RON REED says the judges got it right – boxer Jeff Horn earned his world title the hard way, but earn it he did:
YOU GET THE best possible view of boxing matches by sitting at ringside even if it does mean you sometimes end up being spattered by blood, sweat and snot. You don’t only see what’s going on, you hear a lot of it and sometimes you can almost feel it. That’s where you’ll find the three judges _ it’s always three, and it goes without saying, or should, that they are experienced experts. They know what they’re watching.
And yet, they are more often accused of getting their deliberations wrong, I would suggest, than any other decision-makers in any sport. It happened again in Brisbane when local boy Jeff Horn was awarded the WBO welterweight world title on a unanimous and clear-cut points decision over the legendary Manny Pacquiao. Cue outrage and disbelief around the world from commentators and sports fans, qualified or otherwise, who were adamant the wrong fighter got the chocolates.
This was in line with two things I have learned from observing boxing for the public prints for several decades: one, scoring fights is a subjective and difficult task especially when both combatants are putting on a powerful performance, as was the case this time; and two, even when they agree the judges sometimes disagree – which is why confusion and frustration often follows the final bell.
The Horn scorecards were no exception, up to a point. While two of them, Chris Flores and Ramon Cerdan, called it identically, 115-113, Waleska Rolden had it 117-111. With 10 points awarded for a winning round and nine for a losing one, that means Ms Rolden had Horn winning nine rounds – or more to the point, Pacquiao losing nine, which was way out of whack. The others had it seven rounds to five, which was much more realistic.
For what it’s worth, watching on TV I gave Horn 117, too, but had difficulty separating them in several rounds so called four even, meaning I came up with the same two-point margin. Even after watching scores of professional and amateur fights around Australia and in other parts of the world, I still find scoring a challenge.
Other factors intrude. It is worth noting that none of the judges was Australian, which should rule out a home-town rort, although that hasn’t stopped plenty of people calling it one. Referee Mark Nelson’s threat to stop the fight in Pacquiao’ s favour after a dominant round nine would have influenced some opinions. And it is difficult to reconcile the result with computer statistics that showed the Filipino veteran landing twice as many punches. We all know that footy teams that amass the most possessions do not necessarily win the game, but twice as many? That’s hard to explain.
All I know is that I saw Horn clearly have the better of the first half of the fight, displaying more aggression and ensuring the action was fast, furious and non-stop – an important factor. Apart from the almost disastrous ninth, he did not buckle at the end, either. He was tough, brave, durable and skilful and deserved the win.
One of the best independent assessments of what happened has come from ESPN boxing writer Steve Bruce, who has advised Pacquiao to retire, saying he looked like a beaten man _ and was. “Horn deserved his two-round win; Pacquiao looked utterly dreadful for six rounds. And hopefully, the Australian will get the recognition he deserves – after everybody stops screaming hysterics about a robbery,” Bruce wrote.
Hear, hear! Horn is a godsend for Australian boxing, which often seems close to copping a knockout blow itself but always survives. Under pressure from the emergence of mixed martial arts, it has been searching for a valid, promotable focal point for at least the past couple of years. About the best it has been able to deliver is the grudge match between old-timers Danny Green and Anthony Mundine (another fight where the judges copped flak) and that’s not nearly enough.
It’s not as if there is no interest in the much-maligned sport. Green and Mundine attracted plenty of attention and the 50,000 who witnessed Horn’s triumph is unprecedented. The suburban pub in which I watched the Horn fight was as packed as it has ever been. Hopefully that will be all the encouragement promoters need to put him on in Australia again, as opposed to disappearing to America for the big pay-days that will now ensue.
His clean-cut image – he doesn’t even have a tattoo – family-man status and appealing back story as the bullied kid who learned how to fight back are all ingredients in one of the best stories Australian sport has thrown up in recent memory, perhaps ever.
Unofficially, he is the Oz sports hero of 2017. I would suggest that is a very good chance of becoming official in October, when the Sport Australia Hall of Fame names the winner of its prestigious The Don award at its annual induction dinner in Melbourne. This is judged not only on elite performance but on qualities such as inspiration, sportsmanship, courage and dignity.
Horn qualifies in every respect and there is no better contender at this stage.
Author: Ron Reed
RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.