Boxing is self-destructive, a centuries-old sport trying to kill itself with a thousand cuts. Rival promoters won't speak, top fighters won't fight each other and now this: indefensible judging. Last Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Manny Pacquiao appeared to cruise to a comfortable win over Timothy Bradley. Appeared, that is, until judges C.J. Ross and Duane Ford declared otherwise, awarding Bradley the WBO welterweight title and dealing Pacquiao his first loss in seven years in a stunning split decision. Ross and Ford had it 115--113 for Bradley; Jerry Roth had it 115--113 for Pacquiao. Never mind that Pacquiao connected more punches (253 to 159) and power punches (190 to 108), outlanding Bradley, according to CompuBox, in 10 of the 12 rounds. Even casual observers saw Pacquiao deliver clean, hard shots while Bradley pitter-pattered punches into Pacquiao's gloves. Said promoter Bob Arum, who repped both fighters, "I'm ashamed for the sport."
The decision was outrageous—a poll of ringside reporters didn't find anyone who gave Bradley the nod—but then again, far from unusual. European heavyweight Dereck Chisora mopped the mat with Robert Helenius last December only to watch Helenius walk away with the win. The scoring in Paul Williams's junior middleweight victory over Erislandy Lara last July was so bad that the New Jersey commission promptly suspended the trio of judges. That November many thought Pacquiao was gifted with a controversial decision over Juan Manuel Marquez in Vegas. Few are crying fix—"I refuse to believe that," says Arum—but incompetence, sure.
None of this is Bradley's fault. He didn't play it safe, as many Pacquiao opponents do, challenging him in the middle of the ring for most of the night. Bradley, 28, says he would welcome a rematch, but really, how much interest would it draw? When Arum commiserated with Bradley before the decision was announced, Bradley admitted he came up short. He knew he lost; only the judges didn't.
There is a greater takeaway though, one that got swallowed up in the controversy: The 33-year-old Pacquiao's aura of invincibility is gone, his skills clearly diminished. Pacquiao circa 2009 would have scoffed at Bradley's downy punches and carved him up with his own. Now, Pacquiao's three-minutes-per-round ferocity has been reduced to 90-second spurts.
The world continues to wait for Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., but the bout no longer has the allure it once did. Mayweather's mobility has diminished, while Pacquiao has lost his edge. There will still be money there, always will be. But the who's-the-greatest-of-his-era debate is now left to barrooms and video games, yet another self-inflicted wound for a sport that can't stop hurting itself.