Amidst the cries of “robbery” that have overshadowed the compelling and competitive contest waged last night by fading legend Manny Pacquiao (59-7-2) and former Olympian and upstart Jeff Horn (17-0-1) in Brisbane, Australia, an important and positive narrative has emerged that we should not allow to be lost in the shuffle. Horn, who no one gave a remote chance of winning, completely shattered all preconceptions and lived up to his own pre-fight predictions as he seized the initiative, bullied the smaller man about the ring, and unleashed volleys of punches whenever Pacquiao threw his vaunted combinations. In short, his performance was courageous and, at times, highly effective.
And yet this truth may seem small and insignificant to some given the hysterical, hair-pulling, fist-pounding outrage the final decision has prompted from many quarters with cries of incompetent judging and another self-induced black eye for boxing. But the reality is this anger is misplaced and overblown. Disagree with Horn winning? Okay, totally valid. Blatant corruption and a total robbery? Hardly.
Pacquiao vs Horn is about many things, but what ought to be discussed first is the performance of the unheralded challenger, a fighter who, outside of Australia, had been reduced to a punchline or afterthought during the promotion of a match no one had asked for, a contest that reeked of a glorified retirement tour for Pacquiao akin to the agonizing victory laps recently undertaken by Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter.
Credit Jeff Horn for not succumbing to any of that nonsense, nor the pressure cooker of the proverbial bright lights and the daunting task of facing by far (like, by light years far) the best opponent of his career. At the opening bell Horn came out aggressively, throwing hands with conviction, and demanding that Pacquiao answer to his activity level and the even greater questions posed by Father Time. Showing no signs of intimidation, Horn was slippery and relentless, sustaining his herky-jerky movement, punch output, and unconventional avenues of attack for the full 12 rounds of action.
Two aspects of Horn’s performance stand out and deserve to be highlighted. First, his stamina and accompanying fighting spirit are beyond reproach. This fact is highlighted by his surviving a brutal Pacquiao onslaught in the ninth, quite possibly a two point round for Pacquiao, before rallying in the tenth and then closing the fight strong, a feat which will be lauded in Australian pubs for decades. Second, Horn was consistently more active than reactive; although punch stats (namely, punches landed) have been used to further discredit the decision, the younger man’s aggression and refusal to give up deserve credit.
But what about Manny Pacquiao, whom many believe, especially those who watched ESPN’s apparently eardrum-exploding broadcast, clearly deserved a points win? Whatever your opinion on the final outcome, the fact is the eight-division champion looked like a husk of his even recent self. Pacquiao was badly out-muscled on the inside, too often found himself off-balance after winging wild shots, and couldn’t muster his trademark multi-punch fusillades which in the past had handcuffed opponents far more proven and talented than Horn.
Besides, even if Pacquiao had been given the nod, what’s next? For those who were still on the fence (for whatever reason) about Terence Crawford being an obvious favourite against Manny, last night provided definitive evidence that Crawford wins that fight big. Moreover, especially at age 38, Pacquiao no longer possesses the sharpness to offset the dangerous advantages elite welterweights like Keith Thurman and Errol Spence Jr. hold over him in natural size and strength. Don’t get me wrong, Pacquiao can still fight; but judging from what we saw last night, he no longer has the explosiveness, speed or power to prevail against the elite at 147.
Simply put, it’s time for Manny Pacquiao to retire. His credentials are unimpeachable, and he’ll certainly be missed, but it’s time to start fondly remembering everything Pacquiao gave us as opposed to cringing through increasingly strained performances against fighters he would have iced only a few years ago. Both Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. (who in a “kill me now” reality will actually fight Conor McGregor in late August) continue to hold boxing hostage with a Wooderson-esque refusal to leave the same party they’ve been attending for years. It’s past time both moved on and Horn’s win last night makes that conclusion inescapable for even the most ardent fans of “The Pacman.”
Lastly, there’s also the matter of perception and how we watch fights to begin with. Admittedly, I caught the BoxNation broadcast of Pacquiao vs Horn, whose commentators turned out to be far more charitable to the game Aussie than ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith-led decapitation of nuance. Opinions about the scores seem to be all over the place, which makes the fight worth re-watching — ideally on mute — to both re-score and enjoy it, the latter being an endeavour that shouldn’t be overlooked. Pacquiao vs Horn was a damn fun fight.
Broadcasts create narratives, and we all get swept up in them. It’s easy to be seduced and see a fight myopically, and scoring a prizefight remains one of the most maddening enterprises in all of sports. And while there are far too many heinous, outright corrupt verdicts in boxing, the thinking here (until perhaps further review), is that Jeff Horn UD 12 Manny Pacquiao is mildly controversial, nothing more.
Should Manny Pacquiao opt to exercise his rematch clause, it ensures fans will be treated to another entertaining fight and Australia to another marquee event. What will be missing from Pacquiao vs Horn II, however, is the thread of some new pinnacle the great Filipino is building towards. Even if he can correct his misstep the way Muhammad Ali righted the wrong that was his upset loss to another inexperienced Olympian in Leon Spinks, that doesn’t change what happened last night, a huge defeat against a supposedly inferior foe. Let’s just hope a convincing win in a return doesn’t send Manny Pacquiao on the painful, protracted path Ali followed.
As for Jeff Horn, “The Hornet” is now the WBO welterweight champion and in the enviable position of never having to buy a pint in Australia ever again. While few, if anyone, would favour Horn against any other elite welterweight, the way he battled Pacquiao should have any fight fan excited about his participation in an important bout at 147. Perhaps a highly lucrative rematch is next for the former teacher, or maybe Horn will get to tangle with a different marquee name in boxing’s most talent-rich division. Either way, Jeff Horn has certainly earned the rewards that are coming to him, controversy be damned. — Zachary Alapi