Best I faced: Jeff Horn
Hard-nosed Australian battler Jeff Horn came from relative obscurity to upset the legendary Manny Pacquiao to claim the WBO welterweight title in the summer of 2017.
Horn was born in Brisbane, Australia on February 4, 1988. He grew up in Pallara, a suburb of Brisbane and enjoyed a normal childhood.
“We lived on 4 acres and had plenty of room to play, including riding motor bikes around a very tricky track on the property,” Horn told The Ring. “We had lots of fun. As a young boy I always had a feeling that I could make a living from sport.
“At that point in time, I thought that I could make my name in soccer. But late in my teens I had begun to do self defense training once per week with my eventual trainer Glenn Rushton. After a year-and-a-half of that I had decided that I couldn’t make the highest level in soccer and ultimately made the decision to dedicate my efforts to boxing after Glenn assured me that if I worked hard, I had the ability to make the highest level as a boxer.”
Horn didn’t have his first amateur fight until he was 20-years-old after watching the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The school teacher quickly made the most of his time in the unpaid ranks and later competed at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics.
“It was very important as an amateur to have that international experience because you learn so much from your loses,” said Horn, who went 48-18 as an amateur. “The guys that beat me had heaps and heaps of skills. I was able to take little bits about them and mold them, so I got better as a fighter.”
Horn decided against waiting another Olympic cycle and made his professional bow with a second-round stoppage over Jody Allen in March 2013.
“I was very fortunate to link up with Duco Events at the start and then it turned into D&L Events,” he explained. “They put their money where their mouths were. They supplied me with my teachers wage, so I could stop teaching and then we agreed on how much I got paid per fight and they kept me active.”
Just six-months after turning over and in just his fifth fight, Horn claimed the Australian national title with a first-round knockout against the usually durable Samuel Colomban.
“It was pretty quick, it was pretty ballsy to do that,” he admitted. “I guess that was off the Olympics. I had that Olympian experience and tag. I rated myself and my trainer thought I had to tools to get the victory. We wouldn’t say no to anyone to get a fight because we knew how important it is to get big fights and to climb the ladder as quick as we could.”
Two fights later, Horn made a statement of intent bashing up the vastly more experienced former two-time junior welterweight world title challenger Naoufel Ben Rabeh (UD 6).
As he continued his assent into contendership, he stopped big-punching two-weight world champion Randall Bailey (RTD 7) and former world title challenger Ali Funeka (TKO 6).
In early 2017, Horn was presented with an opportunity that would forever change his life.
“I can remember getting a phonecall from my promoter saying, ‘We’ve got the Manny Pacquiao fight, he’s willing to come to Australia and fight you here,”‘ recalled Horn. “I really didn’t have many words, I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’ I wasn’t going to pass up a fight with someone like him, I looked up to him as a fighter. He had exactly what I wanted – that world title.
“To do it in my home country of Australia was even better. I didn’t think I’d get that opportunity. I’m pretty easy going and I had been brought through the ranks very well by the promoters and they had treated me in that way, making media a big thing, getting interviews and getting used to it. I did that with lots of different fights. It was a little bit more with Pacquiao, but I was used to it enough that it didn’t faze me.”
However, nothing could prepare Horn for facing Pacquiao. The two met in front of just over 50,000 fans at the Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane in July 2017.
“It was pretty surreal [fighting Pacquiao,”] admitted Horn, who shocked Pacquiao to win a hard-fought 12-round unanimous decision. “I was in awe of Pacquiao all the way up until that bell ringing. As soon as that bell rang, I switched into robot mode, seek and destroy, I needed to beat Pacquiao for my dreams to come true and that’s exactly what I did. I was on a mission that wasn’t going to happen if I showed any weakness to the guy.
“It was complete elation, I got emotional at that time because I achieved what I set out to achieve, that’s what I’d talked about for years leading up to that moment and to win finally against a champion like Pacquiao was definitely a special moment.
The win turned Horn’s life upside down.
“It got very, very busy, very, very quickly after that fight that’s for sure,” he explained. “It was crazy, it wasn’t something I had envisioned, the amount of publicity. I just didn’t picture the aftermath of winning a world title would be like, it was against an absolute superstar in the sport not just any world champion, a hall of famer and a guy that is known by anyone if you say boxing. I’ve still got to pinch myself some days.”
Beating Pacquiao was a tough act to follow, and although Pacquiao had a rematch clause it wasn’t invoked. Instead, Horn had to come back to earth and face largely unknown Gary Corcoran in his first defense, who he stopped in 11-rounds.
Next came American superstar Terence Crawford. The two were originally scheduled to meet on April 14 but an injury to Crawford’s right hand saw the fight moved to Las Vegas on June 9, 2018.
“I thought I’d be able to out muscle Crawford because I was bigger,” said Horn, who was dominated and stopped in nine ounds. “His boxing skill and I.Q, he made me walk into shots. And it doesn’t matter how big and strong you are, if you’re walking into shots like that from a welterweight you’re going to be hurt.”
After returning Down Under, “The Hornet” moved up in weight and fought popular countryman Anthony Mundine in a big pay-per-view fight in Australia.
“I was anticipating a very hard fight, I trained very hard for it and I got the knockout very early,” he said. “I landed a sweet punch which he probably wasn’t ready for because it was the first round. He hadn’t warmed to any of my shots and bang the first one I landed with I got him, dropped him and knocked him out. It was a great feeling.”
Horn went on to split a pair of fights with Michael Zerafa in 2019.
“I probably took him a little bit lightly in the first fight,” he said. “It was my first fight at middleweight. All credit to him, he came in super fit, he’s super strong and defeated me pretty comfortably [in nine-rounds] that first fight.
“Then I was like, ‘I’m going to train my guts out the second time and take everything super serious against him. I needed to get that victory back.”
Which he was able to do by 10-round majority decision.
That lead to him facing rising star, Tim Tszyu in August 2020.
“I didn’t think Tim was going to be as good as Tim was really,” he admitted. “I still trained very hard for that fight and I was prepared but he was too good. He had all the answers to me on that night and probably because I tried to go too hard too quick in that fight, I probably tired myself out too early. He had that boxing defense that was able to counter my shots and I was probably left gased at the end of the fight where he finished me.”
Horn (20-3-1, 13 knockouts) is content with his achievements in boxing and doesn’t expect to fight again.
“There’s no itch, I’m excited when I watch the fights, but I don’t get the feeling to jump in and do it myself,” he said officially announcing his retirement earlier this month on the anniversary of the Pacquiao triumph. “I feel I’ve done everything I want to do and that’s most likely the last of me in there.”
Horn, now 35, is married, has three children and lives in Brisbane. He does some public speaking and is heavily involved in BullyProof Australia, a charity organization.
“It’s putting leadership and development in schools and in boxing clubs and gyms where they can teach it,” he explained. “It’s using Glenn Rushton, Frank Mechler and myself in martial arts, boxing and fighting, all of our knowledge to put together this program that we think is the best out there to help with leadership and development for children.”
He graciously took time to speak to The Ring about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
Tim Tszyu: “It was fast and strong; he just controlled the fight with the jab. I didn’t notice the jab as much with the other guys but with Tim it was standout that he was very good at measuring with the front hand and picking you off with it.”
Terence Crawford: “He was so good at measuring the distance between you and him. He could roll from shots. He had all the answers to what I was throwing at him that night. He had that great defense where it was so hard to hit him.”
Manny Pacquiao: “He was super explosive and I think that goes with his footwork as well. He’s so explosive off his feet and his hands just come so fast as well.”
Pacquiao: “To have that fast handspeed sometimes it’s got to go with the explosive footwork and Pacquiao had both in spades.”
Crawford: “He was very good at controlling the gap. He would just counter you with shots. That ring I.Q. was definitely the highest. He knew I had to come forward to take that fight away from him and he worked it perfectly, he made me walk onto his shots.”
Michael Zerafa: “He was strong physically. I could feel the difference with Michael because he was bigger as well. He could throw me around a lot more than what the smaller guys could. Based on that he felt like one of the strongest I’ve come up against.”
Randall Bailey: “He was a decent boxer but definitely his biggest danger was his punch. Randall was a guy, who you didn’t want to get hit by. His shots were very heavy. If you got hit by them, you stayed hit. He hit me with a big shot, and he perforated my eardrum, I was able to get back up somehow and finish the fight. The shots he landed were so heavy. Pacquiao’s punches were sharp.”
Zerafa: “The way I hit him, it was one of those shots where it didn’t feel super hard, but it was timing and it landed flush. Other guys I’ve hit with shots like that have been asleep on the floor and Michael Zerafa somehow got up and continued that fight.”
BEST BOXING SKILLS
Crawford: “He just had all the answers to everything I had. His counters were really good, he was fast, his footwork was good, he was able to measure that distance.”
Crawford: “I feel Pacquiao is a very come forward fighter, if he can’t go forward, Pacquiao doesn’t really have as many answers when he can’t really do that. Crawford can do it all. I’m going on pure boxing ability and overall, I guess Terence has the answers to all different of types of fighters.”
Special thanks to Jeff Horn Sr. for making this story possible. The Ring appreciates his help.
Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected].