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Monday, June 18, 2012

At Least We Can All Agree That Manny Pacquaio Won the Fight

Posted By on Mon, Jun 18, 2012 at 11:23 AM

In this case, numbers do tell the story.
  • In this case, numbers do tell the story.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley fight was the consensus that has solidified over the past week: Pacquiao definitely won and pretty much everybody agrees.

Controversial professional boxing outcomes pop up fairly often -- the Pernell Whitacker-Caesar Chavel draw in 1993, Felix Trinidad over Oscar De La Hoya in 1999, the Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfiled draw in 1999, Lamont Peterson over Amir Khan last year, and many, many more lesser-known, more egregious ones. Usually, competing narratives emerge. The initially vocal segment cries injustice or conspiracy. That rouses the contrarians, who tell you to watch the fight again and notice that Peterson landed the harder punches in that close round and that the decision was correct -- or at least defensible.

In the case of Bradley's absurd split decision victory on June 9, though, the two narratives are: 1) The fight was fixed; and 2) The judges are incompetent. This makes sense because there is no viable argument that Bradley won the fight, no matter how hard Duane Ford, one of the judges, tries to make one up.

"I thought Bradley gave Pacquiao a boxing lesson," Ford, one of the (approximately) two people in the world who though Bradley won, said to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

In case you haven't read any of the 300-plus articles bashing the judges' decision, here's a quick refresher: Pacquiao landed 253 punches; Bradley landed 159. Pacquiao connected 34 percent of the time, Bradley connected 19 percent. Pacquiao out-punched Bradley in 10 of 12 rounds. Pacquiao landed at least the five hardest punches of the fight. Bradley did not land a single serious hit, other than one solid body shot in the early rounds.

The president of the Tim Bradley fan club wouldn't have given him more than five rounds. Most observers gave Bradley one to four rounds. The Associated Press scored the fight nine rounds for Pacquiao, three for Bradley. ESPN scored it 11 rounds for Pacquiao, one for Bradley. So did the Chronicle. HBO scored it 10 for Pacquiao, two for Bradley. According to HBO announcer Jim Lampley, 48 of the 51 reporters on press row had Pacquiao winning (so, for the record, the two judges are not completely alone). Andre Ward, the undefeated super middlewieght champion from Oakland, also thought that Bradley clearly lost, telling the Chron's Vittorio Tafur, "If it was me personally, I would admit defeat and say, 'Here's your belt back.'"

Two of the fight's judges gave Bradley seven rounds. The third gave him five. Somehow, all three judges awarded the seventh round to Bradley, even though he landed 11 punches at 16 percent and Pacquiao landed 27 punches at 35 percent. And two judges also gave Bradley the fifth round, even though he landed eight punches at 12 percent and Pacquiao landed 22 punches at 34 percent, including 18 power punches.

So that's why there's a consensus. There are lots of grossly wrong decisions in boxing. There are lots of controversial decisions in big fights. But rarely in boxing is there a decision this wrong in a fight this big.

The conspiracy theories immediately converged around Bob Arum, CEO of Top Rank and promoter for both Pacquiao and Bradley. The dominant conspiracy narrative has been this: Arum knew a Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight is unlikely. He wanted to milk Pacquiao for as much profit as he could before Pacquiao retires to run for president of the Philippines or something. But there aren't any more popular names out there for Pacquiao to fight. So, what better way to create a massive pay-per-view draw than to have Bradley, an unknown to casual fans, hand Pacquiao his first loss in nearly eight years, creating some controversy to shoot boxing into the headlines along the way to the November rematch. (Grantland's Rafe Bartholomew wonderfully articulates the nuances of this theory).

And boxing has been in the headlines. This is the sport's biggest story since Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield's ear. They even talked about it on NPR.

For Arum, there's really nothing he can do to get people to stop believing that he fixed the fight. It's a damned-if-you-do type of thing. If he had kept a low profile after the fight, it would have been suspicious: Loquacious boxing promoter silent after a massive controversy! Instead, he's been saying exactly what everybody's thinking, saying all the right things. He dissed the judges. He said he was embarrassed for the sport. He called for an investigation from the Nevada Attorney General.

This has only furthed riled up the social media hordes, of course:

You would say that, wouldn't you! ... A clear acting job!

The other popular theory is vaguer, but more resonant. Several boxing and gambling observers have noted that there was a massive shift in the betting money line toward Bradley just before the fight. At 2 p.m., Pacquiao was -432, which means if you bet $432 on him and he wins, you win $100. By the time of the opening bell that night, the line had dropped to -397, which means that much money was suddenly bet on Bradley in the final few hours before the fight. Some people can interpret that as suspicious, especially considering there was no new reason-- an injury, for instance-- to think Bradley would win (Canadian sports analyst Haralabos Voulgaris might have been the first to recognize this, tweeting the odds' movement minutes after the fight). Which begs the question: The people who put all this money on Bradley just before the fight, did they know something the rest of us didn't?

This is one of those times when a crazy, complicated conspiracy really seems like the most reasonable scenario. The only (approximately) two people in the world who thought Bradley won happened to be judging the fight? Everybody, even the staunchest boxing fans, knows the sport can be corrupt. We've seen too much over the years to think otherwise.

And that's why the June 9 decision felt like such a punch to the face (more of a Pacquiao punch than a Bradley punch). A flaunting of power. Some yet-unknown mastermind's power. That "Yeah I did it, and what're you gonna do about it?" kind of power.

It was so brash, so ballsy, so indiscreet. Like a guy coming home from work and seeing his girlfriend wearing another man's dress shirt, while that other man reclines on the couch in the boyfriend's basketball shorts. "Hey, there's some leftover dinner in the fridge," says the girl. "Yeah, the meatloaf is delicious," adds the man on the couch.

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Albert Samaha


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