Manny Pacquiao is one of the greatest boxers of the 21st century, but before the Filipino hero reached global superstardom, he apparently benefited, on one occasion, from a referee’s unseemly assist.  

In an explosive account, Filipino referee Carlos Padilla admitted that he helped Pacquiao multiple times during his October 2000 bout with Nedal Hussein of Australia for the World Boxing Council's “International” junior featherweight title. The fight took place in Antipolo, Philippines. Pacquaio suffered a knockdown in the fourth round, but the fight was eventually stopped in the 10th, on medical grounds, because of a cut over Hussein’s left eye. Pacquiao, who narrowly led on all three scorecards (87-85, 87-85, 87-83), was declared the winner.

In a video that was published one month ago on the YouTube channel of the WBC, Padilla, who is now 88, said he deliberately issued a “prolonged” count for Pacquiao after he was knocked down. A review of the moment shows that 18 seconds had elapsed between the knockdown and when Padilla allowed the action to resume. Padilla's interview only began gaining attention on the internet in the past couple of days.

“So, in the seventh round [sic], I think, Manny got knocked down,” Padilla recalled. “I thought he was going to get up, because his eyes were like cross-eyed. [Laughs]. I am Filipino, and everybody watching the fight is Filipino, so I prolonged the count. You know, I know how to do it.”

But that’s not all. In the same round, Padilla also deducted a point from Hussein for throwing an elbow while he was entangled with Pacquiao. Recalling that incident, Padilla said he was trying to buy more time for a still visibly groggy Pacquiao to recover.

“And when he got up [from the knockdown], I tell him, ‘Hey, are you ok?’ That’s prolonging the fight. ‘Hey, are you ok? OK, fight,’” Padilla said. “Because Manny—it’s not like Manny now, he was not trained by Freddie Roach yet. So he holds for dear life, and he push him and he went down again. So I said, ‘Hey,’ to the opponent, ‘You don’t do [that]’—you know, prolonging [the count]—‘You don’t do that.’ OK, judges, [point] deduction, deduction. Manny is still groaning. And then he get up. [I said,] ‘Are you OK?’”

Padilla was not finished, however. In the 10th round, a ring doctor determined that the fight could no longer continue because of a gash that had opened up above Hussein’s left eye. At the time, Padilla ruled that the cut was the result of a punch. In his interview with the WBC, however, Padilla said it was a headbutt that caused the cut. Padilla said a cut via headbutt would have required him to notify judges to deduct a point from Pacquiao. 

“Manny is still groaning, and then [I said to Pacquiao], ‘Get up. Are you ok?” Padilla said. “He (Pacquiao) is shorter. He butted the other guy. It's a cut. I declare it a punch. [Laughs]. If there is a butt, you have to stop the fight and [say] to the judges 'headbutt'—that's a point deduction. But if you don't do that, and the fight continues, that we need to say it is a good punch.”

Padilla also said he was deliberately slow to get a doctor to check out Hussein’s cut.

“It’s not really bleeding,” Padilla said of Hussein’s cut, “but I never stop the doctor to check, ‘I want to see it’ [if it’s] serious.”

Padilla, who was the referee for the 1975 “Thrilla in Manilla” heavyweight bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, then said he tried to influence the doctor to stop the match. Padilla said having the ring doctor pull the plug on the fight took the pressure off of himself.

“It takes [away] my responsibility because as a referee that is the best way to do—let the doctor stop the fight,” Padilla said.

Padilla said he was informed by certain people before the fight that it was important that Pacquiao collect a win over Hussein because it would set Pacquiao up for a big title shot. Padilla, however, did not elaborate on who those people were that attempted to skew his objectivity.

“I’m about to leave the following day (for the fight), and they told me, ‘Carlos, please… this is important fight for Manny Pacquiao because the winner, he will have the chance to fight for the world championship,’” Padilla said. “So, you know the opponent, Hussein, or whatever his name was. He is taller, younger, stronger, and dirty fighter, managed by Jeff Fenech.”

Indeed, two fights later, in Las Vegas, Pacquiao faced South Africa’s Lehlo Ledwaba on short notice, knocking him out in the sixth round to win the IBF junior featherweight title. It is the win generally regarded as the genesis of Pacquiao’s meteoric rise in the sport. Pacquiao retired from the sport last year at 42, the only boxer to win titles across eight divisions.

Hussein, who was undefeated going into the Pacquiao fight, would go back to his winning ways, but he would not get another title shot until 2004 when he faced Mexico’s Oscar Larios. Hussein, however, dropped a wide decision to Larios. Hussein retired after he was knocked out by Japan's Takashi Uchiyama in the eighth round of a junior lightweight contest.

In the days since Padilla’s revelations have been picked up by major media outlets, Hussein has denounced the referee, calling him a “putrid dog.”

“Winning that fight would have changed my life,” Hussein told the Daily Mail. “I missed out on a couple of hundred grand and a world title fight. I would have been able to buy a house and been so much better off. With my career, I missed out on the big fights [afterwards] because of it. It set me back four years. I hated the sport after that.”

Hussein, who now works at a gym in Sydney, did not spare the WBC and its head Mauricio Sulaiman, calling them corrupt. In an interview with World Boxing News, Hussein said he even recalled elements of impropriety leading up to the Pacquiao fight, including how Pacquiao was given a different pair of gloves and how his hotel was two hours away from the fight arena.

“Honestly, after watching the referee video, it really hit a nerve. I was upset for a full 24 hours,” Hussein said. “It’s not the fact that he said what he said. It’s more because we already knew it. But the way he said it with a smirk and a smile like he was proud of what he had done, like the depth of corruption, it’s obviously in his veins and his heart. So he had obviously done it before because it was nothing to him.”

In a statement, the WBC, the sanctioning body directly involved with the Pacquiao-Hussein bout, said it had appointed a special panel to investigate Padilla’s claims.

Recently, one of Padilla’s daughters, Suzy Padilla Tuano, came out in defense of her father, claiming that language barriers and old age hindered his ability to express himself properly. Tuano said her father's comments have been misinterpreted and taken out of context.

“My father is an 88 year old man who is just that - old and aging!" Tuano wrote in an open letter. “Despite the fact that he has been living in the United States for decades, English remains his 2nd language. Communications can be misconstrued and well intentioned words can be misinterpreted. The present situation is one such glaring example of what might have actually been said, (no pun intended), and what may have been taken out of context.

“My father is a decent and honorable man. He dedicated his life to boxing and boxers and cared for them and their well being, regardless of nationality or circumstance. He refereed numerous historic fights with the likes of Muhammad Ali, [Marvin] Hagler, [Sugar Ray] Leonard, [Thomas] Hearns, and many more fighters for the entirety of his career. He has since retired and has been out of the spotlight for as long as I can remember. Oh, but he loves to talk and entertain because like any other human he still yearns to feel relevant.

“I invite everyone to ask about Carlos Padilla among his peers: promoters, fighters, referees or anyone from his era and hopefully, you will learn about my father's true character.

“He does not need controversies at this very late stage in his life. I know I may sound biased, being the eldest child of six, but I believe that through his legacy, he has proven his worth and we, his family, would appreciate it if people respected his contributions to the boxing community he so loved by giving him some well deserved consideration.”