to call the 29-year-old Acacia Ridge local a superstar.
Jeff Horn is so low profile, in fact, that Manny Pacquiao has admitted that before their fight was lined up, he had no idea who Horn was. But that’s no skin off Jeff’s nose.
“When you’re at the top of the leaderboard, you’re not really looking down and scouting all the new opposition that’s coming through,” Jeff says.
“He’s very busy with politics, he’s doing his own thing, and he probably only knows about the big names, those top five guys. I could easily believe he hadn’t heard my name before, because I’ve had a pretty steep rise in the past few years.
“I like being the underdog, rather than the favourite. It’s a good feeling, because there’s less pressure on you. I mean, everyone knows who Manny Pacquiao is — of course he’s going to be the favourite!”
That said, Jeff has plenty of fans of his own — especially on Brisbane’s school yards.
“I used to teach health and physical education at Springwood State High School,” he explains.
“I was trained as a sports teacher; I also had computing as a secondary subject. I basically did a lot of my teaching as a primary school relief teacher, though, and that was as a classroom teacher, so I was teaching everything — English, maths, science. It was difficult, it was a challenge, but I really enjoyed it.
“Because I did relief teaching, I taught a lot of kids, so I get plenty of messages of support from them. It’s great to hear from those past students.”
It was Brisbane-based Steve Scanlan, a former professional rugby league player and the CEO of IT recruitment specialists Recon Solutions, who made it possible for Jeff to put his teaching career on hold and go full-time with boxing.
“Three and a half years ago I met Jeff in the gym, where he was toiling away as a part-time boxer,” Steve remembers.
“I became friends with him and I realised how competitive he was and how much of a good heart he had. He used to be a teacher, and I think anybody who could work with kids and then step into the ring and become the complete opposite of that… his will to win must be unbelievable. So I decided I’d become his major sponsor so he could go full-time.”
While sports sponsorship is big business, Steve admits there’s no real flow-on effect for his IT recruitment business from sponsoring a relatively unknown professional boxer.
“Yeah… not at all,” he laughs. “Our business hasn’t got a return on the investment. And it was a real risk back then, because our business was only new. But I was in a position where I could help someone, and if that person could go on to realise their dreams, well, what sort of person would I be if I didn’t do it?
“Two years ago, I actually took Jeff to Las Vegas to see Pacquiao fight Floyd Mayweather, and at the time, we made jokes like, ‘That could be you one day’. We knew he had a lot of talent, but never in a million years did I expect Jeff to be fighting Manny Pacquiao in Brisbane, in front of friends, family and 55,000 people at Suncorp Stadium. It’s surreal.”
It might sound like Jeff is just happy to be here, but Steve really believes his mate has a good chance at beating Manny.
“He’s got nothing to lose. He’s fighting in front of 55,000 people who expect him to lose,” Steve says.
“Jeff is the most competitive person I’ve ever met. You go go-karting with him, and if he’s losing on the last lap, you can see in his eyes how angry he is, and he tries to knock you off the course so he can win. He’s the same with poker. He does everything to win. He’s gutted when he loses. So I know he’s training as hard as he possibly can. He’s tough as nails, and he’ll leave no stone unturned.
“At the end of the day, no one knows much about Jeff Horn. No one knows how hungry he is, how determined he is, how much skill he has. He’s only fought 16 fights, but 10 of those have been against opponents ranked in the top 15 in the world. That’s unheard of. His record’s not padded at all.
“If you actually look at the numbers, Manny Pacquiao’s only fought twice in the last three years, and he lost one of those. And the other one… he beat Jesse Vargas last year, but Jeff would have stopped Jesse Vargas in that fight, too. So if you actually look at his record, he’s not dominating the world like he used to. Of course he’s a legend, but we’re getting him at the right time. He’s two or three years past his prime.
“Everybody’s going to find out who Jeff Horn is, and how tough he is, and I think he’s going to beat Manny Pacquiao. I really do. I can’t see him losing.”
Jeff Horn might be Brisbane’s answer to Rocky Balboa — but unlike Rocky, Jeff doesn’t just want to go the distance with Manny.
“I’m out there to beat him,” he insists.
“I’m not going to be on the defensive, just hoping to get out of the rounds. I’d rather give it a red-hot crack and end up knocked out on the canvas by him than just go in there and dance around and just try to survive the fight. I’ve got to put it all on the line. I’ve got to do whatever I can do to get the win.”
If Jeff does win, Steve knows it’ll only be a matter of time before the giants of the endorsement world come calling.
“He’ll go on to bigger and better things,” Steve says.
“I presume that he won’t have me as his sponsor anymore. I don’t know if little old me can keep up with the Nikes of the world, who’ll come in over the top. But I’ll just be so happy for him, because he will have reached his goal.
“Recon Solutions will always be able to look back and say, hey, you know what, we were Jeff’s first ever major sponsor, and no one can ever take that away from us.
“When no one else wanted to support Jeff Horn, we did.”
Jeff Horn will take on Manny Pacquiao for the WBO world welterweight title at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday 2 July. Tickets are available via Ticketek.