On the surface, Saturday, July 2nd was a pretty good day for the sport of Boxing. A raucous crowd of nearly 52,000 witnessed a W.B.O. welterweight championship bout between prizefighting legend, Manny Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KO’s) and a then unknown commodity by the name of Jeff Horn (17-0-1, 11 KO’s). “The Battle of Brisbane”, it was called; hands were thrown in Horn’s hometown of Brisbane, Australia. The bout was broadcast by sports media juggernaut, ESPN, generating the highest cable ratings of any Boxing match this decade; 2.4 million viewers to be exact (3.1 if you’re counting the Spanish speaking feed on ESPNDeportes), and 392,000 live stream watchers. Of greater importance, the fight itself was fan friendly consisting of lively exchanges, momentum shifts, blood, you name it.
But then, the judges scorecards were read. 115-113 (twice) and an unconscionable score of 117-111 all for Horn, awarding him a head scratching, seemingly undeserved, yet unanimous upset victory over one of the greatest fighters who ever lived. Literally, Horn catapulted from fringe celebrity to national hero in the “Land Down Under”, replete with streets and parks being named after him and a victory parade, all within the ensuing week.
ESPN's coverage propelled Pacquiao-Horn into a mainstream story, receiving headline coverage on "Sportscenter" and several talk radio broadcasts, late into the night. - But for all the wrong reasons. In fairness, the decision wasn't Horn's fault. In by far the biggest occasion of his life, the 2012 Australian Olympian, admittedly overcame nerves and the pressure of performing in front of a partisan, hometown crowd, and acquitted himself well. But the fact remains, he didn't beat Manny Pacquiao.
When the matchup was first announced, Pacquiao, nicknamed "Pac Man", was a -1,000 betting favorite, and justifiably so. Voted "Fighter of the Decade" by the Boxing Writer's Association of America, the only 8 division champion in prizefighting history (capturing world titles at 112 pounds all the way up to 154 pounds), Pacquiao brought 23 prior championship fights and 443 rounds of professional experience to the ring with him. This, compared to 0 championship fights and 94 rounds of ring time for Horn.
Pac's otherworldly speed, power, ambition, intensity and the fact he's been giving away size for more than ten years now, endeared him to Boxing fans across the planet. His boyish smile and humble temperament, juxtaposed with his in-ring ferocity made him a mainstream sports star in America and his unwavering loyalty to his fellow Filipino's resulted in Pacquiao being heralded on a Muhammad Ali level by his countrymen. Literally, crime rates drop whenever Pacquiao fights. A man of the people, Pacquiao was elected to the Phillipine Congress in 2010, representing the Province of Sarangani, and currently serves as Senator of the Phillipines.
No way could this guy, a pugilistic ambassador of goodwill, lose to a complete unknown (outside of Australia), right? Given his reputation and the fact the fight would be televised worldwide, no traces of corruption could rear its head either, huh?
In what would become a pattern throughout, Horn started the 1st round as the aggressor. The Aussie was significantly bigger and stronger than Pac, and used his size to force Manny’s back to the ropes, where he flurried to the arms and body. In the clinch, Horn would use his forearms and rag-dolled his opponent with ease. Never before had a fighter been so blatantly physical with Pacquiao, who took a round or so to adjust to Horn’s tactics and herky-jerky rhythm. Senator Pacquiao found his range and timing in the 3rd, feinting Horn into southpaw 1-2 combinations, which opened a cut on the side of Horn’s right eye. By the 5th, Pacquiao was dipping to his right and landing lead lefts fairly regularly, which Horn answered by using forearms, the occasional headlock and flat-out hurling the smaller man to the canvas, at one point. If this were a mixed martial arts event, Horn would’ve been comfortably ahead by this juncture, but his strategy didn’t result in many clean, landed shots, which is how points are supposed to be tabulated in a Boxing match.
A clash of heads sliced open the right side of Pacquiao’s hairline in the 6th, and another butt opened a cut on the left side of his head in the 7th. Just like that, the bloodbath was on. Round 9 started like all the others, with Horn muscling Manny to the ropes, but by now, Pacquiao was evading clinches and fighting his way off of them. He dipped to his right and landed a lead left, then another, which made Horn hold. The "Pac Man" turned the pressure up a notch and started dropping southpaw 1-2's in manic fashion, which put Horn in retreat mode. A series of hard, looping left hooks froze Horn momentarily, and his right eye was now bleeding worse than it had all fight long. An additional winging left staggered Horn as the bell rang to end what appeared to be a 10-8 round for Pacquiao.
The ringside physician was called to Horn's corner, where he deemed the fighter fit to continue. The referee expressed concern and warned that he would allow Horn one more round, but would stop the fight altogether if he didn't see something favorable. So the brave Aussie came out and did what he'd done all fight, use his physicality to back Pac to the ropes where forearms, headlocks and clinches ensued. Manny appeared to have punched himself out, going for the kill in the previous round, and took this stanza to regroup and catch his breath.
When the final bell tolled, ESPN commentators Joe Tessitore, Teddy Atlas and Timothy Bradley credited Horn for exceeding expectations, but felt the verdict was academic. Upon hearing the scorecards, Atlas was livid, likening Horn's victory to a participation medal given to a kid for "trying hard". Punch-stats seemed to support Atlas' assessment, attributing Pacquiao with 182 landed punches to 92 for Horn, 123 power punches landed to 73 and total percentage of 32% landed, to just 15% for Horn.
Make no mistake, if this bout took place on any of the other 6 continents (yes, Antarctica included) Manny Pacquaio would still be the reigning welterweight champion of the World Boxing Organization. Suspiciously, this was also Pacquiao's final fight under his contract with his promoter, Bob Arum and Top Rank. In the aftermath, all Arum wanted to talk about was a rematch, contingent upon Pacquiao re-signing with him first, of course. Given the live gate, the television coverage, the $10 million payday he received and the fact he knows, deep down, that he won, there’s little doubt Pacquiao will proceed with the rematch.
We can only hope the judges award the actual winner next time.