Horn upsets diminished Pacquiao

Determined Jeff Horn upsets a faded Manny Pacquiao by Unanimous Decision in Brisbane

By Alex Pierpaoli

It was supposed to be a stay-busy tour of the land of Oz when Manny Pacquiao went Down Under to face inexperienced young challenger Jeff Horn in front of more than 50  thousand at Suncorp Stadium, in Brisbane, Queensland, Aus. But at 38 years old and a veteran of 67 fights, there really is no such thing as a stay-busy fight anymore, not when it comes against a solid young welterweight with upset on his mind.

Although he was once a concussive puncher and a knockout artist at featherweight, lightweight and even junior welter, Manny Pacquiao hadn’t shown his finishing power since November of twenty-oh-nine versus Miguel Cotto. Last night it was expected the PacMan would deliver on a long overdue stoppage victory when faced with a 16-0-1 challenger and former school-teacher who’d gone twelve rounds just one time. But skills fade and reaction time is blunted under the forward march of Father Time and all the wars Manny Pacquiao had fought through in his twenty-two years of prize-fighting seemed to catch up with him on a sunny afternoon in an outdoor ring in Australia.

Broadcast live on late night ESPN, Horn versus Pacquiao did great ratings, the best the network has done with boxing since the 90s. The “Battle of Brisbane” will be replayed tonight on the Deuce at 8pm ET for anyone that missed it or would like to re-score the fight some are calling controversial. At the end of twelve the officials had Jeff Horn winning 117-111 and 115-113 x 2. ESPN’s broadcaster’s saw it almost as out of whack in the other direction for Manny Pacquiao by a score of 116-112. Despite cries of robbery from the Twitterverse it was hardly the most egregious of decisions this weekend, let alone for all time.

Jeff Horn started fast and aggressively in round one, despite being in there with an all-time great fighter, Horn attacked and pressured Pacquiao as if he were just another welterweight, and a much smaller one. Horn moved side-to-side in a herky-jerky manner, awkwardly feinting at the southpaw Pacquiao who looked slower, older and more inaccurate than he’s ever looked. Horn was the busier fighter from the start although many of his shots were cuffing, grazing punches, he kept Pacquiao fighting from the very beginning. In close, Horn roughed Pacquiao up, in the fourth he shoved Pacquiao to the canvas as the two struggled their way out of a clinch. Horn went after the body of Pacquiao something few opponents have done successfully, but Antonio Margarito showed was possible for a brief instant in his twenty-ten defeat to the PacMan. But perhaps the Southern Hemisphere does not agree with Manny Pacquiao as his punches seemed drained of their stinging power despite landing cleanly on the always pressing, welterweight version of John Ruiz.

Horn came forward, forcing PacMan back into the ropes, especially at the start of the sixth when he drove an uppercut up through the guard of Pacquiao. Then as both fighters positioned themselves to throw punches their heads collided opening a deep gash in the scalp of PacMan which bled profusely and seemed to unnerve him slightly. ESPN’s Teddy Atlas was right in pointing out the fact that it was Pacquiao himself who requested the doctor look at the wound, it was not the ref’s call, suggesting perhaps a softening of the nerve of the Canastota-bound gladiator. An excellent point, which Teddy belabored as a now bleeding badly Pacquiao stepped up his attack. Aggression comes with risk and Pacquiao was met with a hard straight right from Horn which staggered him and sent the assembled 50 thousand into a cheering frenzy for their hometown hero. In the seventh both fighters banged heads again, opening another cut in the nearly forty year old Pacquiao’s skin. And despite a solid first two minutes of the round from Pacquiao, Horn battled his way back with a good final minute of the seventh.

The eighth saw both men swinging but mostly missing, and a tangled clinch ended in a shove down of Horn from Pacquiao, but otherwise not much happened. It was the calm before the storm of the ninth.

In round nine Pacquiao looked briefly like the guy who terrorized Margarito, Hatton and Morales as he ripped into Horn, slamming him with straight lefts and right hooks and battering him around the ring, swelling his cheek badly. But he was never able to put Horn on the deck and at one point with Pacquiao pressing, Horn nailed the PacMan on the way in with a very hard counterpunch. Still, ESPN’s Teddy Atlas decided that round should be scored 10-8 in Pacquiao’s favor something this observer did not agree with.

After the ninth referee Mark Nelson visited Horn’s corner and warned him “you better show me something this round or I’m going to stop it.” Horn bounced back in the tenth which saw an arm-weary Manny Pacquiao try but fail at finishing the Aussie. In the championship rounds the veteran of just 17 fights brought the fight to Pacquiao and at the final bell–which came early at the ten second warning instead of the actual round finish–as Horn stepped away Pacquiao kept throwing punches, shadow-boxing with a little grin on his face, as if to show the judges he still had gas in the tank, despite it being too late to matter.

Watching live, after 12 rounds, this writer saw it 115-113 for Horn or 7-5 in rounds but when they announced the official tally and the 117-111 card was read it seemed likely Pacquiao had retained his title. Wrong. Judge Waleska Roldan had seen it 9-3 in rounds for Horn(117-111) a lopsided and ridiculous scorecard. But 9-3, or 8-4, the other way, as so many watching and listening to ESPN seemed to have it, is just as ridiculous. It was a close fight as Judges Ramon Cerdan and Chris Flores saw it 115-113 for Horn, or seven rounds to five.

After listening to a few moments of Teddy Atlas’ obligatory rant on bad scoring, despite the fact that he gave the 6th to Pacquiao, a round Horn clearly won, and scored the 9th 10-8 despite the absence of a knockdown, I decided to rewind the fight, re-watch and score it more carefully. After doing that I came up with a score of 115-114 for Pacquiao. The big decider being round number 8 which was very close. Neither fighter landed many clean blows at all that round. I called it even and doing so gave me a score of 6-5-1 for Pacquiao (115-114). Had I scored that round for Horn it’s a draw 6-6 (114-114), give it to Pacquiao and it’s 7-5 or 115-113, same as two of the official scores. And I’m not Australian.

It was a close fight. Not a robbery.

What was not at all controversial was that the Manny Pacquiao we saw last night would have major problems with any of the current top welterweights–young tiger Errol Spence would probably knock him out–and this writer at least has felt 140 pound king Terrence Crawford has had the stuff to beat him for upwards of a year, maybe more. Considering that, where does Pacquiao go from here? Retirement is a completely logical option, what more does he have to prove? Who really thinks a rematch with an uninterested Floyd Mayweather would look at all different, save for only the most hardcore Manny Pacquiao fans? If they learned anything last night one would hope it was that the idea of a Mayweather rematch has flown far, far away.

A rematch with Jeff Horn seems likely, a suggestion that sparked social media outrage–not a difficult thing to do–when disgruntled fans called the decision they didn’t agree with the latest death knell for a sport that’s been rumored to be on its deathbed for years. How outrageous for a promoter to put a rematch clause into a contract in order to protect his fighter in the case of a bad decision. The likelihood of a rematch however is not diminished by the supposed exodus of outraged fans unwilling to be wounded again by a controversial decision breaking against their favorite. What does make a rematch more nebulous of a possibility is whether or not Pacquiao wants to do this again. He looked worse than he ever has. He can no longer stun these natural welterweights with well placed speedy bolts from odd angles. At welter, all of his wins have come from volume punching and he simply does not seem to have the stamina he once had that allowed him to throw swarms of speedy shots with both hands. Last night Manny Pacquiao looked ordinary against a kid who put up an extraordinary effort. Maybe Horn got the benefit of a close decision but this was in no way a repeat of the first Tim Bradley vs. Pacquiao fight and that weird decision. This was an entirely predictable decision if you watched the fight unfold without being swayed by big mouth Teddy Atlas, his lousy scorecard and the quantitative NOT qualitative punchstat numbers.

But that is something more and more modern audiences seem completely unable to do. That’s not boxing’s fault.