Defending world champions, particularly those who are the face of the sport, often get the benefit of the doubt in close scoring rounds. Judges often tilt the tight round in the established titleholder’s favor.
Manny Pacquiao was not so fortunate with the scorecards in his welterweight title defense against Timothy Bradley late Saturday in Las Vegas. Close- or wide-margin rounds didn’t matter, as Pacquiao lost a controversial split decision to Bradley before a stunned crowd at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“People know. It’s part of the game,” Pacquiao said. “I know how hard it is in there. I did my best but my best wasn’t good enough.”
Pacquiao’s “part of the game” reference likely was attributed to the performance of judges Duane Ford and C.J. Ross. Although Pacquiao appeared to land the more telling punches throughout the 12-round distance, Ford and Ross thought otherwise and both scored the fight for Bradley 115-113. The third judge, Jerry Roth, had Pacquiao winning by the same 115-113 margin.
Immediately after the fight even Bradley said he would need to watch a replay to determine if he was the clear winner. Later, in a postfight news conference he sounded more convincing with his performance and said he didn’t feel Pacquiao’s punches and believed he won the bout.
“It was a good competitive fight, every round was pretty close,” Bradley said. “Pacquiao won the early rounds. Later rounds I controlled with my jab, moving.”
Pacquiao (54-4-2) applied pressure early in the bout. Given Bradley’s low knockout percentage ratio of 12 stoppages in his 29 wins, Pacquiao stood at close range and connected with lead lefts to the head and rights to the body.
In the fourth round, Pacquiao scored with a flurry of combinations to the head. A short left to the chin from Pacquiao buckled Bradley’s legs.
Bradley (29-0) stepped up his connection rate — especially with rights to the head — during the second half of the bout, yet never had Pacquiao in a position of retreat. The former super-lightweight champion also scored with left jabs to the head.
But Bradley’s volume of work did not appear sufficient to overtake Pacquiao’s aggression. Nonetheless, Ford and Ross felt Bradley deserved the result and boxing again deals with another scoring controversy magnified by the crossover appeal and pay-per-view backdrop linked to Saturday’s bout.
ESPN boxing analyst Teddy Atlas didn’t mince words with the outcome.
“Unfortunately sometimes the scorers of fights are incompetent and sometimes they’re more than incompetent — they’re corrupt,” Atlas said in a network interview after the fight. “This is an injustice to the sport, an injustice to the fighters, an injustice to the fan base. And it’s one of the fallacies with the sport of boxing that the wrong guy wins sometimes.”
Confident before the bout that he would end Pacquiao’s 15-fight winning streak and remove him from the top of pound-for-pound elite, Bradley boasted he would grant Pacquiao a rematch on Nov. 10. Now that he has the World Boxing Organization title and somewhat of a bargaining chip, Bradley reiterated that he is willing to fight an immediate second bout with Pacquiao.
“He’s a strong puncher, he rocked me a couple of times in the fight but I withstood it,” Bradley said. “I held my ground and fought hard.
“This is boxing. Nov. 10 we can do the rematch. We can make it up.”
• Miami-based fighters Randall Bailey and Guillermo Rigondeaux capitalized on the opportunity of fighting on the Pacquiao-Bradley pay-per-view undercard and won their respective title fights.
Trailing on the scorecards, Bailey scored a dramatic 11th-round knockout over Mike Jones and won the vacant International Boxing Federation welterweight championship.
Bailey (43-7, 37 KOs) floored Jones (26-1) in the 10th round and knocked him out cold with a right uppercut that ended the fight at 2:52 of the 11th.
A two-time 140-pound world champion, Bailey sobbed as he celebrated his new title-winning performance.
“It feels great to be a world champion again,” Bailey said. “I got both of those knock down punches in real deep. I cried because no one knows what I go through every day of my life.”
Rigondeaux retained his World Boxing Association super-bantamweight belt with a fifth-round technical knockout over Teon Kennedy. Rigondeaux (10-0, 8 KOs) established his dominance quickly, sending Kennedy to the canvas in the first round and twice in the second.
Kennedy (17-2-2) couldn’t fend off Rigondeaux’s shots and again was dropped in the fourth. Referee Russell Mora stopped the fight at 1:11 of the fifth after Rigondeaux floored Kennedy for a fifth time.