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Cards on the table time: I was watching with friends so I didn't formally score the fight. I thought Pacquiao won. Everyone watching with me thought Pacquiao won. But while I was watching I did not think it was the one-sided drubbing that HBO was making it out to be. And I recall six rounds (from memory they were 1, 5, and 9-12) where I thought to myself "I can see an argument for Bradley in that round." Does that mean I thought all of those rounds should have necessarily been scored for Bradley? Nope. Does it mean that I thought they were the only conceivable rounds one could have scored for Bradley? Not necessarily. But as I said, I still came out with the assumption and belief that Manny Pacquiao won the fight.
So what happened? Let's break down some possibilities. But before we begin, let's break down why it is we all think Pacquiao won the fight.
The case for Pacquiao
It's weird to have to defend a result that everyone thinks is correct. But it makes for a good starting point for looking at the Bradley apologias, and it's productive for me to run through in my head why I thought Pacquiao deserved the nod. So here it goes: The only punches of meaning were landing by Pacquiao (the straight left hand). He landed more punches and harder punches, generally a winning combination, while Bradley may not have landing a single meaningful punch all fight. While someone like Timothy Bradley is never going to stop trying, by the middle of the fight he did start to look desperate, coming in wild and winging shots. Pacquiao for the most part executed his game plan and got Bradley to fight his fight.
Nor was it the case that Pacquiao dazzled in some rounds but quietly gave away others. With the possible exception of the 11th, there was not a single round that Pacquiao didn't have a solid case for winning. One could plausibly argue that a Pacquiao shutout was more in range of what transpired than a Bradley decision.
This is always close to the lips of irate boxing fans. I'm always skeptical, possibly out of naivete -- I'm not close to the dark underbelly of boxing to know what "really" happens down there, so I blissfully tell myself corruption is a thing of the past (I also think it's easy enough for various cognitive biases to generally slant outcomes towards favored fighters without having to resort to corruption).
The corruption claims right now are centered on three points: (1) Unconfirmed accounts that Pacquiao was thinking of leaving Top Rank, and this was Bob Arum's way of punishing him, (2) The idea that Pacquiao was aging out and Top Rank wanted to launch a new, younger, American star in Timothy Bradley, and (3) The belief that this sets up a lucrative rematch between the two -- especially important given that Pacquiao was running out of credible opponents not named "Mayweather" or "Marquez", neither of whom Arum wants to work with.
In terms of Arum's response itself, I don't give much weight either to his fulminations about the sport being disgraced in the post-fight presser, nor his all-smiles presentation when talking to Bradley after the fight. The latter could be just politeness (Arum's not going to get in the face and scream at his own fighter right after the decision about the injustice of it), and the former is just basic political self-preservation given the popular reaction to the fight.
As I said, I tend not to think corruption is in play. But people are talking about it, and that's never a good thing.
Count to seven
On the other extreme from corruption, the simplest explanation for the result is that the judges found 7 rounds that they thought Bradley won. One interesting thing I've observed in reading the reactions to the fight is that while essentially everyone is saying "there are 3, maybe 4 rounds one could give to Bradley tops", there is widespread disagreement on what those rounds are. In fact, I've seen almost every round in the fight cited by someone or another as a "possible" Bradley round (in the course, again, of denying the possibility that he won more than 4). So if there's an argument to be made for all those rounds, well, string seven such arguments together and you have a Bradley win.
Is that "good" judging? Not necessarily -- I think the sour taste in our mouths comes from the sense that one has to reach to give Bradley these rounds, and one should not over and over reach to give the same fighter rounds. But it's there in a way that doesn't necessarily imply abject incompetence.
Do you know what this fight reminded me of most when I was watching it? Bradley/Lamont Peterson. In that fight, Lamont Peterson fought hard, and well, and never looked like he was being blown out of the ring or anything. It's just that Tim Bradley was consistently better, and so was handily winning the fight. It seemed like the sort of fight that was obviously a Bradley win, possibly by shutout, but one in which shutout scores wouldn't really do justice to the effort put forward by the losing fighter. And I think that's what I lot of folks thought about this fight -- a convincing Pacquiao victory, but one in which he had to work harder than lopsided cards might suggest.
Okay, now, put yourself in the heads of the judges. For the first half of the fight, they're basically thinking the same thing we are: Pacquiao is winning, but not utterly dominating -- it's not like Bradley is out of the fight. So in their heads (even if subconsciously), when close rounds come up they're leaning towards scoring the bout in a way that matches their general instinct of Pacquiao in control but not walking of his man -- up 5-1 or 4-2 (I'm not saying this good judging practice -- I'm trying to make a psychological explanation for what's going on). And halfway through the fight, all three judges had Pacquiao winning (59-55 and 58-56 twice). I think if those scores had been announced after round six, none of us would have been bursting a blood vessel over it -- we'd say "okay, they found two rounds to give to Bradley."
Then we get to the second half of the fight, in which Bradley fought much better, and (more importantly) each round was better for Bradley than the one before. Judges start to see he's coming on strong, push a round his way. The next round is even better for Bradley than the one before, so you got to give him that one too. And again. And again, all the way down the back stretch of the fight.
The fact is that Bradley dominated the cards over the second half the fight -- he won 5 of 6 rounds on two cards and 4 of 6 on the third. Did he really win all those rounds? No. But you give him the first couple of rounds because the fight "feels competitive", then the next few because they were better than the ones you already gave him, then the last couple that he legitimately did win -- and suddenly you're holding a Bradley decision.
Again, I'm not saying "and thus, Tim Bradley legitimately won the fight". I'm trying to break down what I think might have actually gone on in the heads of three very experienced judges to make the result the way it was. This last story is the one that I think is most likely, and note what drives it -- not corruption, not incompetence, but not "judge each round individually" either. It's a set of cognitive biases that here happened to work strongly in Tim Bradley's advantage. That doesn't make it fair or right -- it makes it something to be attentive to.
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The rest of the night
* Was the Randall Bailey/Mike Jones fight a microcosm of Randall Bailey or what? He does nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing ... BOOM right hand floors Jones. Then Jones gets up to control most of the 11th, before BOOM right uppercut obliterates him. It was a stunning one-punch knockout and further solidifies the legend of Randall Bailey as one of the all-time most concussive punchers in the sport. It is unreal the amount of power he packs in that one hand.
* Bizarre ending to the Arce/Rojas fight deprived us of what was shaping up to be a barn-burner. While I am quite willing to call the ending "freakish" as Lampley did, one of my friends watching argued against by pointing out that "a bolt of lightning is freakish. This fight ended with Arce being punched in the face, which is well within the realm of what I expected." Okay, touche. And rematch please?
* Guillermo Rigondeaux is so insanely good. It's not that Teon Kennedy is anything special, because he's not, but still five knockdowns in five rounds is pretty amazing. But more than that is how easy Rigondeaux makes it look -- he just gives off the impression he can do whatever he wants in there. The knockdowns themselves are less about raw, Randall Bailey-esque power and more just perfect timing and precision -- I don't know if I've ever seen a more accurate puncher. And on the rare occasions that Kennedy was able to force an exchange, that accuracy didn't go away -- Rigondeaux is blessed with an ability (shared by Pacquiao and Marquez, among others) to throw hard, accurate shots consistently in the middle of what look from the outside to be wild exchanges. He is the real deal, and I hope he gets a fight against the division's elite because I want to see him against the best.
* Max Kellerman was pretty dickish in his interviews tonight. It was annoying. But one thing I give Kellerman credit for when he's in the booth is that he does sometimes, quietly, try to derail Jim Lampley from running wild with "the narrative of the fight". That's one of Lampley's great weaknesses as a broadcaster, and while I've never heard Kellerman successfully convince Lampley to change his mind mid-fight, it's good for the viewers that we have a voice giving an alternative take.