This may come as a shock to some of you, but I thought Jeff “The Hornet” Horn won that fight Saturday night in Brisbane, Australia. And I was rooting for Manny.
From what I’ve read and heard since the fight, I’m clearly in the minority. Most of the boxing luminaries gave Manny Pacquiao the nod in a close fight. That doesn’t include ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas, who thought Pacquiao won by a wide margin and then went on a tantrum over the judges’ unanimous decision for Horn (more on that later).
Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s trainer, probably spoke for a lot of fight fans (but not Atlas) when asked about the decision that gave Horn the WBO world welterweight title.
“I thought Manny won, but Jeff Horn showed a lot of heart," he said. "He is a big, strong fighter and I congratulate him.”
And then there was this from Bob Arum, Pacquiao’s promoter: “It was a close fight that could have gone either way.”
(Are you paying attention, Teddy?)
Maybe if I was sitting at ringside I would have agreed with them, but from where I sat in my living room, it was a very close fight, a difficult fight to score in that there was a lot of infighting, which made it hard to see at times if the punches were landing or being partially blocked.
What it was not was a robbery, or as Atlas put it, “a gift to Horn from the judges.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any score to settle with Atlas. I like Teddy and I respect his boxing expertise, even though he sometimes gets carried away with his convictions as he did Saturday night.
Rarely have I disagreed with his scoring of fights, which is why I was a little in shock when his broadcasting partner Joe Tessitore informed us after the sixth round that Atlas had Pacquiao winning the fight, five rounds to one.
Whoa, I said to myself. Did I hear that right? Five to one? I had Horn ahead, 58-56, which in rounds is 4-2.
I was already puzzled as to why Pacquiao was having so much trouble getting to Horn. I thought this would be an easy fight for Manny. Now here comes Teddy telling me Pacquiao is ahead by a whopping 5-1 score. What’s going on here?
Was it me? Was I not paying attention? Or was Teddy seeing a different fight than I was? It was a little disturbing for this aging sportswriter.
Meanwhile, Atlas was telling us that Horn was leaving himself wide open for counter punches with his Billy goat charges and wide punches.
That made sense, except that Manny wasn’t landing a lot of those counter punches. He seemed hesitant and was missing a lot when he did throw them. Why isn’t he doing, I thought, what Atlas says he’s doing?
And then it dawned on me. Pacquiao is not a counter puncher. Oh, he knows how to counter and does, but that’s not his game. It’s not what made him an eight-division world champion. His game is and always has been offense, attacking with those rapid-fire combinations from all directions. Hand and foot speed, that’s what made him great.
And that’s what was missing Saturday night.
Always the gentleman, Pacquiao refused to blame the judges and would not claim victory, even with Atlas telling him he won.
“”That’s the decision of the judges,” said Manny. “I respect that. We have a rematch clause, so no problem.”
He has since supported a request from the Philippines Games and Amusement Board (GAB) to WBO president Francisco Valcarcel for a thorough review of the refereeing and judging of the fight. But that wasn’t his idea and I suspect he agreed to it out of respect for the Board.
For the record, two judges scored it 115-113, while the third went a little overboard with a 117-111 card, all for Horn. Atlas had it 116-111 for Pacquiao, while I called it, 115-114 for Horn.
Despite the slow start, Pacquiao almost pulled it out in the ninth round when he had Horn badly hurt early in the round. He was probably one clean shot away from victory, but couldn’t deliver it, either in that round or the next, which was won by Horn.
For maybe the first time in his boxing career, Pacquiao had punched himself out in that pivotal ninth round. He was shooting blanks over the last three rounds, while an exhausted but determined Horn just kept coming. Game, set, match.
How close was Pacquiao to victory in the ninth? At the end of the round referee Mark Wilson warned Horn that if he didn’t “show me something in the next round,” he would stop the fight.
When it was all over, both Horn and Pacquiao said they were game for a rematch.
“Bring it on,” said Horn.
“Absolutely,” said Pacquiao.
Maybe. Maybe they’ll fight again in the fall, and maybe Pacquiao, who has four of his last nine fights, will look great again and win back the title. And maybe I’ll hit the lottery.
There’s an old axiom in boxing about aging and how fighters can grow old over night. One day they’re still looking good, and the next they’re looking old.
Manny looked old Saturday night.
Bob Hanna covers boxing for The Standard-Times. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org