Well, that was unexpected.
A bloody, thoroughly entertaining brawl between Manny Pacquiao and relatively unknown Australian boxer Jeff Horn was immediately soured on Sunday when it was announced the judges had unanimously given the bout to Horn, handing him the WBO world welterweight title in his first-ever championship fight.
Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole passed along the scorecards:
Kevin Iole @KevinI
Scores: 117-111, 115-113 115-113 for @jeffhornboxer Horn is your new WBO welterweight champion. WOW2017-7-2 04:57:15
The decision was hugely controversial and will likely be discussed at length for quite a while. The bout was broadcast on ESPN, putting Pacquiao, a boxer with worldwide appeal who has been a pay-per-view staple for years, in front of basic-cable audiences. The bout made for great television, with much more action than the (very expensive) Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather megafight, a totally locked in crowd and tons of bloody drama.
The stats also underscore just how astonishing the decision was to award the 29-year-old Horn a belt the very first time he faced anyone other than a no-name pro. ESPN Stats & Info had a visual breakdown:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Final punch statistics favored Manny Pacquiao, but Jeff Horn won WBO welterweight championship #PacquiaoHorn https://t.co/ZxMIeH88hU2017-7-2 05:04:51
Pacquiao out-hit Horn in all four quadrants, and CompuBox noted that Pacquiao landed more punches in 11 of the 12 rounds.
But perhaps Horn was much more accurate? Or was superior in power punches? Not so, according to CompuBox:
Final Punch Stats: Jeff Horn def. Manny Pacquiao by Unan. Dec. Pacquiao out landed Horn, 182-92. Horn landed just 15% of his total punches. https://t.co/dImHXkowyO2017-7-2 05:30:23
Despite the perplexing decision, Pacquiao was courteous in defeat.
"That's the decision of the judges. I respect that," Pacquiao said, per ESPN.com's Dan Rafael. The 38-year-old Filipino legend also said he would be open to facing Horn again.
"Absolutely, yes," Pacquiao said, per Rafael. "We have a rematch clause, so no problem."
While Pacquiao took the judges' decision in stride, it was too much to handle for many of those observing the match. The Big Lead's Ryan Phillips felt the decision was "absolutely criminal" and had a very different personal scorecard:
"In the end, the judges returned their near-criminal verdict: 117-111, 115-113, 115-113 all for Horn. It was one of the worst decisions I've ever seen and another example of why people don't take combat sports seriously anymore. Pacquiao won that fight, there is absolutely no question about it. My final card had it 116-111 for the Filipino star, that included a 10-8 round in the ninth."
Bad Left Hook's Scott Christ called it a robbery:
It’s just, like, I think it’s a robbery. I do. But I’ve seen worse. In two months something just as stupid will happen somewhere. Whatever.2017-7-2 05:32:41
By contrast, Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden felt the fight was closer than the broadcasters made it seem:
Jonathan Snowden @JESnowden
I had Manny Pacquiao in a close fight. But the real problem was ESPN's biased commentary that had the fight for Manny by a huge margin.2017-7-2 04:58:37
Jonathan Snowden @JESnowden
I'm always amazed at how easily people are influenced by announcers. Watch the fight carefully and you can draw your own conclusions.2017-7-2 05:09:08
A key point in the bout was the ninth round. Horn appeared completely shot, barely raising his arms to defend himself, let alone to punch. Pacquiao had him on the run for almost all three minutes and landed perhaps a dozen very clean, very powerful punches. The final bell saved Horn, but the fact that Pacquiao was not able to finish him off was telling.
The Guardian's DJ Gallo has more:
"Pacquiao's chance to keep the decision out of the judges' hands came and went in that 9th Round when he had Horn on the brink of a knockout. He couldn't get the bigger Australian on the mat before the bell rang and when the 10th came around, Pacquiao didn't appear to have much left to finish the job. Maybe it's because he's 38 and doesn't have knockout strength in him anymore, especially not to take down a much younger opponent. It's been eight years since he's ended a fight by knockout, after all..."
Indeed it's not hard to imagine a slightly younger Pacquiao cutting Horn down with ease in the ninth, or at the very least finishing the job in the 10th. In fact, referee Mark Nelson very nearly did the job for him.
He could be clearly seen and heard on the ESPN broadcast walking over to Horn's corner after the ninth, telling the battered fighter "you've had enough. Show me something in this round or I'm stopping the fight," per News.com.au's James Matthey.
But Horn found a last bit of strength and energy and survived to the final bell, putting the decision in the judges' hands.
Horn deserves plenty of credit for his performance, whether or not one agrees with the judges. He took on one of boxing's best, albeit well beyond his prime, and was aggressive throughout the match. There was no fear fighting in front of tens of thousands of fans for the first time, with worldwide attention and a championship belt on the line.
The heavy underdog made the fight much closer than many expected, using his size advantage and an awkward rhythm to keep Pacquiao from getting into a groove for most rounds. For a guy who has only faced mediocre competition to this point and started boxing professionally just four years ago, it was a remarkable showing.
That said, Pacquiao was the cleaner puncher throughout and rarely, if at all, looked like he was overwhelmed by what the Brisbane native was throwing at him. Sure, it was clear that Pac-Man is no longer the hurricane of fists and fury he was in his prime, but he's still a fine boxer and counterpuncher. He scored unanimous-decision victories over fine pros like Jessie Vargas and Timothy Bradley Jr. just last year.
Age can sap fighters (or any athletes really) of their skill set and athleticism seemingly overnight, but Pacquiao still has enough to beat the likes of Horn. Many will say he did just that on Sunday, but the judges took it away from him.
If Pacquiao really is committed to a rematch, perhaps he should do it quickly, before his abilities fade even further.