It went all the way and ended in a contentiously bitter loss, the opposite of what Manny Pacquiao's handlers predicted for his WBO welterweight world title fight against Jeff Horn.
Pacquiao's long-time trainer Freddie Roach tipped a "short and sweet" knockout win for the 11-time world champion in Sunday's so-called 'Battle of Brisbane,' but Horn got a unanimous points decision in his first world title fight — delighting the 51,052-strong crowd.
The 38-year-old Philippines senator arrived in Brisbane a week ahead of the fight with a chartered plane carrying more than a hundred supporters and as the hot favorite to beat Horn. He leaves without the WBO belt.
All three judges awarded it to Horn, with Waleska Roldan scoring it 117-111 and both Chris Flores and Ramon Cerdan scoring it 115-113.
Some critics slammed it as a hometown decision, saying the statistics had Pacquiao landing twice the number of power punches as Horn.
"That's the decision of the judges. I respect that," Pacquiao was quoted as saying by broadcaster ESPN. "We have a rematch clause, so no problem."
But Pacquiao's conditioning trainer, the Los Angeles-based former Australian heavyweight Justin Fortune, was critical of the referee and the judging.
"Manny lost the fight, but Jeff Horn looks like a pumpkin. Those scores, that card?" he said, "It should be the other way."
Fortune said Pacquiao should have taken any risk out of the equation.
"When you come into someone's backyard, you need to really do a number on them or knock them out," he said. "That's boxing. You get given a gift sometimes, you get (swindled) sometimes. But when you come to someone's house, you're supposed to mess them up, make a statement. Never leave it in the judge's hands."
Horn started strongly and won at least three of the first five rounds on all three of the judge's cards. But Pacquiao, after twice needing treatment for a cut on top of his head in the 6th and 7th rounds, appeared to dominate most of the rounds from the eighth.
He was close to finishing it in the 9th when he relentlessly pounded Horn and had him wobbling — to the point where referee Mark Nelson asked the 29-year-old former schoolteacher if he could continue — and could also have come out with the win.
Pacquiao didn't attend the formal post-fight news conference, sending a spokesman to say he was getting treated for the cuts. He also declined to do any interviews in the dressing room.
Horn was confident he was always ahead on points, and was startled after the 9th when the referee asked if he was OK to continue.
"I felt buzzed for sure, but I'm the Hornet — I've got to come back," Horn said. "I'm not a quitter. Australians aren't quitters to start with. We've showed we're winners.
"It was the battle of Brisbane, that's for sure. Absolutely unbelievable."
Co-promotor Bob Arum said it was a "close fight. It could have gone either way."
"A couple of close rounds, but you can't argue with the result," he said. "I scored a lot of the early rounds for Jeff. Then I had Manny coming back in the middle. The 12th round, Jeff really won. If you give Manny the 11th, you have it a draw. You give Jeff the 11th, it's 7-5."
Roach had said earlier in the week that he'd think about advising Pacquiao to retire if he lost the fight, but they're already considering a rematch.
Horn can't see Pacquiao retiring any time soon.
"I'm sure he'll want to come back. It was a close decision and I'm sure he'll want to come back and prove himself," he said.
Arum said there was a clause for a rematch, but he'd give it time before talking to Pacquiao about it.
"I don't know Manny's future position. Is he going to stay in politics and not continue in boxing? I don't know, and he doesn't know," Arum said. "It's unfair to ask him now."
Pacquiao's camp had talked about a rematch with Mayweather if he got past Horn, hoping to avenge his loss on points in the 2015 mega fight. That seems to be a long shot now.
Pacquiao entered the fight with a record of 59-6-2, but the last of his 38 wins by knockout was in 2009. Horn hadn't lost any of his previous 17 professional fights, but had never encountered anybody with Pacquiao's credentials.
"I take massive confidence from this fight," Horn said. "I believed in myself before, now I've climbed the Pacquiao mountain."
Roach said the quietly spoken Horn was "a little bit rougher than I thought he was. Maybe a little bit more physical."
"Like every time you come you come out of a clinch in a headlock, something is wrong there," he said. "I don't know if the referee couldn't control that or what it was.
"But, I thought it was a pretty close fight. I thought Manny had a real good round in the 9th — I thought it was maybe a two-point round — and I just told Manny, 'give me one more of those and the fight's over,' but he just couldn't do it. We lost the decision."
Roach said he couldn't judge the fight, given how close he was.
"I hear there's a lot of people think it's controversial, think Manny won, but it went the other way and we have to live with that."
At Marawi City in the southern Philippines, where local officials organized a free public viewing to give some respite from the disastrous siege by militants, hundreds of people gathered to cheer for Pacquiao.
"Many couldn't accept the result initially but the entertainment side of it provided a respite," Marawi crisis committee spokesman Zia Alonto Adiong told The Associated Press. "The message of courage and resiliency, I think Manny Pacquiao provided that today."
Associated Press Writer Jim Gomez contributed from Manila, Philippines.