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Was Manny Pacquiao Robbed?

Was Manny Pacquiao Robbed? A Look at the Fickleness of Scoring in Boxing

By Scott Levinson, Boxing Handicapper,

We're going to come right out and say it—we felt Manny Pacquiao won the Jeff Horn fight. We're also going to echo the sentiments of ringside commentator and multiple-time world champ Tim Bradley when we say there was a feeling of the fight being closer than what some felt. It was a weird fight, one of those bizarre boxing matches where several different opinions can all have merit. When people say Horn could have only won that fight in his hometown, they have a point. But that's only because Pacquiao would be extended the same benefit of the doubt that people are upset that Horn received in his home-country.

We feel that it was an overall bad decision. When Michael Buffer announced the first score of 117-111, it seemed that sealed it for Pacquiao. That score is highly out-of-tune with what most people saw in the fight. But can 115-113 be justified? Yes and no. There is a peculiarity in boxing scoring. A lot of people have a misconception of how fights are scored. Let's try to address some components of that now:

Up-in-the-Air Rounds: In a closely-contested fight, there will a number of rounds that were truly up in the air. No fighter really put a stamp of dominance on the round and it's more or less up to a judge's discretion at that point. We see things from certain angles on TV, with the idea to focus us in on the action as well as possible. Judges are in fixed positions, meaning those who decide distance fights are in three separate spots—with three separate perspectives. So maybe a slight edge in a round is palpable to one judge, while the other wasn't in the best spot to see the same things. These judges all have different brains and different ways they process things. In other words, a round has to be won in somewhat clear fashion to register unanimously among the judges. How many of those kinds of rounds were truly there in the Horn-Pacquiao fight?

12 Mini-Fights: It is understandable that people would look at a fight in a composite way, as a whole, when assessing a winner. Boxing is unusual in that there is no carryover from round to round, as there is in just about every other sport. Look at it this way: what if a baseball game was scored by who wins innings instead of cumulatively adding runs scored? Or if a basketball game was judged on which team won the most periods? A lot of games would be different. Well, that's how it is in boxing.

Distance fights are judged as 12 separate fights as rounds are scored individually. Whoever wins the most of those separate fights within the fight is the winner, not counting knockdowns or rounds scored as a two-point differential. Take the Manny Pacquiao fight with Horn, for example. In that big ninth round for Pacquiao, he made as much progress on the scorecards as Horn did by just winning some throwaway round that you might not even remember by the end of the fight. So when you look back at a fight, you'll remember those rounds with a wide margin and they'll resonate more in your mind, when in reality, those rounds were no more impactful on the cards than those marginal rounds the other guy might've won. No one said the 10-point must system was perfect. It doesn't allow for a lot of nuance sometimes. A lot has been suggested over the years to make it a more realistic representation of the fight, such as half-points or a more liberal approach to scoring rounds 10-8. But as of now, it is what it is.

Different Versions of Reality: Pacquiao vs. Horn was a weird fight. Horn was putting out a good effort, Manny did well in spots, but there was a wishy-washy nature to it, as well. With a lot of fights, the consensus is one-sided. There are close fights where maybe different people felt each man won. But then you have fights like this one. Both fighters win maybe a few rounds decisively and the rest of them have this up in the air feel about them. And in fights like that, you will often have a wide range of opinions. And in Horn-Pacquiao, the opinions cover the gamut. And not all of them are necessarily wrong. It was just one of those fights.

The Mathematics of the Ten-Point Must System: When hearing people discuss the Pacquiao fight, the score we hear most was 116-112 Pacquiao. Fair enough. That's an entirely reasonable scorecard. But let's also realize how easy a 116-112 card for Manny becomes a 115-113 winning card for Horn. It's not exactly an earth-shattering shift in perspective. All that is needed is 3 up-in-the-air rounds going into Horn's column to take 116-112 Pac and turn it into 115-113 Horn. 117-112 Horn? Well, that one is hard to justify on any level. It's still only a two rounds difference from 115-113.

It's just when we see certain scorecards, the mind makes assumptions that aren't completely tied to reality. For years, we see fans, writers, and announcers bemoan other people's scores when it's not that different from their own. If you have it 115-113 for one fighter and someone else has it 116-112 for the other guy, that's not as much of a disparity as some would assume at first glance. And there aren't many fights where there aren't at least several rounds that can be argued for both fighters. And if that's the case, we shouldn't become so indignant when not everyone shares the score we had.

The Fallacy of Looking at Fight as a Whole: Again, we've been conditioned to look at a sporting event as a whole, not in 12 slices. But when a fight goes the distance, that's exactly how it will be evaluated. And a lot of times, the round-by-round view will differ from the composite view. A lot of boxing observers struggle with this idea and understandably so. If one fighter wins 6 rounds convincingly and his opponent edges 6 rounds, it's not going to seem like it was an even fight, but it was based on how distance fights are judged. In the Horn-Pacquiao fight, for example, look at the 9th and 10th rounds. In the 9th, Pacquiao nearly knocked out Horn. But with no knockdown, it was scored 10-9. Horn then won the tenth, but with about 1% of the dominance Manny showed in the 9th. When you look at that two-round sequence, they were even in the scoring with one round apiece, even if according to the naked eye, Pacquiao won that two-round window.

Projection and Expectation: A lot of what we see in the ring is weighed against our own expectations. In this fight, that could have gone both ways. When a big underdog like Horn does better than expected, which was certainly the case, the mind can run with the story some. He'll get more credit than what is due. His ability to surpass expectations can be mistaken as something else, namely winning. And with Pacquiao, we have all seen him dominate for two decades. So when he's throwing punches and getting on a roll that makes you recall his prime years, maybe he gets credit for what he used to be, when a closer look shows he's missing an awful lot of punches and unable to zero in on an opponent like he once did.


Announcers and Groupthink: Teddy Atlas is a great boxing man. But even he can miss the boat sometimes. Case in point—his ninth round hysterics when Manny was threatening to stop Horn. He backed himself into a story, so when Horn came back the next round, Atlas was slow to see it. Announcers who score fights is always problematic. Describing the action is a much different endeavor than scoring a fight and trying to do both is difficult. That's why most networks bring in a separate judge just to score rounds.

It's also hard not to be swayed by the announcing team, especially with such a strong voice like Teddy's. Watch the fight again with Teddy announcing and then try it with the sound off. Listening to Atlas, you'd think it was a clear win for Pacquiao. How could anyone think differently? But on mute, it sort of looks like a back-and-forth close fight that is more or less up in the air. You could favor one over the other, but no verdict would really be particularly offensive. Announcers can guide the way we interpret the action and not all of them are infallible, including Teddy, who is probably guilty of latching onto a feeling and running with the story a little too hard. Did you know... that you could be wagering on fights at discounted odds? There's a better than good chance that you're laying inflated odds with your book. Stop overpaying TODAY by making the switch to 5Dimes Sportsbook! You will be so glad that you did!

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