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Jeff Horn’s victory a fairytale of the tape

FOR some months now Jeff Horn has been opening his kitchen pantry, looking up, and thinking “one day I’m going to destroy you.’’

It wasn’t a photo of Manny Pacquiao. It was a block of chocolate he refused to eat.

A renowned sweet-tooth, he was desperate to crack it open but decided the only chocolate treat he deserved in the build up to his life’s defining moment was a tiny sprinkle on the top of his cappuccino.

“You have to make big sacrifices because you just never know when you are going to need absolutely everything you’ve got,’’ he said.

Like round 12 at Suncorp Stadium yesterday when his face was cut and bloated and his legs took on a drunken sailor wobble, yet somehow he held on to create one of the greatest Australian sports stories of all time.

Jeff Horn of Australia celebrates his win against Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines.

The Horn story truly is that good. Instantly it ranks near the top of that downright freakish and precious list of achievements that should never have happened but somehow did.

Australia II winning the America’s Cup, Evonne Goolagong becoming the first and only indigenous Australian to win Wimbledon and one-time scrawny schoolboy Cadel Evans winning the Tour de France.

It’s that special. If he was American they’d make a movie about it. A victory so stunning security staff had to usher some fans out of their seats an hour after the fight because they just wanted to sit there and contemplate what they had seen.

Move over Rocky Balboa – Jeff Horn’s story is better than yours because it’s true.

What odds would you have given Horn beating one of the greatest boxers of all time when he was once a tearful wreck being bullied himself at high school. A thousand to one?

He’s done it all by being himself. No big time swagger. Not a tattoo in sight. A clean skin in every way.

Out of the ring he has the innocent, almost boyish demeanour of the young schoolteacher he once was, not the warrior he has become.

Horn’s win was the talk of the huge US sport chat shows last night, with many pundits claiming he should not have got the decision.

One called it a kangaroo court. Respected scribe and opinion-setter Stephen A Smith said: “It’s garbage … What did we just see? This is a horrible decision. Horrible.’’

Bring on the rematch.

The controversy reminded me of the lunchtime interview I did with Horn a month ago. I asked him to imagine the fight was over and he had a shock victory. What did he think would be his key to victory?

Prophetically, he said: “Everyone who loses to me feels unlucky. I’m underestimated. I like that. Opponents find me awkward. I never had a boxing hero so my style is my own. Everyone always wants to fight me because they think they can beat me.’’

When Horn was asked yesterday how he had won, at first he said: “I don’t know.’’ But deep down he did.

He worked like a dog and concentrated on a game plan which included keeping Pacquiao slightly out of his range, making the best use of his 2cm reach advantage, which looked longer. It was a fabulous contest that confused us all.

Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines, left, clinches with Jeff Horn of Australia. Picture: AP

When Pacquiao covered up and let Horn swing like a windmill in the early rounds we thought we were watching a re-run of the famous Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope routine which would see the champion come to life late against a foe falling to Earth like a burnt out firework.

There was the occasional thunderclap, as in the ninth round when Horn wobbled and buckled and looked a decent right hook away from a Sunday afternoon kip – but the tornado never quite hit town despite the ring being blood-splattered and Horn ending the fight looking five years older than when he started.

So victory went to the kid who, four years ago, had his first professional fight at a wedding centre in Victoria. The same one who a few years before that showed up to the Queensland amateur titles a bit hungry and, when everyone else was having their special energy meals, he got a packet of Twisties out of the vending machine.

The win has cast events before the fight in a different light.

Excited fans at Suncorp Stadium for the bout between Manny Pacquiao and Jeff Horn. Pic Peter Wallis

When Pacquiao was nonchalantly texting at the press conference before the fight, Horn felt, on one hand offended, but on the other encouraged he was being viewed as easy road kill.

“He wouldn’t text like that if he was fighting Floyd Mayweather,’’ Horn said. He was right.

There was also the whiff that Pacquiao was viewing this fight as the takeaway pizza you grab on the run because your favourite restaurant is booked out.

Even during the fight, a Horn flurry often drew a smile from the champion as if to say “is that all you have got?’’

In fact, he had a little more, just enough to produce one of sport’s most remarkable stories – the bullied kid who finally got the chocolates.

Last night Horn, in typical low- key fashion, emerged at a function in his honour at the Treasury Hotel, right eye closed and bruised, and I asked him about his plans for the night – and that block of chocolate.

“That chocolate is gone as soon I get home tonight – I can’t wait,’’ he said, rounding off the fairytale of the bullied kid who rose from nowhere to somehow get the chocolates.