BRISBANE, Australia — Ask any number of people at Suncorp Stadium, in Las Vegas or anywhere else in the world and it’s pretty clear Manny Pacquiao was robbed of his welterweight title on Sunday. Some thought Jeff Horn had won, yes, but the majority believed the Filipino legend had retained the WBO belt.
Local hero Horn started the Battle of Brisbane bout strongly with a dominant opening two rounds, but the Filipino star fought back in ominous fashion, almost ending it in a brutal ninth round where he made Horn his personal punching bag.
At the end of 12 gruelling rounds under the piercing Brisbane sun, Horn and Pacquiao were scooped up by their trainers in delight as both seemed to believe their man had done the better job. Minutes later, ringside announcer Michael Buffer crowned Horn as the new title holder — remarkably by a unanimous points decision — and the boxing world was left dumbfounded.
For what it’s worth, I thought Pacquiao had edged a tight contest, while my colleagues at ESPN Teddy Atlas, Dan Raphael and Stephen A. Smith stood more firmly in the Filipino’s corner. Steve Bunce, another ESPN boxing writer, believed however that “Horn deserved his two-round win” and suggested that “Pacquiao was made to look old – now he should retire”.
The result divided reporters, and fans and sporting superstars alike took to social media to vent their frustration at the result — accusing Horn of stealing Pacquiao’s belt. Few of the critics mentioned the evenness of the bout.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) July 2, 2017
Boxing is a joke, and it proves it again tonight. Are you kidding me with those scorecards?#joke #rigged
— Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) July 2, 2017
The verdict is certainly controversial, then, but perhaps the biggest concern to come out of this fight is the unjust criticism of Horn. Had Pacquiao been seen by the judges as victorious, then instead of criticism Horn would be applauded for producing arguably the gutsiest performance in Australian boxing history.
Horn, 29, surpassed almost every expectation that had been placed on him. He had been written off before even stepping into the ring and very few, if any, expected such a competitive performance. Many believed he would crumble in the opening rounds, with his lack of big-time experience against A-grade opposition coming back to haunt him. Others felt Horn made a monumental mistake by not training in the U.S. and sparring with boxers similar to Pacquiao – even though Czar Amonsot, the WBA Oceania super lightweight, was selected as a sparring partner because he had a similar height and build to the legend.
Pacquiao’s Australian conditioning coach, Justin Fortune, gave his compatriot “no chance” of claiming victory while Teddy Atlas felt the Filipino would hand Horn a brutal defeat — potentially by a knockout in the middle rounds.
Horn’s trainer, Glenn Rushton, said that many of the comments made in the lead up to the fight were utterly disrespectful and Horn had proved he was fully capable of fighting against the world’s best.
“Jeff executed beautifully and it just went pretty much how I thought it would go,” said Rushton. “But I thought they were very disrespectful when people were saying things [before the fight]. “Justin Fortune said the only way Pacquiao could lose the fight is if he tripped on the way to the ring. That’s a little disrespectful. There’s nothing anyone can say that will derail Jeff or I. We were both in the zone and we had a job to do.”
Horn, a former high school substitute teacher, was not overawed by the occasion at all. In fact, he said that he had thrived on the extra pressure of fighting in front of the 50,000+ crowd.
“I feel like I perform much better in front of a crowd. I don’t know why, I’m just wired that way,” Horn said. “If nobody is there I tend to not try very hard. The more people you have at the ring I perform a lot better.”
Whether you agree with the decision or not, Horn fought far better than many had imagined he could and proved to the boxing world he was a capable fighter with a bright future. We should be celebrating his determination and grit — and his stunning achievement.