I don’t really know why I’m always surprised. It’s the same thing over and over and over again. Yet I continue to allow myself to be suckered in and, ultimately, hoodwinked like some even less self-aware version of Charlie Brown.
It wasn’t a huge event, but since ESPN was broadcasting it on regular cable, I was excited for the Manny Pacquiao – Jeff Horn fight this past weekend. Pacquiao has been my favorite fighter for a long time. The first significant bet I ever won was putting a decent chunk of change on him against Oscar De La Hoya when Pacquiao somehow entered as a heavy underdog. I remember thinking that Pacquiao’s speed and strength were going to be way too much for De La Hoya and he impressed with a clinical performance.
That Manny Pacquiao doesn’t exist anymore and the current incarnation hasn’t earned a knockout win in almost eight years (Miguel Cotto, 2009). But he’s still a very skilled guy and a huge draw, so getting him for free on cable felt like a special occasion.
Luckily, this turned out to be more of a fight than anticipated. From the opening bell, this unknown Aussie named Jeff Horn showed that he had obviously come to throw hands. He was moving forward, not showing Pacquiao too much respect and clearly demonstrating a willingness to get into a brawl with the 11-time world champion.
As each round went by, I remarked with a friend watching that this had become one of the best fights we’d seen in some time. Pacquiao understood quickly that he was in a fight and wouldn’t be getting a free pass just for being an all-time great. Both men stood toe to toe and threw heavy punches, clashed heads, grabbed elbows and worked the crowd into a lather. Between the blood streaming down Pacquiao’s head and chest from a pair of unintentional head butts and the swelling and cut to Horn’s face from some precise Pacquiao punishment, this looked more like a Rocky scene than a standard prize fight.
Yet through its entirety, for as often as we were yelling out in excitement and praising Horn’s courage and endurance, never for a moment did I think he was winning the fight. He had an awkward style that left him open to effective counter strikes, which was once Pacquiao’s most identifiable trait. This wasn’t Manny at his best, but he was adapting to Horn’s attacks without taking any punishment (from fists, at least) and connecting much more frequently.
The ninth round seemed to be the end of the line for Horn, who took some brutal punishment and momentarily had his face rearranged by a number of Pacquiao punches. He began to turn purple and I thought he had surely had his cheek bone broken. But he stayed upright, never hit the canvass and survived until the bell. The referee told him between rounds that he thought he’d had enough, but Horn’s corner convinced the official to give him a chance to start round 10.
Not only did Horn start the round, but he looked to have quickly shaken off the damage and was back as the aggressor. It was an impressive sight and I gave Horn lots of credit, hoping his courage would earn him some more high-profile fights in the future.
As the final three rounds ticked away and Horn survived to the end, I began to feel like the fight was closer than it probably should have been. I thought 116-111 was the appropriate score line in Pacquiao’s favor, but I was prepared to maybe hear some 115-113 results and perhaps even a 114-114 tossed into the mix. They were in Australia and Horn had surprised everyone by not only making it to the finish line, but showing a true willingness to fight on his way there.
As Michael Buffer called out the scores, I felt as if everything was safe. He announced the first as 117-111, then the remaining two as 115-113, all in favor of the same fighter. Nobody with a pair of functional eyes and firing synapses could have given nine of the 12 rounds to Horn, so a unanimous Manny win felt obvious.
But when he yelled “the winner by unanimous decision … AND NEW blah blah blah,” my jaw dropped. I suppose it shouldn’t have because it’s become an all too familiar feeling. The constant barrage of absurd decisions seems never ending but somehow, I’m always surprised. It’s an incredible trick that this sport has pulled off to be able to repeat the same nonsense over and over with it never having any lasting impact.
Pacquiao won the fight in the eyes of everyone except the three people that mattered. I’m not sure how many more times I’ll allow myself to be bamboozled this way, but I have a feeling this wasn’t the final one.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.