The boos started at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas right after the ring announcer read the scorecards and revealed that Manny Pacquiao had won a close majority decision over Juan Manuel Marquez.
The booing was understandable.
Most of the boxing world wanted Pacquiao to defeat Marquez convincingly Nov. 12 to set up the long-awaited super-fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. But what I saw from my second-row seat at ringside was something different — from the HBO broadcast team, from my colleagues watching on television, even from the ringside judges.
I scored the bout 115-113 — seven rounds to five — for Mexico’s Marquez.
Honestly, I felt a bit guilty giving two other rounds to Pacquiao and tweeted right after the bout that Marquez was robbed by the official judges’ scores of 116-112 and 115-113 for Pacquiao. The third judge had the fight a 114-114 draw.
Marquez wisely stayed back and landed the more powerful punches. Meanwhile, Pacquiao appeared to be desperately chasing scoring blows while Marquez merely waited and expertly found his target.
Of course, controversial decisions are part of boxing’s tradition, especially when it involves a big fight.
Nevertheless, a few of my boxing-savvy colleagues were surprised by my round-by-round scoring. Watching the fight on television, they believed Pacquiao had won. Pacquiao landed 176 punches to Marquez’s 138, according to ComuBox’s statistics. Pacquiao also beat Marquez, 117-100, on power shots.
From my view, however, Marquez won most of the close rounds by landing the more substantial blows.
Now, something else was at play. The difference between watching a close fight on TV and in person.
“The two main variables in a heated boxing match are that on television, the ‘tell’ part of show and tell has an influence,” said veteran HBO analyst Larry Merchant, who didn’t work the Pacquiao-Marquez fight but was aware his longtime colleague Jim Lampley was effusive in praise for Pacquiao during the fight telecast. “In the arena, the number of fans for each fighter, and which side is more passionate, carries the weight.
“Pacquiao’s fans were suppressed by the expectations that Manny’s always powerful and dominant. Just winning no longer draws an emotional response from them and, meanwhile, Marquez was doing better than anyone expected. Those expectations influence how you see something happening.”
Indeed, Pacquiao was booed fiercely as he tried to explain his 15th consecutive triumph.
Veteran Showtime boxing analyst Al Bernstein said he watched Pacquiao-Marquez from the Las Vegas media center and scored it 7-5 in rounds for Marquez.
“Television clearly gives you the better view of the fight unless you’re on the apron, where the judges are,” Bernstein said.
In a sampling of Twitter followers watching on television, @66jay66 said he believed Marquez “gave away the last two rounds” to allow a draw. Another, @dsmith3633, said Pacquiao’s “lack of skill [was] exposed … just being an athlete only gets you so far” and he scored the fight for Marquez.
Lampley said he and HBO analysts Max Kellerman and Emanuel Steward were “categorical these were hard rounds to score” on the broadcast.
“After 25 years of doing this, I have a pretty good sense of what the judges respond to and who’s doing the things the judges will recognize,” Lampley said.
Lampley, Kellerman and Steward will also call the Miguel Cotto-Antonio Margarito rematch Saturday at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Boxing judges are schooled to take pre-fight expectations out of the equation. Boxers who force the action typically score better than fighters who are overly calculating.
“You want to win? Throw more punches,” Lampley said. “Scoring for the aggressor helps the sport. Those are the types of fights we want to see.”
Another reason it was a hard fight to score is there was little action at the start of most rounds. CompuBox numbers revealed Pacquiao and Marquez threw many more punches in the final minute of each round. And because Pacquaio landed more in those segments, he won the fight.
That didn’t matter to Marquez’s trainer, “Nacho” Beristain, who said his fighter’s defeat was “robbery of the utmost.”
Merchant recalled telling friends he watched the fight with, “There might be a surprise here.” But he agreed that if someone scored the bout “seven rounds to five either way [it was] a reasonable view.”
“Fans come to boxing with an emotional investment in one of these guys, and that’s a big part of the experience that I love. The great writer Red Smith once said, ‘If you want to know who won a fight, watch it with a 12-year-old. He’ll tell you,’ ” Merchant said.