Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Opinions and Observations: Pacquiao-Horn

By now, it seems increasingly clear that there was a continental divide in how boxing fans perceived this weekend's fight between Manny Pacquiao and Jeff Horn. In America, the ESPN broadcast had Pacquiao winning a competitive but clear decision (116-111, also, my score) while England's BoxNation broadcast and Australian television had Horn as the victor. Now, let's not say that everyone belongs in the same bucket based on his or her geography. I know several British fight fans that I respect that had Pacquiao edging the win. In addition, I've corresponded with a few Australian boxing enthusiasts that had Pacquiao winning. The number of American fans I saw that had Horn as the victor might be in single digits. 

Officially, Horn, the significant underdog from Brisbane Australia, won a unanimous decision in his hometown against Pacquiao. And before I dissect the fight in more detail, it should be said the Horn performed to the best of his abilities. Not intimidated by the big-fight atmosphere or the reputation of his foe, Horn charged after Pacquiao throughout much of the bout. Whatever else one might say about the fight, Horn successfully made Pacquiao look awkward at various points in the match and he certainly managed to exceed expectations. 

Now, here is where the tricky part comes in. Horn made the fight very ugly. Grappling with Pacquiao on the inside and mixing in a healthy dose of head butts, elbows and rabbit punches, Horn took Pacquiao out of his comfort zone. The question is: how many of Horn's shots were actually scoring blows? 

Punch stats are often fallible. Accepting their absolute totals as gospel is a fool’s errand. However, using them as a tool can be instructive if employing them properly. According to CompuBox, Horn threw more punches than Pacquiao in 9 of the 12 rounds. That's a meaningful difference. On the flip side, Pacquiao was credited with being more accurate in 11 of the 12 rounds. Already, we can see start to see the genesis of why the perception of the fight could vary so drastically. Horn was the busier fighter and it's certainly obvious, even if you bump Horn's connect percentage up by 10% or even 20%, that Pacquiao was the much more accurate boxer. 

There are four scoring criteria that judges use for awarding rounds in boxing: clean punching, effective aggression, ring generalship and defense. What follows is my application of these criteria in aggregate for Pacquiao-Horn. Yes, fights are scored round-by-round but, indulge me. (You can use my thoughts on these criteria as proxies for how I awarded specific rounds throughout the fight.) 

I think that it's clear that Pacquiao consistently landed cleaner. His straight left hands and counter right hooks continually found their mark in the fight. Horn's shots were more difficult to judge. Punches that land on the back of the head don't count. Shots that are partially blocked, hit elbows, shoulders and arms aren't regarded as clean punches. 

I also think that it's fair to say that Pacquiao had the better defense. Pacquiao's scoring blows were easier to see. CompuBox had Horn landing at just 14.7% to Pacquiao's 31.8%. You would have to MORE THAN DOUBLE Horn's landed blows to get him close to Pacquiao's connect percentage. I get it. CompuBox is certainly fallible. They don't get everything right. However, I have a hard time believing that they missed 50% of Horn's scoring blows. 10% I'll give you. 20%, it's possible. 50%, not a chance at all. Pacquiao's defense was a large part of why it wasn't clear how many of Horn's punches landed. 

Ring generalship is the first scoring criteria where I think that Horn had the clear edge. In short, he fought in the style that would give him the best chance of winning. Grappling, firing off in close range and making the fight rough-and-tumble, he was more consistent in dictating the terms of the match. Even in many of the rounds where he didn't do the cleaner work, he was still forcing the action and making it the type of fight where he could potentially prevail. 

I think that the most difficult of the four scoring criteria to assess for Pacquiao-Horn is effective aggression. This criterion presents problems during so many fights. It's not enough to come forward. One must come forward and land scoring blows. Ultimately, how you view this criterion for Pacquiao-Horn depends on how successful you believe that Horn was during his forays forward. 

I've already given Horn credit for ring generalship in that he fought the bout in the manner that would give him the best chance of winning. However, that is not the same point as actually succeeding in landing punches. A fighter can give himself the best opportunity for victory and still lose. He can have bad defense. He can throw shots that aren't legal, scoring blows. He can get hurt or knocked out. In short, I don't want to double count Horn's effort. Yes, he dictated the terms of the fight, but that's not the same as actually getting the best of the action. 

To my eyes, so much of Horn's work was awkward and ineffective. Yes, he was successful to a degree with limiting Pacquiao's offensive output, but was he able to accomplish enough offensively to win at least seven rounds of the fight? Without enough quality, scoring blows – again, feel free to up Horn's landed punches by 20% – the case for Horn winning rounds via effective aggression is bogus. 

Of course, not all punches are the same. One guy's power punches don't always register with the same impact as those of his opponent. It's certainly clear to me that Horn never had Pacquiao hurt in the fight. Even when he did catch Pacquiao with some particularly good shots (such as in the 6th and 12th rounds) it wasn't as if his power was so immense throughout the fight that it should be credited as more devastating than Pacquiao's power. Horn was the fighter who was clearly hurt in the fight. Pacquiao rocked him with a series of lefts throughout the ninth that forced referee Mark Nelson to consider stopping the fight. Throughout the bout, Pacquiao’s straight left hands seemed to have more impact than Horn's landed blows. 

It's true that everyone loves a good underdog story. Horn did far better than expected. He wasn't supposed to be competitive with Pacquiao. He made Pacquiao look old in the ring and uncomfortable. Horn outworked Pacquiao. All of this is true. However, nothing mentioned earlier in this paragraph has anything to do with official scoring criteria. Fighters who don't land shouldn't be given credit for having the audacity to move their arms more. "Taking a fighter out of his comfort zone" MIGHT be a case of ring generalship. However, Horn's liberal use of his head (which led to two Pacquiao cuts) might also have had a lot to do with that. Again, leading with your head and butting aren't legal maneuvers and a fighter shouldn't be rewarded for them. (And where was Nelson regarding the butting? He certainly didn't do a great job in keeping the fight clean.) 

Often we see the "aggressor" winning fights, even if his aggression isn't effective. Certain jurisdictions in America, such as Nevada and California, seem to reward the fighter who comes forward more, irrespective of what actually landed in the ring. 

I can almost forgive the 115-113 scores for Horn from Ramon Cerdan and Chris Flores. They weren't able to distinguish between effective and ineffective aggression. Flores has had difficulty rendering good cards in the past when dealing with awkward fights. He was far too generous to Isaac Chilemba in his fight against Sergey Kovalev, giving Chilemba four rounds, closer than the other two judges had it. In addition, he found only two rounds to give Fernando Montiel against Lee Selby, a fight which was more competitive than his 118-110 score suggested. Cerdan scores most of his fights in Argentina and he was last overseas for the Joseph Parker-Andy Ruiz fight, which he scored for Parker by two. (Ironically, that fight was promoted by Duco Events, the New Zealand-based entity that served as the local co-promoter for Pacquiao-Horn.)

Waleska Roldan's 117-111 card for Horn is inexcusable. I tweeted out before the fight that I was amazed she was still getting international judging assignments. She just isn't a good official. She gave Gabe Rosado one round against Peter Quillin. She had Arthur Abraham up by six points in the first Paul Smith fight. She believed that Froch-Groves I was equal in rounds prior to the knockout. Roldan gave Karim Mayfield only two rounds against Thomas Dulorme. Do you want some more? She thought that Artur Szpilka won only two rounds prior to being knocked out by Deontay Wilder. Finally, she gave Miguel Marriaga only one round against Nicholas Walters. 

Roldan somehow continues to get high-profile assignments. Often she scores for the house fighter very widely. Perhaps that's why she's so popular. No matter the reason, the quality of her work is poor. If my 116-111 Pacquiao score differs widely from Roldan's tally, I feel even more comfortable in my final result.  

Moral victories are nice stories and they help to humanize fighters in the ring. I get that. However, an underdog exceeding very low expectations does not necessarily equate to winning seven rounds of a prizefight. Horn lost the battles of clean punching and defense. He got hit repeatedly with hard shots throughout the fight. 

Those who had Horn winning can discount punch stats all they want. And that's fine. But ultimately, it would take a CompuBox fail of epic proportions for Horn to get close to reaching Pacquiao's landed punches or punch accuracy. And Horn had no edge in power.

Ring generalship alone isn't enough to win a fight. A boxer must actually land scoring blows to get credit. I didn't see nearly enough of them throughout the fight to give Horn seven rounds. Few did in America as well. Without clean, landed punches, Horn's whole case for winning the fight involves extraneous factors that shouldn't be considered when scoring a boxing match.

One can protest that American boxing enthusiasts were too influenced by the ESPN broadcast. But in reality, we've certainly been able to tune out Teddy Atlas when needed. Ultimately, I think that American fans care less about the humanistic side of boxing than those in other jurisdictions. Horn was a great story. And we're certainly happy that he'll get another opportunity for a big fight. But we're tuning in at 12:30 a.m. on a Saturday night/Sunday morning of Independence Day weekend for the boxing. The soft factors are great, but we're there to see a fight. And ultimately, we know what a winning fighter looks like; he's the one that consistently lands more punches, the one that does the cleaner work. Horn did well but finding seven rounds to give him using the official scoring criteria...now that's a story.

Adam Abramowitz is the founder and head writer of saturdaynightboxing.com
He's a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
@snboxing on twitter. SN Boxing on Facebook.   

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