By Keith Idec
Manny Pacquiao didn’t think twice about traveling to Jeff Horn’s hometown for what was supposed to be a relatively easy fight Sunday afternoon.
That decision ultimately cost Pacquiao his WBO welterweight title and left the heavily favored Filipino legend with a controversial, unfathomable defeat on his record. The 38-year-old Pacquiao wasn’t particularly sharp, but appeared to do more than enough to beat the largely unknown underdog in a 12-round fight that drew a crowd of 51,052 to Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Australia.
Each of the three judges, however, scored the fight for the hometown challenger, who pulled off a huge upset by winning a unanimous decision.
New York’s Woleska Roldan scored the entertaining, action-packed fight 117-111 for Horn, whose awkward style and rule-bending tactics troubled Pacquiao at times. Argentina’s Ramon Cerdan and Arizona’s Chris Flores both scored the fight 115-113 for Horn.
The 29-year-old Horn (17-0-1, 11 KOs) was better than expected in what was widely viewed as a glorified tune-up fight for his superstar opponent, but the aggressive, courageous Australian seemingly didn’t deserve to win. The impossibly polite Pacquiao (59-7-2, 38 KOs), who fought through cuts over his left eye and near his hairline, still didn’t complain about the judges’ scoring.
“I’m professional,” Pacquiao told ESPN’s announcing team following the fight. “I respect the judges.”
Nevertheless, his stunning loss to the comparatively untested, inexperienced Horn marked the second extremely controversial defeat for Pacquiao in five years. Timothy Bradley, who called the Horn fight from ringside for ESPN, scored a suspicious split-decision victory over Pacquiao in June 2012 in Las Vegas.
Pacquiao avenged that controversial loss by beating Bradley by unanimous decision in each of their two subsequent 12-round bouts. The former champion expects to exercise the rematch clause in his contract for an immediate return bout against Horn.
“That’s fine,” Horn said. “Bring it on. I’d love to fight Pacquiao in front of you guys again.”
Pacquiao entered this fight as a 6-1 favorite, according to Las Vegas and Internet sports books. He nearly knocked out Horn in a completely one-sided ninth round, yet paid dearly for failing to finish him.
The unofficial CompuBox statistics, meanwhile, provided a complete contrast to the unusual nature of the official scoring.
CompuBox credited Pacquiao with landing 182-of-573 overall punches, 90 more during the 12-round fight than Horn (92-of-625). Pacquiao, according to CompuBox, landed 50 more power punches (123-of-380 to 73-of-428) and 40 more jabs (59-of-193 to 19-of-197) than Horn.
Even Horn admitted he entered the ring thinking he wouldn’t win by decision.
“Look, I thought it would be a lot harder to get the decision [than a knockout],” Horn said. “I thought I managed to get the decision, but it was close. I thought it would be a knockout if I won this fight.”
Pacquiao wildly went for the knockout in the ninth round as an exhausted Horn had difficulty staying away from him. He landed left hands that hurt Horn, but Horn held and moved his way toward making it to the end of the round.
Referee Mark Nelson warned Horn in his corner after the ninth round that if he didn’t prove to Nelson that he could remain competitive in the fight that Nelson would stop it in the 10th round.
“I felt fine in that corner,” Horn said. “I wanted to keep going on. I wasn’t really that hurt. I was a little bit buzzed when he got me a little bit in that round, but I recovered very quickly.”
Horn made sure to start the 10th round strong and benefited from Pacquiao essentially having to take those three minutes off because he expended so much energy in the ninth round. The 11th and 12th rounds were much more competitive, too.
Roldan scored the 10th, 11th and 12th rounds for Horn. Cerdan scored the 10th and 11th rounds for Pacquiao, but the 12th round for Horn. Flores scored the 10th round for Pacquiao, and the 11th and 12th rounds for Horn.
Earlier, Horn fell to the canvas with 1:27 to go in the eighth round. Nelson ruled Horn went down due to their legs getting tangled, not from a Pacquiao punch.
Pacquiao and Horn traded power shots with about a minute to go in the seventh round. About 20 seconds later, Nelson stopped the action for the second time in as many rounds due to a Pacquiao cut, which was caused by an accidental clash of heads.
That cut was opened over Pacquiao’s left eye, a round after an accidental clash of heads created a laceration near Pacquiao’s hairline.
Horn snapped back Pacquiao’s head with a right uppercut about 15 seconds into the sixth round. Horn roughed up Pacquiao against the ropes after landing that punch.
About 30 seconds later, an accidental clash of heads caused a cut around Pacquiao’s hairline. Nelson briefly stopped the action and gave a ringside physician time to look at the laceration.
Nelson brought the boxers back together with 2:10 remaining in the sixth round. Horn landed his best punch of the fight to that point later in the sixth – a straight right hand to Pacquiao’s chin, which Pacquiao took well.
Horn drilled Pacquiao with a hard right hand as Pacquiao attempted to land a left with approximately 30 seconds to go in the fifth round. Pacquiao was more effective overall in that round, but Horn had enough success to keep Pacquiao honest.
Pacquiao was able to open a cut over Horn’s right eye in the third round. The defending champion connected consistently with his left hand in that round, but the unorthodox Horn continued to hit Pacquiao behind the head during clinches and landed a few right hands within those three minutes.
Pacquiao had some trouble with Horn’s awkward style and started slow in the first round, but began landing left hands during a second round in which Horn appeared to slow down following a strong start.
Horn was aggressive as soon as the fight started and landed several flush punches in the first round as Pacquiao struggled to find his rhythm. Horn also got physical with Pacquiao by hitting him on the break and shoving him.
Before beating Pacquiao, the two most noteworthy wins of Horn’s career came against aged former junior welterweight champion Randall Bailey and faded former lightweight contender Ali Funeka. The WBO still elevated Horn to the top spot in its welterweight rankings.
Horn’s unimpressive resume aside, the fight still made for an enormous event in Brisbane, one of Australia’s three biggest cities.
Pacquiao’s dubious loss was broadcast by ESPN on Saturday night in the United States. It marked the first non-pay-per-view fight for Pacquiao since he stopped Mexico’s Hector Velazquez in the sixth round of their September 2005 bout at Staples Center in Los Angeles (HBO).
The controversial conclusion likely will cause their rematch to be moved to the pay-per-view platform, though.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.