Never mind the supposed gulf in class. After all, Jeff Horn was a relative nobody on the global boxing stage.
There were some saying Horn shouldn’t have even been allowed to face Pacquiao, whose resume (before Sunday) read: 67 fights, 59 wins, 38 knockouts.
The fight was being broadcast live on cable TV in the States on ESPN. And you’d think Horn had set fire to the American flag while The Star-Spangled Banner was playing such was the stick he was copping in the pre-fight coverage.
ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith made it clear he had no time for Horn, degrading him for being given a title shot.
“The problem, ladies and gentlemen, is all the people he’s beaten have been no-names. His last fight— Ali Funeka. Rico Mueller the fight before that, Randall Bailey — an older dude who couldn’t get off the pie. Ahmed El Mousaoui, Alfredo (Rodolfo Blanco). I mean, come on, we don’t know these people,” Smith said.
Now, Smith’s wheelhouse is the NBA — that’s what he talks about most. Not only was his lack of respect for Horn infuriating for people watching, so too was an alleged lack of research and inability to correctly pronounce fighters’ names.
Respected US sportscaster Al Bernstein wrote a lengthy Facebook post in which he chastised Smith’s pre-fight approach.
“I seldom criticise sportscasting colleagues. BUT I cringe when announcers who don’t really follow boxing denigrate fighters for no reason,” Bernstein wrote. “Perhaps before Stephen A. Smith said that Horn opponents Randall Bailey and Ali Funeka ‘give new meaning to the term no-names’ he might have done 5 minutes of research and realised that Bailey only 5 years ago was a world champion and as recently as 6 yrs ago Funeka fought twice for a world title.
“Are they household names to all sports or boxing fans ... no. Were they ageing fighters that Horn could build his name with ... yes. BUT within the sport they are not no names. It is awful to read their names and a few others in a mocking tone and suggest they’re some kind of bums.
“These two men had excellent careers. I doubt if he would pick an ageing NBA player who isn’t a superstar and call him a no name even though casual NBA fans might not know who that 2nd string power forward might be. When asked, ‘What do you have on Jeff Horn?’ Smith said, ‘Gotta admit I don’t have much on this dude.’ Really? How could you admit that on National TV when you are being paid to cover this ‘dude’.
“Then he denigrated Horn’s opponents without knowing anything about THEM. And, again, I’m not saying Horn has faced super tough competition, but don’t sit there with your co-host and laugh and mock their names, after you have admitted you didn’t even do any homework on one of the fighters who is in the main event, let alone his opponents.
“When I have covered other sports beyond boxing I make it my business to NOT overreach and make statements based on no knowledge. Instead I actually prepare, so that I can stay in my lane, be factual, and do the job I’m being paid for. When I covered major league baseball or the NBA on Sportscenter when I was at ESPN I didn’t offer unfounded opinions on players who I did not cover on a regular basis. I stuck to the facts and any insights I gathered from players or others who covered the sport regularly.
“If Smith is going to keep doing these boxing shows, I suggest he and whoever sits and co-hosts with him do the same. Sorry for this tirade, but this is more than a little distressing to me. Boxers deserve respect and accuracy when they are reported on.”
Writing for MMA website Bloody Elbow, Mookie Alexander also took aim at Smith’s lack of respect for those in the fight game whom he knew so little about.
“We can all concur that ESPN’s coverage is in desperate need of improvement following Saturday night’s disaster. It really encapsulated much of the deserved scorn and ridicule that has been hurled at the network for several years,” Alexander wrote.
“The ominous sign that we were in for a terrible night was the needless inclusion of human megaphone Stephen A. Smith, who was joined by host Steve Levy for some studio ‘analysis’. Smith repeatedly shoehorned Floyd Mayweather into his drivel, and for all of his supposed boxing expertise, decided to make fun of the names on Jeff Horn’s resume.
“He described Ali Funeka and Randall Bailey as no-names (they’re not, and Bailey literally held a major title a few years ago), and painfully mispronounced another fighter’s name for good measure. He also said pre-fight that Pacquiao losing to Juan Manuel Marquez was a stain on his career, which is laughable.
“He was obnoxious, ill-prepared, uninformative, which is a long-winded way for me to state that he was his usual self.
“Smith shouldn’t be anywhere within a country mile of a boxing broadcast.”
US sports writer Kevin Iole covered the fight for Yahoo Sports and said Smith’s monologues were “sickening”.
So Smith wouldn’t let Horn lick his dinner plate before the fight. Fair enough, all he knew of the 29-year-old were his numbers.
But fast forward a couple of hours, and did a unanimous points decision victory (115-113 x 2, 117-111) to the Aussie change his view?
Smith was bewildered the judges came to the decision they did. To be fair, he wasn’t alone. Plenty overseas were gobsmacked, particularly seeing as the referee threatened to end the fight at the end of the ninth round after Horn copped an absolute pummelling from Pacquiao.
But Horn stayed strong, remained on his feet and probably even won the crucial final round.
Twitter exploded when veteran ring announcer Michael Buffer proclaimed there was a new champ in the house. Those watching the broadcast in the States alleged the fight was “rigged” and Pacquiao’s camp has since called for there to be an investigation into the result.
Smith went into full meltdown mode, accusing the judges of “robbing” the Filipino as he continued to mock Horn.
“Manny Pacquiao gets robbed by some dude from Australia called Jeff Horn who has a corny nickname in ‘The Hornet’ who we’ve never known about or seen before tonight and this is the guy Manny Pacquiao got robbed by?” Smith raged.
“Why doesn’t the sport of boxing just ask him (Pacquiao) to leave? It seems to me that’s what they were doing.
“They were saying, ‘Manny, go away.’ They’re not asking, ‘Manny, are you OK?’ they’re saying, ‘Manny, go away.’”
He then personally attacked each of the three judges, mocking Waleska Roldan and questioning whether she was female.
Ian Casselberry of Awful Announcing said while Smith was right to question the decision, his form was poor in doing so.
“Did her name and gender have anything to do with her decision to score the fight heavily in Horn’s favor, 117-111? Judge Roldan on her record, as plenty of boxing observers were doing after the fight,” Casselberry wrote.
“Did Stephen A. really have to mock the pronunciation of a judge’s name and raise the issue of her gender to make his point? It was a misguided attempt to be entertaining, to further ridicule the ridiculous.”
Iole again took exception to Smith’s ranting and raving, slamming his lack of credibility when it comes to discussing boxing.
Like we said, Smith wasn’t alone in blasting the judges’ decision. ESPN commentator Teddy Atlas was fuming at the end of the bout, even telling Horn to his face in a post-fight interview he believed he didn’t deserve to win.
“They gave a win, a huge win, to the local kid for trying hard,” Atlas yelled. “You’re not supposed to get it for trying hard. You’re supposed to get it for winning and I thought Pacquiao won the fight if you go by the real rules of who lands the cleaner punches.”
Bloody Elbow’s Alexander took exception to the fact ESPN was hinting at local bias without mentioning two of the judges were American.
“While it’s completely valid to question the scoring of this fight, they didn’t help themselves one bit by not finding the official scorecards as soon as possible, and failed to note that two of the three judges were American, which they should’ve done during their seemingly endless build-up to the main event,” Alexander wrote.
“I mean, why bother to do the legwork when you can instead have angry shouting sans pertinent information to drive up those ratings?”
It’s not exactly spilt milk, but there’s still no reason to cry. Unsurprisingly, that’s the view from Australia. We’re always going to barrack for the underdog and allegations of bias be damned.
But even in the States — where plenty of outrage over the decision was coming from — there was objection to the raging fire.
Tim Dahlberg of Associated Press said Pacquiao should realise he didn’t do enough to take the fight out of the judges’ hands.
“It was Pacquiao who allowed the fight to be as close as it was, and it’s hard to argue much (though those blabbering on ESPN certainly did) with the two judges who had it 115-113 in Horn’s favour,” he wrote.
“Besides, Pacquiao knew going in what was expected of him. He needed to dominate and he didn’t, outside of a ninth round where he tried his best to take Horn out only to punch himself out and leave the final rounds in Horn’s hands.
“After 22 years as a pro, Pacquiao should have known the old boxing axiom: Go to someone’s hometown, and sometimes you get a hometown decision.”
Dahlberg also had time to pick on Smith and Atlas, saying it was time to give Horn credit.
“Those screaming on ESPN and in social media afterwards should have been as calm. Between ringside analyst Teddy Atlas and the bloviating Stephen A. Smith, you would have thought this was the robbery of the century, when it was anything but,” Dahlberg said.
“Give Horn credit for beating a legend, faded as Pacquiao might be. Give both credit for fighting through head clashes and blood to fight to the final bell. And enjoy the rematch, because there will surely be one.”
“At the final bell Pacquiao looked like a beaten man and he was: one crazy score of 117-111 for Horn was way off, but the other two judges delivered identical and correct scores of 115-113,” Bunce wrote for ESPN.
“Horn had beaten the legend, won the belt and somehow found himself at the very centre of a spectacular debate about the scoring. The outrage from people in the boxing business who should know better was close to pantomime at times.
“Horn deserved his 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.”
Maybe it’s time for the critics to pipe down and jump on the Horn bandwagon, because it’s about to go for a helluva ride and there’s plenty of room for everyone.