Manny Pacquiao is a senator in the Philippines who is regarded as a potential presidential candidate, a philanthropist of some note and one of the greatest boxers who ever lived.
Part of Pacquiao’s greatness as a fighter, in addition to his exceptional physical gifts, is his competitiveness. He thought he had successfully defended his WBO welterweight title after 12 hard rounds on Saturday with Jeff Horn in Brisbane, Australia, only to be unpleasantly surprised when the judges sided with Horn by scores of 115-113 twice and 117-111. (Yahoo Sports scored it 115-113 for Pacquiao.)
It was a close fight that could have gone either way. Promoter Bob Arum told Yahoo Sports that when he got into the ring after the final bell, two Pacquiao cornermen – “Obviously, I’m not going to say who,” Arum said – told him they thought Horn had won.
Pacquiao accepted the decision with equanimity in the ring on Saturday. On his private jet back to the Philippines, though, he took a different tack.
“The referee wasn’t competent [and] I felt I was set up,” Pacquiao said. And about the judging: “It was horrible.”
As to who set him up, Pacquiao cryptically replied, “Let’s not get into that.”
The overwhelming majority of boxers who come up on the short end of a decision believe they won, so in that regard Pacquiao is no different.
Saying he was set up, though, suggests something far more nefarious than a bad night at the office for a couple of the judges.
Despite the over-the-top commentary on the post-fight show from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, whose work earlier in the broadcast proved him incapable of professionally analyzing what goes on inside a boxing ring, the fight was close and was challenging to score because of the in-fighting and the difficulty of determining what landed and what didn’t.
It was a rough, physical fight and Pacquiao is correct that referee Mark Nelson did not do enough to halt Horn’s tactics. Horn was uber-aggressive and threw elbows and forearms and initiated plenty of physical contact with Pacquiao.
It was up to Nelson to handle that, and he did not. He didn’t warn Horn or take control of the fight, as he could have and should have done.
One problems is that none of the four officials assigned to the fight – Nelson and judges Waleska Roldan, Chris Flores and Ramon Cerdan – rank in the top 10 among judges or referees. Thus, a B-league (at best) crew was working a fight that was getting world-wide scrutiny.
That said, Pacquiao’s use of the phrase “set up” is troubling, and this is a case where his stature as one of his country’s leading figures comes into play.
Pacquiao has by far the most loyal fan base in the world, but those fans are often so blindly loyal they can’t imagine a way in which he could lose.
Timothy Bradley admitted a few years ago that he nearly considered suicide as a result of the trolls and online harassment he received from Pacquiao fans in the aftermath of his controversial win over Pacquiao in 2012.
That fight was a robbery, far more than Saturday’s loss to Horn. But already the online harassment of Horn and his pregnant wife has begun, which is where Pacquiao needs to step in.
He knows full well what happened to Bradley, and he knows the fervor with which his fans root for him. He needs to make a public statement, and quickly, disavowing such tactics and explain what he meant by “set up.”
It could mean any number of things. Arum doesn’t believe the comment was directed at him, telling Yahoo Sports that Pacquiao should be upset with trainer Freddie Roach, cut man Miguel Diaz and conditioning coach Justin Fortune. Could the set-up comment have been referring to the work of Pacquiao’s corner, as in, “I was set up by not being told how dangerous an opponent that Horn truly is?”
Could it have been in regard to some conspiracy theory hatched about Arum, that Arum may have wanted Horn to win for some reason?
Could it have simply been in regard to Pacquiao’s belief that Nelson was bending over backward to give Horn a fair shake?
We don’t know and won’t know until he clarifies what he meant.
He needs to get out, urge his followers to lay off Horn and especially Horn’s wife, and explain what he meant.
Words matter. Pacquiao is not just a street urchin who loves to fight. He’s one of the most influential figures in his country and a respected international figure.
Alleging shady dealings with no proof other than potential incompetence in a sport which made him a millionaire many times over is sleazy.
It’s time for Sen. Pacquiao to give this situation the treatment it deserves.
He can’t continue to sit back and let the anger and speculation rage. It will harm the very sport that gave him this platform in the first place.
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