On July 1, 2017 Manny Pacquiao fought Jeff Horn for the WBO welterweight title in Brisbane Australia. There were several factors that were immediately in play that would create an aspect of subjectiveness to this contest that would not be typically seen. First off, the ticket sales at the gate were going to paint the picture of the fight as being far larger than it would generally be seen. The contest was held in Australia in a rugby stadium that could hold more than 50,000 people. If this same fight was to have happened in Las Vegas, the maximum amounts of gate numbers would be in the 24,000 range, simply because the arenas in Vegas only have that many seats. Straight out of the gate, this fight was able to be subjectively colored in a way that was not comparing apples to apples with regards to the current state of boxing. For example, Pacquiao vs Mayweather is considered by all boxing analysts as the largest audience in boxing history (having generated more money than any previous fight) but this was across multiple variables that every fight does not possess. So if you were to try and illustrate the importance of the fight, you would quote revenue figures, however if a person wanted to paint the picture to skew towards a different outcome you could quote that Mayweather Pacquiao sold 16,219 tickets at the door, compared to the nearly 55,000 that attended the Horn fight in Suncorp Stadium. By focusing only on certain aspects, it is easy to claim that the Pacquiao Horn fight was one of the most important fights in history. In addition, the viewership of the fight on television peaked at 4.4 million viewers, compared to 4.4 million PPV buys for Pacquiao Mayweather. The point is that depending on the outcome that you want, it is possible to use the reality of a situation to skew the tone and feeling of something into the way you want people to perceive it. Obviously, Pacquiao Horn was no where near the magnitude of Pacquiao Mayweather, and the large viewership and ticket sales were a result of the fight being free vs paid and in Australia where a hometown hero was going to fight for a title. Of course Pacquiao Horn was going to have a large audience based upon its unique characteristics, and as a result it cannot be directly compared to other fights in recent times. It illustrates the subjective nature of boxing, and also touches on what is wrong with the world today. It illustrates that if given the opportunity to judge subjectively, people will lean towards the decision they want, as opposed to the decision that actually happens. They will also firmly affix that position into what they define as reality, and refuse to listen to any opposing argument for why they might be wrong. People now define themselves against anyone who disagrees with them, and believe that if someone is in opposition to their opinion that they are an enemy that must be destroyed by any means necessary. Disagreements about trivial matters are no longer just conversation that helps us pass the time, and are now life and death struggles that will ruin friendships. In a nutshell, it is unacceptable for anyone to have a different opinion than you, and if they do any evidence that they provide to support that position will be ignored as “fake” or “corrupt” so that you do not have to provide a counter-argument. In today’s world, everyone is right all the time and everyone who does not agree with you is completely and totally wrong. Looking at politics, religion, world affairs and culture and you can see this attitude everywhere. Boxing, because it is the one true use of sports to illustrate the struggles of life, is very much the same. Boxing is subjective when there is any outcome except for a knockout, and sometimes even those knockouts are subjective. As a result, we rely on people we train to look for certain things during a contest, and these people render a decision for us. This is not to say that there is no potential corruption in boxing, it is just to illustrate that in a subjective sport there are going to be disagreements with regards to the decisions that are made.
Pacquiao vs Horn ended with a controversial decision of Horn upsetting the favorite by a score that was unanimous in Horn’s favor. While the actual scores from the three ringside judges were different, they all judged the contest for Horn. This was immediately met with shock and disbelief worldwide due to the fact that it was a close fight that appeared to be skewing Pacquiao’s way if you are simply relying on the number of punches landed as judged by compubox. The problem is that a simple “landed punch” can mean very different things, yet compubox only has the ability to count if the punch lands or not. If a minor punch lands on an opponent’s shoulder, that counts the same as a punch landed that breaks the opponent’s orbital bones and knocks him unconscious. While these are obviously two punches that are world’s apart as far as damage, compubox counts them both as a single, scoring punch. By counting punches landed without any other aspects being considered, Pacquiao clearly wins the decision. Issues arise when you allow for the subjective nature of boxing, and the considerations that different judges are looking for different things. Some judges will score more for a fighter that is more aggressive, and who pushes the action even if they are not landing more punches. Some judges will score more for visual cues like blood or big movements like an uppercut throwing a fighters head backwards. Some judges will favor “ring generalship” which is a loose concept of controlling the action of a round using footwork and punches to move the opponent into positions that are beneficial. All of these things are considered by judges during each and every round of a fight, all with the single outcome of the scoring of the round providing 10 points to one fighter and either 9 or 8 points to the other. As a judge you must decide on the winner of each round based on the unique combination of aspects that you are looking for. You must decide using your trained opinion that one fighter wins the round and the other loses. We have trained you and put you in the position to judge this because we all cannot be ringside and seeing what you see. We trust you to do this for us.
In close contests where subjective elements are in play resulting in a decision that averages the opinions of a majority of judges, there are going to be people who disagree with the decision that is made. Those watching the contest at home are seeing a completely different view than the judges are at ringside. Those sitting at home are allowed to hear conversations in corners between trainers and fighters, as well as hearing the commentating of a person who has been put into the position of providing insight into the action of the fight. These are all things that ringside judges are not subjected to, and are essentially tools that can sway public opinion to a place that is different than what the judges are seeing. As the commentator’s voice raises and lowers, and as they provide discussion about one element of a fight but not another, the opinions of the public begin to shift into agreement. This is probably because we trust that these people know more than we do, and we generally “like them” as people who provide color to the entertainment of the contest. This allows for the subjective nature of the sport to come into play, and a commentator playing up the things that one fighter is doing and discounting the things that the opponent is doing can sway public opinion towards a perception of a winner. During this particular contest, Teddy Atlas at one point was shouting about Horn missing punches, and he was saying those actual words while Pacquiao was himself missing punches. Atlas said nearly nothing about Pacquiao missing, and almost never credited Horn for aggressiveness or for pushing the action. When the discussion of “aggressiveness” came up, Atlas would discount Horn’s efforts saying that you can only score “effective aggressiveness,” which essentially creates a situation where the fighter who is doing more damage is judged more favorably. The problem is that “damage” is not able to be accurately judged unless something very obvious happens like cuts, knockdowns, swelling, blood or anything else visual. Some fighters will show damage more obviously than others, and this creates debate as to which fighter is doing more damage by their aggressiveness. When the discussions are continually debated as the contest plays out, you are going to hear opinions of the commentators that are in favor of their favorite fighter, and probably against the fighter that they either dislike or who they know nothing about. Each boxing match is a hero story, with your favorite boxer as the hero and the other boxer as the villain. You cheer for your favorite and want them to win. This is human nature, and the drama of boxing captures it perfectly.
The massive outcry that happened when Horn was declared the winner by all judges ringside was immediately called corruption by Teddy Atlas. His position of being an authority lead him to believe that there is no way that a subjective scoring of the fight could produce anything but the opinion he shared. He used his bully pulpit to paint the picture of a corrupt sport where cheaters will use illegitimate means to get an outcome that is not against them, even if they are inferior in their skills. Atlas essentially accused Horn and his team of purchasing the decision of three judges, or possibly hinted that the judges decision was wrong because they favored him as the hometown guy. The reason this illustrates everything that is wrong with the world is that Teddy Atlas refuses to consider that possibly he is actually the one who is wrong. Instead of researching what those judges saw, asking for opposing opinions to provide evidence for their decisions or even watching the fight again to see if he might have been missing something, Atlas immediately used his position of authority to discount any opposing argument as corrupt. There is no way that he saw something incorrectly. There is no way he made a mistake.
In a world that is as polarized as the one we live in today, there is no debate and discussion any more. We simply formulate our opinions based on what we see and hear and then refuse to ever hear anything else. We internalize our perception of this event, and if anyone sees it differently we are insulted that they would challenge our perceptions. If you saw it differently, then you must be stupid If you have a different opinion than I do, you must be corrupt. My team wins and your team loses, no matter what. In the case of Pacquiao vs Horn, the charges of corrupt judging brought forth an investigation from the governing body The WBO assigned five completely independent judges to watch the fight without the backdrop of commentary, and to judge the fight using the methods they would if they were ringside. These judges found that they believed that Horn won the fight, and they did so with a majority scoring the fight exactly the way the majority of ringside judges saw it, at 115-113. Even with an independent investigation and a unanimous decision on fight night, many fans still refuse to listen to any opinion other than theirs. How could someone I have never heard of defeat a fighter who has millions of fans worldwide? How can a nobody beat a legend? How can someone I don’t like defeat someone that I do like? Pacquiao vs Horn illustrated exactly what is wrong with the world, it showed that we no longer listen to each other and no longer respect each other. It showed that even in something as trivial as a boxing decision, we need to feel as though there is a good guy and a bad guy, and the good guy always wins. Even if the bad guy never did anything that is bad, we still need to create a bad guy so that we can cheer for the good guy. We manufacture drama where there is none, so as to feel more about something than it being a simple skill contest between two men or women. We cannot accept that “our guy” loses, because that would mean that we lose. As a result, we call every bit of convincing evidence against our opinions as false and fake, and discount it as being part of a conspiracy to make us look bad. We are winners and they are losers, and if they win the only way they did it was by cheating so we don’t accept it. Our fragile egos must be protected at all times, and as a result we will choose sides even after a conclusive decision based on evidence is provided. We literally do not care about the evidence, we believe what we want to believe.
During the fight, I was commenting to may wife what a great fight it was, and how even if he loses Jeff Horn will have made a lot of fans. Nobody expected him to challenge Manny Pacquiao, let alone actually beat him. We had never heard of this guy, and Manny was supposed to win because he is a hero who does good things outside of the boxing ring. He was supposed to win because he has won so many times before. He was supposed to win because he represented us……but that didn’t happen. The guy we have never heard of won, the guy we haven’t aligned with. Jeff Horn is the opposing team, who we knew was supposed to just make our guy look good by doing what we hired him to do, get beat up and fall down. Horn didn’t do that, and as a result we have to look at ourselves and our own slanted opinions of the world. Jeff Horn made us confront the fact that we are a polarized world who no longer sees the beauty of a contest between two world class athletes, and instead all we see is ourselves winning or losing. Pacquiao vs Horn illustrated everything that is wrong with the world, in something as simple as one man punching another man in the face. Perhaps Pacquiao vs Horn is a perfect illustration that if we don’t grow up a little bit, the next conflict won’t just be two guys in a ring, and we might not get to talk about it afterward.