How Jeff Horn gave boxing a black eye
Two years ago Jeff Horn was the best thing to happen to Australian boxing. On Saturday night he was the worst.
The sight of Horn's distraught wife Jo being comforted by his mother as he was battered into submission by the younger, hungrier and better prepared Michael Zerafa in the final moments of their middleweight mismatch in Bendigo was painful to watch.
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As former world champion Jeff Fenech said, it was "the last thing boxing needed."
But why was this one-sided victory by one fighter over another worse than any other? Because Jeff Horn had fooled us all.
Not into believing that he was a good fighter, because on that magical day back in July 2017 when he beat the legendary Manny Pacquiao at Suncorp Stadium, he was good.
The deception came in making us think that boxing was good too.
Since the day that Horn came into the public spotlight the hype around him has been invariably positive, and fair enough too.
There was nothing not to like about this quietly-spoken, polite ex-schoolteacher and his feel-good story. We read about how he took up boxing after being bullied as a kid; we knew he was a devoted family man who adored his wife and daughters, whose idea of a big night out was watching TV at home.
No wonder the politicians, promoters and backslappers couldn't wait to hop on board.
In a sport filled with lairs and liars, he was a breath of fresh air and we lapped it all up.
Until Saturday night when, in that final horrible round, boxing was unmasked in all its cruel, senseless brutality and the Jeff Horn fantasy came crashing down.
If that had been Mike Tyson reeling backwards as he was hit again and again in the head we wouldn't have cared. He was a thug who threatened to eat his opponents' children.
If it had been Anthony Mundine, many would have cheered. The ultimate motormouth getting his comeuppance.
But this was Our Jeff, the boy next door. The one who had shown us that nice guys could not only survive, but thrive, in the murky waters of boxing's shark tank.
Not that we should have been surprised. Jeff Horn was a fighter who was too big-hearted for his own good. This was no twinkle-toed will-of-the-wisp who was harder to hit than smoke. He was a earnest toiler with an iron jaw prepared take whatever was dished up and still come back for more.
In his greatest triumph, outpointing Pacquiao in front of over 50,000 roaring fans, he still copped plenty of vicious punches to the head, almost going down in the ninth round.
His next fight was against No.1 contender Gary Corcoran who landed plenty of bombs of his own before the Englishman's team threw in the towel in the eleventh.
He was then totally outclassed over nine rounds by Terence Crawford in Las Vegas, before a laughable 96 second win over 43 year-old Mundine.
Forgetting about the Mundine "fight", those were three bruising encounters in which he absorbed a massive amount of punishment, all of which had a cumulative effect.
By the time he stood in front of Zerafa and said, "give me your best shot" he was a shadow of the fighter who outlasted Pacquaio. And so was his jaw.
It happens to the best of them. As Fenech, who was knocked out three times in his last five fights, said: "When it starts going it doesn't get better. You can't just put in a couple more teaspoons of cement to strengthen it again."
Which is why you have to depend on others to look after you. The sight of referee Ferlin Marsh asking a disorientated Horn, "Are you OK?" as he staggered around on rubber legs, was beyond belief.
As was Horn's trainer Glenn Rushton, just seconds earlier, literally pushing the stricken boxer back into the fray after he'd been felled by 14 consecutive blows to the head.
With Rushton staying mute and Marsh saying "box on", Horn was then subjected to another five savage head shots before his father demanded the fight be stopped.
Let's hope those five extra punches aren't the ones that come back to haunt us all.
Boxing. Jeff Horn. Feel-good story. How dumb were we?