LAS VEGAS -- Injustices like the split decision that gave Timothy Bradley a controversial victory over Manny Pacquiao are not unheard of in boxing.
Yet that doesn't make the stunning outcome of Saturday's welterweight title fight -- one of the most dumbfounding decisions in recent history -- any easier to make peace with.
Pacquiao connected on 253 of 751 punches (34 percent), compared to 159 of 839 (19 percent) for Bradley, and outlanded the challenger in 10 of the 12 rounds. The Filipino absorbed Bradley's best shots in the early rounds and, undeterred by his opponent's rapidly diminishing offense, relied on his speed and power to entice Bradley into toe-to-toe exchanges and batter him into retreat.
"I don't remember if he hit me with one punch," Pacquiao said afterward.
Yet ringside judges Duane Ford and C.J. Ross both scored it 115-113 to Bradley, dissenting with Jerry Roth, who had it 115-113 to Pacquiao. (SI.com scored it 116-112 to Pacquiao, among the more charitable scores on press row.)
The decision was met with horror, then shock, then anger by the mostly pro-Pacquiao crowd of 14,206 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Said promoter Bob Arum: "I went over to Bradley before the decision and he said, 'I tried hard but I couldn't beat the guy.'"
It marked the end of a remarkable run for Pacquiao (54-4-2, 38 KOs) that spanned more than seven years, 15 victories, and five championships in five weight classes -- running his overall haul to a record-breaking eight.
But after everything he's done for boxing, Manny Pacquiao is the last person who should have been cheated like this. He deserved better.
When a shortage of marketable stars threatened the sport's popularity in the late aughts, the effortlessly charismatic Pacquiao emerged as the sport's biggest international star. Propelled by a quasi-messianic desire to stamp out poverty in his native Philippines -- a compulsion that's led him to pursue (successfully) a political career -- Pacquiao became the most socially important boxer since Muhammad Ali. There won't be another one like him anytime soon.
But it's been a rough year for Pacquiao, Inc.
The consummate sportsman, he's been held to an impossible standard, harangued for simply beating opponents instead of delivering the spine-tingling knockouts of his heyday. His tax and marital problems have been aired in public, while his decision to recommit himself to Catholicism has been mocked. Pacquiao's one-of-a-kind brilliance has been taken for granted, overlooked by a microwave society that's so easily bored and overeager for the Next Thing and doesn't appreciate what it has until it's gone.
The result, of course, was no fault of Bradley (29-0, 12 KOs). The junior welterweight champion from Palm Springs, Calif., turned in a heroic effort in his second fight at 147 pounds, overcoming foot and ankle injuries to his left and right feet (respectively) so grave that he conducted his post-fight presser from a wheelchair. Through it all, he never acquiesced like so many Pacquiao opponents have done over the years when confronted with the realities of the Filipino's relentless work rate. It was a brave effort by one of the sport's most promising young talents.
It just wasn't enough to win.
"There are three judges out there. What do you want me to do?" Bradley said, when asked whether he felt he deserved the victory, before alluding to the return bout. "We definitely have to do it again."
They will fight a rematch in November -- Arum said it will happen in Florida, Texas or Nevada -- and Pacquiao insists he'll be as motivated as ever. There's little question that he's past his peak: the Pacquiao of three years ago would have closed the show in the fourth round, when he had Bradley caroming off the ropes and holding on for dear life after unloading a fusillade of punches from angles that defied geometry.
But even the 33-year-old Pacquiao did more than enough to win. It just doesn't seem right that he loses his first fight in nearly eight years on a night when he looked so rejuvenated, so renewed with vigor.
And there he was early Sunday morning, addressing the press after coming up on the wrong end of a gruesome miscarriage of justice, and how did he respond?
With a smile.
"Whatever happens, don't be discouraged about boxing," he said. "Next time."