By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LAS VEGAS, June 9 - Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines was stunned by American Timothy Bradley on Saturday, surrendering his WBO welterweight title on a controversial split decision at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
It was Pacquiao's first defeat since he lost to Erik Morales in Las Vegas in March 2005, ending a run of 15 consecutive wins by the Filipino who has won world titles in an unprecedented eight weight divisions.
Fight promoter Bob Arum lambasted the judges afterwards in the post-fight news conference.
"I've never been as ashamed to be associated with the sport of boxing as I am tonight," he said. "This is a fight that respected people scored 11-1, 10-2 to Pacquiao. They said that Bradley was trying hard but that this was a mis-match.
"Desert Storm" Bradley, a 5-1 underdog against Pacquiao, improved his perfect record to 29-0 with 12 knockouts, while Pacquiao slipped to 54-4-2 with 38 knockouts.
Judge Jerry Roth (115-113) awarded the fight to Pacquiao while CJ Ross (115-113) and Duane Ford (115-113) gave it to the American, but the crowd responded with boos after 12 rounds which the Filipino had appeared to dominate.
"I accept what the result is," Pacquiao, 33, said ringside. "I respect the judges, I cannot blame them. It is a part of the game. I give thanks to the Lord. I do my best but my best wasn't good enough."
Asked if he thought he had won the fight, Pacquiao replied: "Absolutely, yes," and the crowd erupted with cheers.
"It was a good, competitive fight," said Bradley. "Every round was pretty close. Pacquiao won some of the early rounds. I controlled the later rounds with my jab. I need to go home and review the tape.
"He is a strong puncher. He rocked me a couple of times in the fight but I held my ground and fought to the end. This is boxing."
The official statistics reflected how much more punishing Pacquiao's blows had been.
He connected with a higher percentage of punches thrown, 253 of 751 to the 159 of 839 for the American, and landed 190 power punches compared to his opponent's 108.
"It is unfathomable," fumed Arum. "These people don't know how to score. The truth is they're too damn old to judge any more. What were they looking at? This was not a close fight. It's not good for the sport of boxing."
Pacquiao, who had kept his opponent waiting before the start of the fight after watching his beloved Boston Celtics NBA team lose the Eastern Conference finals to the Miami Heat, was initially outboxed by Bradley.
The American landed several early body jabs before the Filipino ended the opening round with a flourish, landing three crunching straight lefts to the head.
Watched by a crowd of just under 16,000 that included former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, Pacquiao continued to dominate Bradley with his probing left hand, then mixed in a series of telling combinations in the third round.
As chants of "Manny, Manny" echoed through the Garden Arena in the fourth round, Pacquiao pummelled Bradley with a withering array of body punches and jabs to the head, Bradley doing well to stay on his feet.
Pacquiao maintained control in the fifth round, subjecting Bradley to a flurry of blows on the counter attack and snapping his head backwards with a shuddering left hook late on.
The Filipino kept Bradley back peddling for most of the sixth round, and pinned him to the ropes with another series of body blows punctuated by a searing right hook.
Though Bradley fought back bravely in the seventh round after a couple of exchanges, Pacquaio's superior power and speed made a telling difference as the Filipino landed considerably more punches.
Pacquiao was hit by a glancing head butt in the eighth round but he remained in control while frequently smiling as most of the American's blows landed wide.
Bradley enjoyed his best round of the night in the 10th when Pacquiao appeared to relax but the Filipino came storming back with a late flurry of telling blows in the 11th.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Las Vegas; Editing by Alastair Himmer)