Published November 20, 2014
The outcry in this gambling city was so loud Floyd Mayweather Jr. could have heard it in his jail cell. On the other side of the world, people cried in the streets in Manila, and the presidential palace issued a statement praying for the quick return of their hero's strength and fervor.
Through it all, Manny Pacquiao was a model of serenity.
"I hope you're not dismayed or discouraged," Pacquiao said. "I can fight. I can still fight."
That much was evident Saturday night in a fight Pacquiao seemed to have under control up until the time the judges' scorecards were announced. He pounded Timothy Bradley early, landed more punches and looked a lot like the fighter who catapulted to fame on a remarkable undefeated run over the last seven years.
That he's a former champion now is thanks to some judging that was questionable, if not borderline incompetent. But boxing has always been a subjective sport, and anything shy of a knockout is always open to interpretation by the three judges who sit ringside and score things round by round.
Pacquiao understands that as well as anyone, which may account for his smiles and calm demeanor afterward. In his last fight with Juan Manuel Marquez, he was lucky to escape with a majority decision that just as easily could have gone to his Mexican challenger, and he's been the beneficiary of other close decisions, too.
He was never close to knocking out Bradley; he was never able to knock him down. He coasted some in the late rounds, and left his fate in the hands of other people — something every fighter is cautioned never to do.
It's a mistake he vows not to repeat if the two meet as expected Nov. 10, in a rematch both say they want.
"That will make me become a warrior in the next few months," Pacquiao said, "because in the rematch my feeling is I don't want to go the whole 12 rounds."
The end of Pacquiao's 15-fight winning streak was even more startling because most near ringside didn't see it coming. Almost without exception every writer had Pacquiao well ahead, while HBO's resident unofficial judge Harold Lederman had him winning 11 rounds out of 12. The Associated Press scored it 117-111 for Pacquiao.
Punching stats compiled by Compubox showed Pacquiao landing 253 punches to 159 for Bradley, and landing more punches in 10 of the 12 rounds. But boxing statistics are subjective, too, compiled by two people counting the punches they believe land in a fight — and this one got so wild at times it was hard to tell who was hitting whom.
Still, when the split decision was announced and judges Duane Ford and C.J. Ross had Bradley winning 115-113, the pro-Pacquiao crowd booed loudly, and 81-year-old promoter Bob Arum nearly went apoplectic.
"This isn't about a close decision," said Arum, forgetting for a moment that he promotes both fighters. "This is absurd and ridiculous and everyone involved in boxing should be ashamed."
It didn't take long for radio talk shows and people commenting online to take up the theme. As usual, they said they would never watch another fight and, as usual, claimed the fight had to be fixed.
It wasn't, of course, because boxing in Nevada is heavily regulated and there has never been any indication judges could be bought off for a big fight. If they got it wrong — and there were some who said they didn't — they got it wrong simply because they liked what they saw when Bradley switched styles midway through the fight and started boxing Pacquiao instead of brawling with him.
Indeed, almost overlooked in the uproar was that Bradley fought smart and he fought gritty. He never gave up despite badly injuring both feet in the early rounds, and he took the best Pacquiao had and kept going after him. Bradley didn't have the power to keep Pacquiao off him, but he had ring intelligence and determination — and he displayed both all the way to the final bell.
"There's three judges out there. What do you want me to do?" Bradley asked. "Two of them felt I won the fight. That's all that counts."
Bradley, who came to the postfight press conference in a wheelchair, said he hurt his left foot in the second round, and told trainer Joel Diaz in the corner after the round that he thought it was broken.
"He said, 'What do you want to do? You're in the fight of your life. Do you want to quit?'" Bradley said. "I said, 'No.'"
Bradley's manager, Cameron Dunkin, said Sunday that the fighter tore ligaments in his left foot and will have an MRI on Monday to see if any bones are fractured. He said Bradley also sprained his right ankle in the fifth round, and it was badly swollen.
"It's incredible that he fought through it," the manager said.
Dunkin said Bradley knows his win was controversial and is determined to prove critics wrong in the rematch.
"He was letting it get to him. Now he realizes the judges do their job and he should just enjoy it," he said. "Did Pacquiao ever apologize to Marquez for any of his results? No."
While the fight set up what will be a lucrative rematch for both fighters, it may also quiet talk about a fight between Pacquiao and Mayweather that now seems destined never to happen. With Mayweather currently serving a three-month sentence in the Clark County Detention center — where the Pacquiao fight was not shown — and Pacquiao gearing up for a rematch with Bradley, there are even more obstacles to the megafight than before.
In the Philippines, meanwhile, fans took the loss harder than Pacquiao himself. They booed and yelled "Manny was cheated" after watching the fight in public parks and gyms throughout the country. Some even burst into tears in disbelief that their hero — who is also a Filipino congressman — could lose.
"He's a national and a world hero," said librarian Gina Tubo. "He inspires people and entertains them away from their troubles, so this is really shocking to all of us and I wept because he didn't lose."
He did lose, though, because the judges said he lost. That happens in boxing, and now Pacquiao no longer has the welterweight title he brought into the ring.
The sport can be filled with heartache, but it's made Pacquiao rich and famous, and an icon in his country. Maybe that was why he wasn't the one doing the screaming after his loss.
"That's how we love this boxing," Pacquiao said. "In your heart you know I was winning the fight. But it's OK. It's part of the game."
Tim Dahlberg is the boxing writer for The Associated Press. He can be reached at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg