By Keith Idec
Manny Pacquiao’s points are understandable.
He didn’t deserve to leave Brisbane, Australia, with that seventh defeat on his record. Collectively, the three judges’ scoring of his controversial loss to previously unknown Australian Jeff Horn wasn’t quite Timothy Bradley bad, not as atrocious as ESPN analyst Teddy Atlas claimed, but obviously off.
How a professional judge could’ve scored nine of those 12 rounds for Horn (117-111), the way Waleska Roldan did Sunday, is incomprehensible. Finding seven rounds to score for Horn – how Ramon Cerdan and Chris Flores had it (115-113) – isn’t exactly easy, either.
Referee Mark Nelson made matters more troublesome than necessary for Pacquiao, too, by allowing Horn to get away with repeated rabbit punches, elbows, head-butts and headlocks.
Yes, we witnessed some awful officiating during Pacquiao-Horn, a supposed tune-up fight for the Filipino superstar.
But when this controversy dies down and Pacquiao goes back to doing much more important things than boxing in his homeland, the legendary ex-champion won’t have to look further than his mirror to blame someone for this debacle “Down Under.” The judges and referee clearly hurt his cause, yet the 38-year-old Pacquiao can’t be absolved of responsibility for this dubious defeat.
The southpaw had Horn hurt badly during the ninth round, when Nelson was looking for a reason to stop their scheduled 12-round fight for Pacquiao’s WBO welterweight title. Horn was battered, bloodied and exhausted – all but begging to become Pacquiao’s first knockout victim in 7½ years.
All Pacquiao had to do during the 10th round was pick up where he left off in the ninth. Nelson hadn’t given Horn a long leash when he warned him between the ninth and 10th rounds that Horn had to show him something in the 10th or he’d stop the fight.
It wouldn’t have taken much from Pacquiao early in the 10th round to make Nelson intervene. Pacquiao, just as he had done with a few other opponents since he stopped Miguel Cotto in the 12th round of their November 2009 fight, let Horn off the hook.
That afforded a resilient Horn time to regain his composure and develop a second win that helped him finish strong following an abysmal ninth round.
Trainer Freddie Roach implored Pacquiao to finish Horn after that ninth round.
“I told Manny, ‘If you give me another one of those [rounds], this fight is over,’ ” Roach told Yahoo! Sports earlier this week. “I said, ‘If you give one more round like that, you’ll finish him.’ But he just couldn’t do it. Getting older sucks, and it happens to everyone sooner or later.”
One theory is that Pacquiao expended too much energy in the ninth round and couldn’t attack Horn the way he knew he needed to do in the 10th. That’s a plausible explanation considering Pacquiao’s age and how his duties as a senator in the Philippines have adversely affected his training camps.
But it’s Pacquiao’s fault for trying to be a full-time politician and a full-time professional athlete simultaneously. It didn’t appear to hurt him all that much when he comfortably defeated Jessie Vargas on November 5 in Las Vegas, but Roach admitted that Pacquiao’s commitment to serving his people, while beyond commendable, isn’t conducive to preparing properly to compete at boxing’s elite level.
It would be difficult for a 38-year-old Pacquiao to thrive against top welterweights like Keith Thurman and Errol Spence Jr. even if he didn’t have a second full-time job. Roach doesn’t think it’s smart or healthy for Pacquiao to continue trying to do it that way.
“I told him that the way his career is going,” Roach told Yahoo! Sports, “being a leader in his country and being a senator and dealing with all the responsibilities that come with that, he might have to give up boxing. Boxing is a very physical sport and a very rough sport, and having two jobs like he has is so tough. He’s just always going like crazy.
“Sometimes he’ll get out early, at 3 [in the afternoon], and we can go train. But there are a lot of times it’s not until 9 or 10 that he gets out, and then we have to train. He still has that work ethic he always had, but I’ll tell you the truth – I think that might be a problem. He wants to be what he was before, and he overtrains and when he gets to the fight, he doesn’t have what he expects to have. His answer is always to do more, more, more, but when you get to a certain age, you have to listen to your body and he hasn’t learned that yet.”
Beyond the physical part, Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KOs) had to know allowing this fight to go to the scorecards wasn’t wise.
Ideally, boxing before more than 50,000 of your opponents’ fans in his hometown wouldn’t factor into the outcome of a fight. But that’s not reality.
Scoring boxing is a flawed, subjective science – worse than that if you believe the conspiracy theorists. If Pacquiao’s suspect split-decision defeat to Bradley in June 2012 should’ve taught him anything, it’s that.
We still didn’t see much urgency from Pacquiao during the championship rounds.
Another theory is that Pacquiao’s lack of a killer instinct, the supposed byproduct of becoming more religious in recent years, prohibits him from finishing opponents for fear of hurting them.
Only Pacquiao truly knows whether there’s any validity to that speculation. What’s irrefutable, though, is that Pacquiao was entirely too nice in the ring against Horn (17-0-1, 11 KOs).
The likeable, respectful Horn is an excellent example of knowing when it’s appropriate to be a nice guy. Despite his comparative inexperience, Horn was the one that showed the supposedly superior Pacquiao how to gain any advantage possible.
Horn immediately tried to rough up the smaller, all-too-polite Pacquiao. That clearly was part of trainer Glenn Rushton’s 10-point plan, and it worked.
Nelson allowed Horn to get away with whatever he wanted at times, or so it seemed. That was bad enough.
But Pacquiao inexplicably never did anything about it, either. Not once did Pacquiao respond angrily or even aggressively when Horn head-butted him, elbowed him in the face, hit him behind the head, put him in headlocks or flung him around the ring.
If your opponent is going to be blatantly dirty, it’s incumbent upon you to respond in a way that lets him know you won’t tolerate it. Instead, Pacquiao accepted that Horn was at times a filthy fighter and never made his opponent pay a painful price for his rule-breaking tactics.
Between that and allowing Horn to survive what should’ve been insurmountable trouble, Pacquiao can’t simply blame the referee and three judges for what happened to him in Brisbane. He never should’ve allowed them to render him vulnerable enough to leave Australia with that controversial loss he didn’t deserve.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.