“Do I have what it takes to put in more big efforts to get some more big wins?"
By Anthony Cocks
Former WBO welterweight champion Jeff ‘The Hornet’ Horn 19-2-1 (13) is at a career crossroads after being knocked out by Michael ‘Pretty Boy’ Zerafa 27-3 (16) in the ninth round of their middleweight contest at the Bendigo Stadium in Bendigo, Australia on August 31.
The 31-year-old Queenslander has spoken openly about the challenge he faces to rediscover the drive and determination that saw him outpoint future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao two years ago.
Since scoring a breakthrough win over Pacquiao at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium in July 2017, Horn has struggled to find the same form that saw him outmuscle and outhustle the Filipino legend over 12 rounds.
There were of course some reasons for his drop-off. His title defence against Gary Corcoran the following December took place just weeks before his wife Joanna gave birth to their first daughter Isabelle. In his first pro fight outside of Australia he faced formidable multi-weight champion Terence Crawford, going down in nine frames in Las Vegas in June last year.
An easy 96-second knockout of faded former titleholder Anthony Mundine followed last November, but it flattered to deceive.
Now Horn faces the biggest decision of his career and he knows it.
“I don’t usually re-watch my losses. I still haven’t seen a replay of the Terence Crawford fight. But I had to see the fight against Michael Zerafa again,” Horn said to PlayersVoice.
“I needed to do that to answer a few questions. Some were my own, while others have come from outside our camp.
“I wanted to see how I fought, and what Michael was like in the fight, because that could well help determine what my decision will be about my future.
“I’m a little easier on myself after watching it again. I was fighting like crap, that’s for sure, and I wasn’t fighting to plan.
“I thought it would look a lot worse. The commentators were saying, ‘this is bad it should be stopped’. Everyone there watching probably thought it should be stopped, but I saw it differently.
“I was tired, starting to get clipped a bit, but it was only really in that long combo which is when the fight got stopped that I thought, ‘yeah that’s fair enough’.
“I was exhausted at the time, which probably made it look a lot worse. I think I got clipped too many times up to that point.
“My trainer Glenn Rushton has copped a lot of heat for not throwing in the towel in the eighth or ninth rounds, before the referee stopped the fight.
“I was probably taking too many shots and the towel could have been thrown in. I felt when I was in there that I wasn’t too bad and could fight on. And looking at it again, I don’t see it like everyone else does that it should have been stopped instantly.
“I don’t know if it’s the fighter in me, or a bit of stupidity in the moment.
“I’m happy with the decision Glenn made. I know family members of mine feel differently and if I’m in a situation like that again, they’d like for the towel to be thrown in a bit earlier. It’s a tough balance. As Glenn said afterwards, it’s a good thing the towel didn’t get thrown in when I was in a bit of trouble against Manny Pacquiao.
“It can be frustrating but people like to talk and it’s what you have to deal with. I deal with it. I’m a laidback person and a lot of it is water off a duck’s back.
“I had a brief chat with him after the fight. I don’t feel bad about what happened, and I would have been frustrated if it was stopped earlier.
“You can never know as a trainer. On the sidelines, it’s very difficult. It all depends on the position you are in when you are watching it.”
Trainer Rushton has faced criticism from some quarters for not stopping the fight in the ninth when Horn was bludgeoning to the canvas in his own corner, including from Hall of Famer Jeff Fenech.
But Horn sees it differently.
“Glenn said he wasn’t in a very good position for it and couldn’t see my eyes, and he thought the referee was in the best position to call it. Glenn’s made that as his excuse, and I accept that,” continued Horn.
“Jeff Fenech has been strong in his comments on Glenn, and I don’t agree with him.
“I was a bit frustrated with what Glenn said at the press conference afterwards though, about me eating pizza and drinking coke before the fight. I ate Subway.
“Even if I did have a piece of pizza it’s probably not going to change the result of the fight, and it’s not good using that as an excuse for a loss.
“As far as preparation goes you could probably look back after any fight and think, ‘I could have done that better.’
“I can do the same this time. I probably could have sparred a bit better. I don’t think it was super great. I don’t think it was super bad.”
In the wake of the loss there have been calls for Horn to sack his lifelong coach Rushton, but that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.
“I don’t have any issues with Glenn. I’ve already stated in the past that I’m not going to be in boxing for a long time, just a short, good time,” Horn said.
“And I’m not planning on leaving Glenn any time soon. And probably not for the rest of my career.
“It doesn’t stop the questions. But I’ve got no real desire to go to anyone else.
“I have Dundee Kim who trains with him as well and I’m happy with the mixture of what I get from them both.
“Dundee is fantastic with pad work and Glenn’s fighting knowledge is great and they’re both really good guys to have in my corner.
“I don’t think I could change and find one person who is as good as that combination.”
Horn, who was loosely lined up to face Ryota Murata in Japan in December for a $2million payday, recognises that the hunger probably wasn’t there for the Zerafa fight.
“I never perform really well in a lead-up to a fight and I think hunger is a big part of the sport,” he said.
“I think I probably didn’t have as much hunger for this fight with Michael as I did with other fights.
“I’ve been on the highs of Australian boxing. The Pacquaio fight, going over to Las Vegas to fight Crawford there. I’ve been spoilt with those massive fights.
“Then to go to Bendigo, even though there was a massive crowd there, compared to where I’d been before, felt like a drop down in occasion.
“I felt like I was fighting to keep busy rather than fighting for something bigger, and that probably let me down in mindset. Mindset is a huge part of boxing success.
“I fought alright but I didn’t fight to my game plan. It was probably the same as when I fought Crawford. I was too predictable and Michael was easily able to work that out.
“I didn’t have the pressure like I did in America but I fell into that hole of coming forward and that was all I was going to do.
“I obviously hadn’t done enough work in the timeframe I had to get ready. I had eight weeks, which I cut short a bit. I thought that was probably good enough to beat Michael but he proved what I proved against Pacquiao – that hunger will always win out if the skill level is similar.”
With his future hanging in the balance, Horn said he is still considering retirement.
“There have been a lot of questions as to what comes next. I see a few options. I could take a rematch against Michael, try to line up another fight, or walk away,” Horn said.
“I’m still letting time play out and thinking about it more and more. The key for me is what do I want? Do I have the drive to keep doing it? The desire to do another hard training camp and keep fighting?
“The training camps, no matter how hard you are you’ve got to take smacks to the head.
“I’ve got to think about it and decide if I’m prepared to do the work that needs to be done to get ready for a big fight.
“Can I keep pushing on and get those big wins? It depends on how hungry I am.
“This is the first time I feel like I have had to make a decision like this. I’ve always said I planned on retiring no later than 35. That doesn’t mean I was definitely intent on waiting until I was 35, just that I wouldn’t fight past that.
“The decision will be all mine. I can’t give my family the choice. They’re always going to sway towards the side of protecting me, and I think they would like me to quit because they don’t like seeing me get hit.
“Jo was upset in the fight because I got hurt. I was knocked down and she was worried for me. I’d be upset if she wasn’t upset.
“She’s always going to be overly protective of me and want things stopped earlier than they should be.
“Jo has a big impact in my life in many different ways but I can’t involve her in this decision. I know what Jo’s like and she would say, ‘I’d be happy if you hung them up today.’ She would have said that after the Pacquiao fight.
“It’s not that I don’t love and respect what Jo says, and I understand where she’s coming from, but it’s really on my shoulders what the decision will be – not on Glenn’s, my dad, my mum or any family member.
“If I feel I could hang the gloves up now and that was enough, I could easily do that as well.
“My daughters Isabelle and Charlotte have changed my perspective on life. That happens to a lot of people. Those two, along with Jo, are the most important to me and my main care.
“I want to see them growing up and enjoying life. My health is what I need to be able to do that. That’s the main thing with boxing, you can’t be in it if you’re not prepared to put in the work.
“Although there is a team effort behind you, it all comes down to you. How much you’re willing to put in determines what you get out of it. If you cut corners, you’ll be found out.
“You want to keep fighting for pride and to go out on a loss would be difficult. You can see that with Anthony Mundine and the way I beat him and he’s coming back again because it’s so hard to go out like that. I don’t blame him for wanting to come back and try to do something better.
“Do I have what it takes to put in more big efforts to get some more big wins?
“That’s what I’ve got to discover.”