By J.R. Jowett: It’s like a big sucker punch that you see coming but can’t seem to duck. The fight is over; it was a good fight, maybe a great one. The evening should go out with the glow of satisfaction over an event wellcontested and an experience well-rewarded.
But at least two boobs at ringside don’t have a clue. Michael Buffer or Jimmy Lennon Jr step up to the mic and here it comes…the BAD decision.
Like a plague, these miscarriages of justice and competence ruin fight after fight, turning what should be informative banter into angry tirades. And the past year was a lulu, with seven prime contenders vying for the disgrace and many more that could be suggested. This year’s winner: the Pacquiao-Horn travesty.
First, a look at the fight itself. Conducted in Brisbane, Australia, on July 2, before a huge crowd of over 50,000 in an outdoor stadium, it was much anticipated…because of the name: Manny Pacquiao. His opponent, Australia’s Jeff Horn, was a supporting actor, a sidekick. With a 16-0-1 record and no significant wins, it was something like when the Yankees play a farm club in an exhibition. It did not turn out to be a genuinely good fight, and that, in fact, proved the key to the underdog’s victory. Horn charged out for the first like a kid at recess bell, and won the round. After that, it settled into a pattern. Reflective of another of boxing’s many ills…the early weigh-in…Horn looked like a super middle fighting a light welter. Horn made use of his size advantage to bully and manhandle Pac, trapping him along the ropes and flailing away vigorously. The Pac of old might have sidestepped and outmaneuvered these tactics, but the now old Pac often had to just cover and try to fight his way out. A pattern was emerging that this wasn’t the Manny of Past Glories, and that seemed to affect the ultimate outcome.
Horn threw vigorous roundhouse punches, often landing on the back of the head or partially or completely blocked by a raised glove. He mauled, wrestled, held and hit. At times, the vigor of glancing or partially blocked punches caused a less-nimble Pacquiao to stumble as he tried to circle away, creating an illusion of having been hurt. There were few clean blows and little sustained action. Yet the crowd was into it on the very essence of the match itself, and it was never boring. And all the while, Manny was answering back when hit, throwing shorter, cleaner blows with less eye-catching arcs, and often opening up a close round by slipping cautiously into gear in the final minute.
Then came the tensely anticipated climactic round in the ninth. Manny opened by jolting Horn with a left. Like the veteran finisher who knows when the time has come, Manny turned up the heat without going wild, and Jeff, after having come forward and forcing the contest throughout, had to find reverse gear. With the crowd up, Manny coolly punished the fading challenger who fell back, bleeding badly around the eyes. Much of this damage was initially self-inflicted, as Horn’s charges had produced numerous head collisions as Manny tried to duck under and Pac had suffered two deep scalp wounds himself. Now the beating and bleeding looked like curtains for the upstart. He gamely made it through the round, but referee Mark Nelson was on the verge of stopping the fight, warning Jeff that he must “…show me something in this [the upcoming] round.” Nelson, a veteran US official, was himself to be criticized in some quarters for allowing Horn’s constant street-fighting tactics. But this article is about judging, not reffing.
Meanwhile, a reverse drama was being enacted in the opposing corner, where trainer Freddie Roach later said, “I told Manny, give me one more of them and the fight is over. But he just couldn’t do it.”
Indeed, Horn’s finest moments were in the final three rounds when the seemingly beaten fighter rose like a Phoenix, somehow shook off the blood and fought through any fatigue to clearly win the tenth, stopping Pac’s assault in its tracks. Manny still won a fairly tame 11th, and Jeff took the final round. It was a good fight, not a great fight. Neither excelled, but Manny outscored. Then came Michael Buffer. Oh, the Horror! NYC’s Waleska Roldan had what sounded like the right score, but for the wrong boxer; 117-111. Chris Flores of AZ and Argentina’s Ramon Cerdan each had 115-113, unanimous for Horn. What happened?
Boxing’s shenanigans are often charged to politics. Like Bob Dylan, officials do know which way the wind blows. But the Australian promotion seemed eminently fair. What we seemed to have seen was a witches’ brew of three of the prime ingredients in the Bad Decision: crowd influence, scoring on body language, and Scappoose Effect. The late HOF boxing writer Jack Obermayer coined the latter term from a 1969 bout in Madison Square Garden between Dick Tiger and Andy Kendall. Dubbed “The Scappoose Express” after his home town in Oregon, Kendall was a tough and willing fighter, but had nothing for Tiger, one of the Greatest of All Time. When Kendall finally landed a clean punch in the fourth round, the cynical New York crowd sent up a mock cheer. The expression, therefore, refers to over-rating the efforts of an underdog who does better than expected. And that’s exactly what happened here.
A livid Teddy Atlas, commentating from ringside, nailed it perfectly: “You’re not supposed to get it [the win] for trying hard! You’re supposed to get it for winning!!!” TV analyst Stephen A. Smith ranted: “He [Horn] came in with minimal-to-no expectation, and he exceeded that.” Calling it a “bogus decision”, Smith aptly describes the scenario leading to this atrocity. Unfortunately, he ended with a litany heard almost as often as not after major fights: “It’s stuff like this that hurts the sport of boxing.”
Can anything be done? Probably nothing short of a review system. The organizations, bad as they are for boxing in general with the plethora of flimsy titles, do seem to make an effort to standardize scoring. But even that can backfire. Case in point, one of our other contenders: the DeGale-Jack draw. This was a good, action fight that see-sawed precipitately. It was close all the way, and the round-by-round could be largely upheld. But in the final analysis, did DeGale deserve a draw? He was a beaten fighter in the final round. All that would have been required would have been one 10-7 score. He clearly lost the round: one point. He was cleanly knocked down: two points. He had given up fighting and was merely trying to survive the round: three points, decision to Jack. But formulaic scoring precludes this. Or the GGG-Canelo atrocity; Scappoose Effect in reverse? Canelo was SO disappointing that the judges couldn’t believe it, and evidently awarded him style points. In the end, does it really matter? This writer attended the Cherry-Douglas fight…and had Cherry winning. We’ll be back with another stinker next year, Sadley, you can bank on It.