BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — It went all the way and ended in a contentiously bitter loss, the opposite of the outcome Manny Pacquiao’s handlers predicted for his WBO welterweight world title fight against Jeff Horn.
Pacquiao’s long-time trainer Freddie Roach tipped a “short and sweet” knockout win for the 11-time world champion in Sunday’s so-called Battle of Brisbane, but Horn got a unanimous points decision in his first world title fight — delighting the 51,000-strong crowd at his hometown Suncorp Stadium, a record for Australian boxing.
The 38-year-old Philippines senator arrived in Brisbane a week ahead of the fight with a chartered plane carrying more than a hundred supporters and as the hot favorite to beat Horn. He leaves without the WBO belt.
All three judges awarded it to Horn, with Waleska Roldan scoring it 117-111 and both Chris Flores and Ramon Cerdan scoring it 115-113.
Some critics slammed it as a hometown decision, saying the statistics had Pacquiao landing twice the number of power punches as Horn.
“That’s the decision of the judges. I respect that,” Pacquiao was quoted as saying by broadcaster ESPN. “We have a rematch clause, so no problem.”
But Pacquiao’s conditioning trainer, the Los Angeles-based former Australian heavyweight Justin Fortune, was critical of the referee and the judging.
“Manny lost the fight, but Jeff Horn looks like a pumpkin. Those scores, that card? It should be the other way,” he said.
Fortune said Pacquiao should have put it beyond doubt.
“When you come into someone’s backyard, you need to really do a number on them or knock them out,” he said. “That’s boxing. You get given a gift sometimes, you get (swindled) sometimes. But when you come to someone’s house, you’re supposed to mess them up, make a statement. Never leave it in the judge’s hands.”
Horn started strongly and won at least three of the first five rounds on all three of the judge’s cards. After twice needing treatment for a bleeding cut on top of his head in the 6th and 7th rounds, Pacquiao appeared to dominate most of the rounds from the eighth.
He was close to finishing it in the 9th when he pounded Horn and had him wobbling — to the point where referee Mark Nelson asked the 29-year-old former schoolteacher’s camp before the 10th if he could continue — and could also have come out with the win.
A spokesman said Pacquiao was dealing with head cuts and couldn’t attend the formal post-fight news conference. Pacquiao also declined to do any interviews in the dressing room.
Horn was confident he was always ahead on points, and was startled after the 9th when the referee asked if he was OK to continue.
“I felt buzzed for sure, but I’m the Hornet — I’ve got to come back,” Horn said. “I’m not a quitter. Australians aren’t quitters to start with. We’ve showed we’re winners.
“It was the battle of Brisbane, that’s for sure. Absolutely unbelievable.”
Co-promotor Bob Arum said the result was a close call after some close rounds late in the bout as both fighters looked for a decisive blow.
“It was a close fight, it could have gone either way,” said Arum. “A couple of close rounds, but you can’t argue with the result.
“I scored a lot of the early rounds for Jeff. Then I had Manny coming back in the middle. The 12th round, Jeff really won. If you give Manny the 11th, you have it a draw. You give Jeff the 11th, it’s 7-5.”
Immediately after the fight, Horn described himself as “no joke.”
Roach had said earlier in the week that he’d think about advising Pacquiao to retire if he lost the fight, but they’re already considering a rematch.
Horn can’t see Pacquiao retiring any time soon.
“I’m sure he’ll want to come back. It was a close decision and I’m sure he’ll want to come back and prove himself,” he said.
Arum said there was a clause for a rematch, but he’d give it time before talking to Pacquiao about it.
“I know Jeff would welcome the rematch, but I don’t know Manny’s future position,” Arum said. “Is he going to stay in politics and not continue in boxing? I don’t know, and he doesn’t know now — it’s unfair to ask him now.”
Pacquiao’s camp had talked about a rematch with Mayweather if he got past Horn, hoping to avenge his loss on points in the 2015 mega fight. That seems to be a distant chance now.
Pacquiao entered the fight with a record of 59-6-2, but the last of his 38 wins by knockout was in 2009. Horn hadn’t lost any of his previous 17 professional fights, but had never encountered anybody of Pacquiao’s credentials.
In Marawi City in the southern Philippines, more than 500 displaced villagers at a government hall, along with troops and police, yelled Pacquiao’s name as they watched the bout live on a wide screen.
Local officials organized the free public viewing to give some respite from the disastrous siege by Muslim militants aligned with the Islamic State group who took over several villages in the city last month.
“Many couldn’t accept the result initially but the entertainment side of it provided a respite from their everyday struggle,” Marawi crisis committee spokesman Zia Alonto Adiong told The Associated Press by telephone. “But the message of courage and resiliency to face the challenges head on, I think Manny Pacquiao provided that here today.”