Almanac Boxing: School teacher to champion

Jeff Horn. Bullied at school. Undecided afterwards. Boxing or rugby league while studying for a teaching degree. Horn chose boxing. His trainer, Glen Rushton, developed an eight year plan, from rookie to amateur, to the Olympics then professional.

 

Photo by Ben Damon.

 

To a world title in eight years.

 

Just a kid from Brisbane. Educated. Polite. A gentle man with memories of bullies and an outlet to expunge them.

 

Manny Pacquiao went from a Manilla street kid to fighting because it meant getting fed.  Such a small man, he first fought as a flyweight at 50.8kg, or 112 pounds. Pacquiao’s first fight was in 1995. In his 25th fight, he became the WBC flyweight champion.

 

Pacquiao was no longer hungry. He kept fighting through the divisions, super featherweight to lightweight to welterweight. He racked up world titles, defeating a bunch of legends in the process.

 

His popularity propelled him to senator. He is a living treasure in the Philippines.   Without doubt, through 67 fights, Pacquiao proved he is one of the best fighters in the history of the sweet science.

 

In 2017, Pacquiao needed a fight. Horn, despite just 17 fights, had done enough to earn it.  The Queensland Government wanted it. The Minister for Sport, Kate Jones, extended an invitation to Pacquiao. Come to Brisbane for $10 million.

 

Brisbane. Horn’s hometown. In winter. A rare daytime fight to cater for audiences in America. At Lang Park, renowned for rugby league. The cauldron, where state-based passion is bolted to the concrete and embedded in the turf.

 

A hostile arena built on hatred for those south of the border, Lang Park is built on hatred for any outsider that dare critique a state that finally grew up. Brisbane was never the country town it was considered to be. But Brisbane was long bullied and ridiculed by people south of the border.

 

While Jones offered riches to Pacquiao, she was also offering two fingers to anyone who doubted the worth of the biggest fight Australia has ever seen and Queensland’s ability to pull it off.

 

It was happening. In Brisbane.

 

To prove how serious the government was, they gave a swag of cash to Michael Buffer, the famous ring announcer with the trade-marked battle cry, let’s get ready to rumble. The government also ensured that Colonel Bob Sheridan, a veteran of hundreds of world title fights and five heart attacks, would call the action.

 

It was dubbed the Battle of Brisbane. And so it shall be remembered.

 

Pacquiao was the heavy favourite. Horn, paying $5.00 to win, was the heavier and bigger man. They came together at the bell. Horn dug to the body and fired a straight right through Pacquiao’s gloves. Horn then rested his head on Pacquiao’s left shoulder as a hook swatted aimlessly by.

 

The tactic, revealed inside the first 20 seconds, set the tone for the fight. Pacquiao smiled at the flurry. Horn roughed him up on the inside, a body shot followed by an uppercut.  Midway through the round, Horn’s mouthguard clunked to the floor. It had been punched out.  It happens in boxing.

 

Minnesota referee Mark Nelson washed it off and warned Rushton to have a spare mouthguard ready and waiting. Horn finished off the round with a combination. Head, body, head. Pacquiao went to the corner without a smile.

 

As Horn’s head was sponged, Rushton leaned in close and praised Horn’s left-side movement, away from Pacquiao’s left hand. ‘Lose him,’ Rushton said. ‘You did a great job.  Stay in the moment.’

 

There was just one moment Horn was in. Round two. He jabbed and hooked to get inside then hit the body.  In a tangle, his forearm found Pacquiao’s face. Nelson separated the fighters. Pacquiao flung at a head that moved. He covered up. Landed a left hook. He was slick inside, hitting Horn to the body. The fighters clashed heads. Horn ended up cut above his right eye, a bad injury.

 

In round three, Horn kept up the swarm, jabs, hooks, head on Pacquiao’s shoulder.  Forcing Pacquiao backwards.  When Horn stepped straight back instead of moving left, Pacquiao whacked him.  Horn countered with an elbow on the inside.

 

Horn’s jab and right hand thudded into Pacquiao’s head throughout round four.  On the retreat, Pacquiao flashed the left and flung the right.  His right eye was swelling as he got tagged.  As he backed up, he countered Horn with a slamming right to the cheek.  Horn fought back with a left uppercut on the ropes that had Manny reaching for space.  Horn bled in trickles down his cheek and his right eye swelled.

 

‘Keep zoning left,’ Rushton said.  ‘Try to get leverage as you’re moving back.’  Rushton took a look at Horn’s eye as Horn sucked air.  ‘Beautiful,’ Rushton said.

 

Pacquiao copped a hard right to the body early in round five then got clipped by a left hook.  He smiled and clapped, offering Horn another go.  Horn dug to the body then the head.  It was basic fighting.  Unstylish.  Pacquiao added the class.  Horn ate a straight left hand because he went backwards in a straight line and stood up straight.  He bled into the exchange and got hammered by another left.

 

Horn’s body attack was evident in round six.  It was hurting Pacquiao and opening opportunities.  A right to the body was followed by an uppercut that snapped Pacquiao’s head upwards.  Horn hit the body again and hooked.  He outmuscled Pacquiao.  They came together with heads, resulting in a cut in Pacquiao’s hairline.  Blood dripped onto Pacquiao’s chest as the ringside doctor checked the wound.

 

As the round resumed, Pacquiao and Horn landed simultaneous right hooks.  Pacquiao wobbled and twisted away then called Horn in.  Left and right flurries.

 

Pacquiao began round seven with mean intentions, to the body and head.  Another accidental head-butt opened another cut on the opposite side of Pacquiao’s head.  He was now bleeding from two cuts in his hairline.  There was blood everywhere, on Horn, Pacquiao and Nelson’s blue shirt.  There was blood on the canvas and those at ringside.  Horn won the exchanges with heavy punches.  Pacquiao seemed to be tiring.

 

In round eight, Pacquiao was dangerous for the first minute.  But it was as though both fighters needed a round off.  It was slow.  Big left hands thudded into Horn’s face and turned the round in favour of Pacquiao.  Horn was standing up straight, looking sloppy and tired.

 

Horn began round nine by tapping Pacquiao with the jab.  Sheridan surmised that Horn had never been where he was, late rounds in a championship fight.  Pacquiao went bang bang bang.  He kept banging, lefts and rights, flush to Horn’s face.  Horn’s legs splayed.  He bled and staggered and used his chin as defence.

 

Behind in the fight, Pacquiao was determined to turn it.  He waded in.  Horn was getting beat up.  Nelson looked on as Horn went backwards to the ropes.  Pacquiao was loading up.  He was one punch away from ending the fight.

 

Between rounds, Rushton watched as blood was wiped from Horn’s face and the cut was worked on.  Nelson penetrated the corner.  ‘I’m here to protect you,’ he said to Horn.  ‘Do you want to continue?’

 

No one would’ve begrudged Horn quitting in his corner.  Pacquiao had really turned it on.  The sun beat down.  The punches had beaten Horn down.  Instead of quitting, he nodded to Nelson, who never lost his concern at the bravado.

 

‘Show me something in this round or I’m gonna stop the fight,’ Nelson said.

 

Horn answered the bell.  He found reserves of courage as deep as his toenails.  He hit Pacquiao to the body and the head, as he’d done in the opening moments of the fight.  Horn fought without knowing his left foot from his right as punches sent his blood and sweat like polluted mist across the ring.

 

Midway through the round, Horn knew his feet.  Left foot first, jab, right foot next then hook.  Pacquiao had loaded his fists with bullets in round nine.  In round ten, he couldn’t pull the trigger.  Horn went after him but Pacquiao took the round.

 

Horn fought chin first early in the eleventh round.  That suited Pacquiao, who was idle, one punch at a time.  When he planted and swung, he could find Horn’s chin.  But when he covered up and looked for space, he couldn’t block the hooks or jabs.  Horn had regathered, beating him to the punch despite being exhausted, hurt and slow.  Horn bullied Pacquiao to the ropes.

 

The twelfth round continued as the eleventh left off, with Horn chasing Pacquiao down, tagging him, getting belted back, dripping blood onto Pacquiao’s chest and looking for one punch that would prevent the judges adjudicating.

 

It went to the scorecards. Horn won a unanimous decision. He deserved it. It should be controversy free.

 

After the fight, Pacquiao paid tribute to Horn’s brutality. ‘Very tough,’ Pacquiao said. ‘I didn’t expect that tough. It’s okay. Part of the game.’

 

Pacquiao also accepted the loss. ‘That’s the decision of the judges. I respect that.’ Then he was asked about the rematch clause. He wants to do it again. ‘Absolutely. We have a clause rematch. Rematch no problem. Thank you to all the fans who came here.’

 

Horn, with his busted eye and the WBO belt over his shoulders, taunted Floyd Mayweather with a pair of boxing gloves and a walking can. ‘What do you want,’ Horn said. ‘Come and fight a real fight.’

 

The Battle of Brisbane was a real fight. Horn is world champion. Rushton loves it when a plan comes together…

 

 

Postscript

 

As the scorecard below indicates, I scored the fight seven rounds to five. As two judges did.  I felt nauseas when Horn got slapped silly in the ninth round. I admire Horn’s fortitude to stand up to what he took. I admire Pacquiao for coming to Brisbane and his grace in accepting the decision.

 

 

1 H 10 P 9

2 M 10 H 9

3 H 10 M 9

4 H 10 M 9

5 M 10 H 9

6 H 10 M 9

7 H 10 M 9

8 M 10 H 9

9 M 10 H 9

10 M 10 H 9

11 H 10 M 9

12 H 10 M 9

H 115 M 113

 

 

 

About Matt Watson

My name is Matt Watson, avid AFL, cricket and boxing fan. Since 2005 I’ve been employed as a journalist, but I’ve been writing about sport for more than a decade. In that time I’ve interviewed legends of sport and the unsung heroes who so often don’t command the headlines. The Ramble, as you will find among the pages of this website, is an exhaustive, unbiased, non-commercial analysis of sport and life. I believe there is always more to the story. If you love sport like I do, you will love the Ramble…

Comments

  1. Outstanding Matt. What a terrific fight. I haven’t seen body punching like that from Horn since Kostya Tszyu. Impressive stuff. I reckon Pacquiao will take a while to recover from that bout. Its harder as they get older.

    Horn is not a great fighter yet. He needs to learn ring craft. But that was a very tough encounter. Brilliant effort. His boxing test will come against a younger technician, if there is one out there at the moment?

  2. Paul Young says:

    Good write up Matt. Reads to me like it’s a little biased towards Jeff Horn and that’s fair enough, it’s your take on the fight. He fought much better than many of us expected.

    I’ve been following boxing for longer than I care to remember. I was an avid reader of Ring magazine and watcher of the old TV ringside on Channel 7 (use to love watching the likes of Charkey Ramon).

    I scored it a tad differently. (I tweeted my scorecard throughout the fight) with 7 rounds to Pacquiao and 5 to Horn. There were probably 4 rounds that were very close and could have gone either way. I felt Manny definitely landed more scoring punches overall and the stats provided post-fight confirmed this.

    However I realise it only takes 2 very close rounds to go the other way and all of a sudden you have a 115-113 to Horn. So I wasn’t too fussed with the decision.

    Since the fight, I’ve been reading and looking at the overseas response, mainly USA where overwhelmingly thy believed the PacMan was robbed. Some have been way over the top, suggesting its corrupt (Teddy Atlas) and a disgrace. Most of them showed no respect for Jeff Horn, suggesting (laughably) he fought dirty. It was a lot closer than many in the US are claiming so they don’t do themselves any favour.

    Regardless of what a lot of these people might think, Horn was clearly the better prepared fighter and did what he had to do AND is the deserving WBO welterweight champion.

  3. matt watson says:

    Thanks Dips, you’re right about Horn’s body punching and his raw talent.
    I think he won’t improve too much. He got into boxing late. He’s awkward but strong.
    I am not sure he will hang on to the title too long, because he gets hit easily.

    Paul, I was amazed that Horn roughed Pacquiao up like that. Forearms, elbows, accidental butts. He certainly used his strength to advantage.
    I haven’t watched the fight again. I will one day. I love Pacquiao and what he has done for boxing and himself. When he had Horn ready to go, he couldn’t pull the trigger. He is 38. Five years ago there would’ve been no need for judges.

    Very good fight either way. I agree the hyperbole coming from the US is ridiculous.

  4. Jeff Horn worked the body well. A good opening few rounds then Manny Pacquiao surged back, with Horn teetering in R’s 8&9, then seemingly finishing the stronger of the two. A younger man, with a longer reach, may have been the deciders.

    The derisive material coming from the USA is no surprise as Pacquiao has pent almost as much time in Florida as he does back home. A great fighter, and a shockloss people didn’t expect, means many noses were out of joint: pardon the pun. Was it Teddy Atlas who interviewed Horn after the belt, saying he believed Horn lost ?

    I recall 1991 when Jeff Fenech clearly outpointed Azumah Nelson in their bout @ Caesars Palace, though the judges didn’t score it that way. Fenech was never the same after that . Nelson won the rematch. Fenech had losses to Calvin Grove and Philip Holiday as his career wound down.

    Congratulations to Jeff Horn, up their with other Aussie greats of the Sweet Science like Jimmy Caruthers, Lionel Rose, Johnny Famechon and Jeff Fenech.

    Glen!

  5. Paul Young says:

    Good comments again Matt, while it’s not uncommon to see head clashes (and feet clashes) when an orthodox fighter meets a southpaw there did seem to be a lot more head clashes than normal.

    Glen – I agree that Fenech/Nelson result in Las Vegas was 10 times worse than this one.

    Teddy Atlas speaks from the hip and is super passionate about boxing and we love him for it. But I reckon he could have shown a tad more respect to Jeff Horn in the post fight interview.

  6. I probably shouldn’t be having a say on this matter. I’m sure I’d be saying “great write-up” too if I was a boxing fan.
    I’m happy that our Aussie battler won, but what does it all mean when Barry Hall gets 7 weeks, Tom Bugg 6 weeks – for one little punch – all under the guise of “protecting the players’ physical welfare, especially the head”

  7. matt watson says:

    Jan,
    It is the hypocrisy of society, where we applaud punches thrown in a ring and despise those thrown on the field.
    The separation is the separation of sports. The intent of boxing and football are different.
    I often find myself wondering how/why I enjoy boxing when I know each fighter will never be the same after a fight.
    For me, it began with stories of my dad sparring with Lionel Rose in the sixties. Watching Ali and Holmes and Leonard.
    My mum hates boxing. Before my parents were married, my mum threatened to break up with my dad if he didn’t stop sparring with Rose.
    But years later, when I was bullied at school, she sent me to Jack Rennie’s gym in Essendon to learn how to fight. When my dad came in one night to pick me up, the old trainers remembered him.
    Hypocrisy by my mum? Certainly. Did it stop the bullying? Absolutely. I only had to punch one teenage bully and it was over.
    Hypocrisy, necessity or sport? Impossible to tell…
    But she refused to allow me to fight as an amateur and for that I thank her.

  8. Thanks for the explanation Matt
    I find it very interesting that when a young boy is bullied, he, his family and society applaud when he learns to fight back ie punching.

    When a girl is bullied, punching is not the norm.

    These days, one would hope that we could find more appropriate ways to deal with such situations for both boys and girls, men and women.

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