Boxing can’t get out of its own way.

If you’re a reader of a certain age — say, 5 to 25 — the sweet science has known a sour relationship with prosperity your entire life. And sadly, early Sunday in Maine/Kentucky time, with a stationary target lumbering in its line of fire, boxing swung and missed laughably.

It was the equivalent of a wily veteran paired with a tomato can. No, not the Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn pairing itself. I’m talking about the sport’s stacked deck as it played the hand that promised to put it back in our collective consciousness after decades of disinterest.

The NASCAR race was over. West Coast baseball was in the late innings, if not completely done for the night. NFL training camps are several weeks out. “Saturday Night Live” was a late-starting rerun, so we didn’t need to watch for the purpose of decoding any cryptic Tweets on Sunday morning. Even the geeks with their fingers affixed to the vein of NBA free agency figured to tune in for an hour, since their own guru, Stephen A. Smith, was inexplicably part of ESPN’s fight coverage.

A legend of his craft, Pacquiao, was off the pay-per-view marquee for the first time in a dozen years, paired with Horn, an undefeated, much younger underdog at a soccer stadium in the latter’s Australian hometown. There was no need to rob Peter to pay Paul (i.e., your cable or satellite provider) $69.95 or pick up a premium channel that shows “Twister” and “Gridiron Gang” on a 24-hour loop in order to see the fight. If you harbor even a passing interest in sports or an appreciation for its history, there was every reason to tune in.

Less than an hour later, after a nostalgia ride that left many us hollering at the screen and gave us hope for an old friend’s well-being, we slammed the remote against the coffee table and retired to bed, reminded why we walked away from the relationship in the first place.

Here’s the short version. Pacquiao clearly won the fight. With the exception of two short breaks to patch up cuts from accidental headbutts, he dominated the middle rounds. In a ninth frame that evoked memories of Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti or Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello, Pac-Man turned the courageous challenger’s face to a mask of blood. It was domination to such an extent that the referee issued a stern command to Ward and his cornermen: “Show me something” early in the next round, or the fight’s over.

Ward showed enough courage and lightness on his feet to permit the delay of what seemed an inevitable defeat. For the third or maybe fourth time, tops, out of a dozen, he might have stolen a round. The partisan crowd ate it up, predictably, although surely such full-throated loyalty wouldn’t, shouldn’t and couldn’t sway three men with the presumed experience and integrity to judge a championship fight. Right?

Oh, so wrong. The inimitable Michael Buffer read the indefensible scores – 117-111 and a pair of 115-113s – paused, interjected the ever-popular “annnnnnd newwwww,” and then took a world-record nine seconds to piggyback it with the previously unknown name of Jeff Horn.

Australia, probably perplexed as the rest of us, went nuts. ESPN’s Teddy Atlas, God bless him, lapsed into immediate apoplexy, decried the worldwide culture of “participation trophies,” made it squirt-bottle clear that Horn had been given one, and declared it another nail in boxing’s coffin. He later declared that the only three people in the Southern Hemisphere who believed Horn won were either incompetent or in cahoots, and that there’s no way any lucid human being could have been that ignorant.

He’s correct on all counts. Compubox, the statistical service of world championship boxing broadcasts from time immemorial, said that Horn connected at a 15 percent clip and landed fewer than 100 punches in the entire bout. Pacquiao’s numbers were surgical by comparison. There is zero chance that the judges were blinded by crowd noise, pardon the juxtaposition, and convinced that they saw the opposite.

Pacquiao could have won every round and the result would have been the same. Short of knocking out Horn, something he hasn’t done to any of his past 13 opponents, the indomitable Filipino wasn’t leaving Brisbane a winner. Whoever orchestrated this backroom job decided that Horn’s real-life “Rocky” story was the better story line.

The night in its entirety was a ruse; a game designed to see who among us is willing to shell out more money to see the rematch. The result was as predetermined as anything you’ll see on another PPV platform, one popularly known as World Wrestling Entertainment.

If you don’t believe that, you’re either farther in the tank for boxing than are those three blind mice, or you simply haven’t been paying attention since about the mid-1990s. That’s when the sport I loved as a child veered hopelessly off the tracks.

And I do mean loved. No coincidence that my initials are K.O. Fourth-and-fifth-grade Oakes owned a stack of “Ring” magazines to the ceiling. I’d even sit in a corner with a pen and paper and craft my own monthly rankings. (Yes, we all did strange things to entertain ourselves before kids emerged from the womb cradling smartphones.)

Watching live world championship fights on free TV with my old man was a twice and sometimes thrice-weekly event. Marvin Hagler, Ray Leonard, Ray Mancini, Arguello, Michael Spinks and Evander Holyfield were my earliest sports heroes, trailing perhaps only Larry Bird, Carl Yastrzemski, Steve Grogan and Richard Petty.

But those days are dead and gone, and I can’t believe I was duped into believing differently.

I promise it won’t happen again, no matter how late the hour and how light the competing sports schedule.

Kalle Oakes was a 27-year veteran of the Sun Journal sports staff. He is now sports editor of the Georgetown (Kentucky) News-Graphic. You may reach him by email at [email protected]

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