I want to start off by saying that I did not think Jeff Horn beat Manny Pacquiao. But I also want to say that I do not cry over decisions. In my years of watching boxing there are probably less than a handful of fights where I think there was no way the judges should have awarded the decision the way they did. Tonight was not one of those nights. Jeff Horn was game and Manny got stung again by treating a bout like it was a sparring match.
Now, it’s obvious that ESPN was hoping to build their boxing series around the faded but still popular Pacquiao, but from the start of the night they were very overbearing in pushing Pacquiao. If you followed Twitter or Reddit you would have seen a lot of exasperation at the way Teddy Atlas was calling the fight solely for Pacquiao. To his credit, Timothy Bradley did interject his views that Horn was in the fight. Tim is a rather soft-spoken man and with the bullhorn that is Teddy Atlas his views stood little chance of balancing the call.
And balance is what is needed in boxing broadcasts. When commentators switch from being observers to cheerleaders they foster the notion in the viewers that any decision that goes against what they have been saying is happening is a grand robbery. Which is the angle Teddy pushed after the broadcast, even forcing Timothy Bradley to say that he thought Pacquiao won. In his mind there was no way he could be wrong, the judges had to be incompetent.
But it was when ESPN went back to their home studio where things went really sour. Stephen A Smith is a professional idiot. He makes a lot of money being stupid on television and most of that stupidity is just being fueled by producers talking into his earwig microphone. His rant about how a decision like this would never happen in the UFC not only touched on the boring MMA vs Boxing debate but it was also wrong.
There are decisions in the UFC that are “wrong” all the time. Most famously when Dana White came up after the George St. Pierre vs Johnny Hendricks fight and declared that GSP lost the fight and the judges were wrong. Yet here was Stephen A Smith saying on a boxing broadcast that the UFC was better because “Dana White doesn’t allow this!”.
This fight was a success for ESPN, they brought in a lot of fans that might be new to the sport and some that might not have watched in years. It was a fun fight for the most part, but instead of embracing the moment of chaos with the Horn victory they let loose their court jester to proclaim that some great crime had just been committed.
The beauty of boxing is its chaos but networks want predictability. ESPN was pushing the story of Rocky all night trying to say Horn was still in the fight. They obviously didn’t feel that way and felt secure that they had struck gold in getting Pacquiao and the rest of the Top Rank roster on the cheap. But when they ended up with Rocky II they recoiled and just fed the viewers the same, “Boxing is corrupt” angle that has kept boxing in its niche corner of the sporting world for decades.
Next time, ESPN needs to put beauty before business.