The age-old axiom that a good big man beats a good little man was proven correct when middleweight Michael Zerafa dominated career welterweight Jeff Horn at the Bendigo Stadium in Bendigo, Australia on August 31, stopping him in nine one-sided frames.
Bookmakers and pundits alike had pencilled in an easy win for Horn, largely based on his bullish style and his unanimous decision victory over future Hall of Famer Manny Pacquiao in Brisbane two years previously.
By contrast Zerafa, who went 12 competitive rounds with Kell Brook in December and was knocked out by Peter Quillin in five rounds four years ago, was seen in some quarters as a fighter who couldn’t win the big ones.
But the 27-year-old from Craigieburn in Melbourne’s outer north proved his doubters wrong in emphatic style with his dominant ninth round knockout of former WBO welterweight champion Horn on the Victorian goldfields.
“I called it weeks ago. Jeff Horn will fall because of my style. He wouldn’t be able to adapt and that showed on Saturday,” Zerafa said shortly after completing an evening run four days after his breakthrough win.
“There was nothing but winning for me.”
The ringside judges had Zerafa leading by 79-72, 77-74 and 77-74 when New Zealand referee Ferlin Marsh halted the bout in the penultimate round.
In many ways the fight looked like colour by numbers.
“That’s exactly how it felt. What shitted me was that they came out after the fight saying they didn’t eat right, nothing was going right and this and that. That’s all bullshit,” Zerafa said.
The ninth round continues to be a bugbear for Horn, 31, who was out on his feet during the same stanza against Pacquiao and stopped by Terence Crawford in the same frame in June last year.
Zerafa’s confidence proved well founded in the early going as he quickly moved to impose him will on the smaller fighter.
Horn pressed the action in the opening round but the better work came from Zerafa, who landed three or four clean right hands to steal the first frame. In the second round Zerafa connected with a right to the body that sent an off-balance Horn to the canvas. A flash knockdown to be sure, but still a 10-8 round for the underdog.
Midway through the third an accidental headclash left Horn leaking claret from a nasty cut above the left eye, but the Brisbane native rallied despite the blood to have his best round of the contest.
Zerafa regained control in the fourth, working smartly behind an educated jab to set up his slashing right hand and a well-timed right uppercut that caught Horn anytime he closed the distance and leaned in over his lead foot.
The fifth and sixth were better rounds for Horn but it was still Zerafa who was dictating the action and controlling the pace of the fight.
As he did in the Brook fight, Zerafa got stronger as the rounds progressed. In the seventh and eighth he was repeatedly nailing Horn with superbly timed right hands behind his excellent double jab.
The fatal ninth saw a swarming Zerafa rough up Horn, backing him into his own corner and bludgeoning him to the canvas. Horn’s cornermen climbed up on the ring apron just as referee Marsh turned away to direct Zerafa to the furthest neutral corner. Horn, on his haunches, tipped face-first to the canvas, but by the time Marsh turned his attention back to the fallen fighter he was back on his feet.
With the corner on the apron and Horn on unsteady legs, consensus opinion is that the fight should have been stopped then and there. Indeed, members of Horn’s own family were screaming for the fight to be called.
Horn’s long-time trainer Glenn Rushton would later justify allowing the fight to continue by saying:
“He looked steady on his feet and I made the split-second decision that the referee was in a better position (in front of Jeff and looking directly at him) to make the call as to whether he was fit to continue, as from my viewpoint (looking directly at the back of Jeff’s head) all I could see was that Jeff looked steady on his feet.”
With Horn still groggy and needing a knockout to win, Zerafa manhandled him across the ring and manoeuvred him into his own corner where he beat him into submission. Referee Marsh stepped in to halt proceedings just as the former world champion was about to hit the canvas for the third time.
At the same time Horn’s brother and cornerman Ben Horn, unable to find a towel, took of his silk jacket and tossed it into the ring to signify defeat.
Marsh would later admit he may have got the call wrong, posting on social media: “I’m always the 1st to put my hand up if I done wrong….with so much at stake here, yep maybe I did fuck up with not stopping it earlier. I’ll learn from this and make sure it won’t happen again as the no. 1 paramount rule in boxing is…boxers safety.”
Zerafa said he had no hesitation in finishing off his injured opponent in the ninth.
“I saw him roll on the floor and unsteady on his feet, but it’s not my duty to call the fight,” he said. “I was going in for the kill. If it was another fighter, I would’ve done the same thing.
“I wanted to finish the fight, try to hurt him, that’s just how it is. We defeated him and we did it in style.
“He got beaten by a better fighter and one who knew he was going to win.”
The fight contract included a rematch clause in the event that Horn lost, something that Zerafa is more than happy to honour.
“You watch the rematch. The rematch is there, but it will be the same result,” said Zerafa, who remains unbeaten on Australian soil.
“It’s at middleweight. He wants to fight [Gennady] Golovkin, Canelo [Alvarez] and all these guys. You’re a junior middleweight at best. If we fought 100 times the result will still go the same way.”
The loss to Zerafa has cost Horn the opportunity to travel to Japan in December to face Olympic gold medallist Ryota Murata for a secondary middleweight title in a fight believed to be worth around $2million to the Queenslander. It’s a void Zerafa would happily fill.
Whatever the future holds for Zerafa, it’s fair to say he has come of age. Underestimate him at your peril.