By Thomas Gerbasi
The Peter Wallis photo in The Courier Mail said even more than 12 rounds with Manny Pacquiao did about what Jeff Horn fights for. Fresh from a July 2 win over the Filipino icon that shocked the boxing world, the 29-year-old Horn sat with his wife Jo in the locker room, far removed from the madness that greeted his victory at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
Horn’s face showed the scars of battle, but he still managed a smile as he talked with his pregnant bride, the WBO welterweight championship belt sitting next to the couple.
“It was just a relief for her to see me coming out of the fight safe and healthy,” Horn said of the post-fight chat. “She was very relieved, especially after seeing the head clash and the cuts and blood everywhere. She was very comforted to talk to me and make sure that I was okay. It was a conversation of us making sure we’re both all good, and we love each other so much that it was important for us to see each other straight off.”
Horn’s victory was the kind of Cinderella story boxing delivers better than any other sport. It was a reminder that whenever you put two athletes in a ring together with gloves on, anything can happen. Less than two weeks ago, Horn was an unbeaten, but unknown, underdog, the B-side to the great Pacquiao, who was expected to roll through the Aussie and move on to another big fight.
Yet Tuesday, Horn was in Los Angeles, meeting the U.S. media and taking a well-deserved victory lap that critics of the close decision can’t take away from him.
“I guess coming here to America and seeing everyone and the reactions by everyone back at home, it slowly starts to sink in what happened,” he said. “I guess you don’t really think about the fame part of it as much. People are constantly stopping you or taking photos or asking for signatures, that’s taking a bit of getting used to, but I’m always friendly to people that do that.”
Horn is one of the nicer folks in the game. Soft spoken and humble, he is a far cry from the fighter who showed up against Pacquiao. That night, Horn didn’t politely sit back and wait for Pacquiao to knock him out. He fought his foe tooth and nail from the time the opening bell rang, and as he explains, that’s business as usual for him.
“I think that’s just my competitive nature,” he said. “I like winning, and when I get in that ring it’s one on one and I don’t want to lose. I guess when I step through those ropes, something switches in my head and I become a warrior in there and I don’t want to lose.”
Pacquiao found out who he was in with in a hurry, and while Horn was as confident as any fighter is before the bout begins, his confidence grew with each passing round against the former pound-for-pound king.
“Even after the first couple of rounds, I felt like I was on top,” he said. “‘I can do this.’ He wasn’t able to get his range on me and get me with his classic left hand power punch. I was avoiding this pretty good and I felt really good in those first couple rounds. I thought maybe he was feeling me out, but then when it happened in the first few rounds, I was like, ‘No, I’ve got this, I can win this fight.’”
Horn would have to survive a rough ninth round to get to the final bell, and most observers believed that it was a close contest. Horn agreed, and with Pacquiao being the “name” fighter, he worried about getting the nod even though he believed he won.
“Yes, that was definitely going through my head,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to a decision against him unless I one hundred percent dominated him. It was a close fight and I was a little bit worried standing there that they were going to take it away from me, but I was very, very happy and emotional when they announced ‘The New world champion.’”
And to the victor goes the spoils. But can he get up emotionally to do it again in a rematch?
“I don’t think it will be a problem at all,” Horn said. “I think I’ll do better the second time around if it was to happen again. My confidence will grow and I know what he’s like now. I know I can beat him, so I can grow to another level after this fight.”