Saturday night’s Manny Pacquiao – Tim Bradley fight once again put Las Vegas judges under the microscope, as Bradley was awarded a dubious split decision win over the Filipino southpaw. I watched the fight on Primetime and awarded only two rounds to Bradley - my scorecard read 118-110. Reading my timeline on twitter it appears about 95% of people talking about the fight scored it in favour of Pacquiao. My surprise is that the other 5% could even think that Bradley had done enough to win.
When judge Jerry Roth’s scorecard of 115-113 to Pacquiao was read out I was shocked at how close he had scored the fight and thought he was being overly generous to Bradley; so when Duane Ford and CJ Ross both turned in the same scoreline, but in favour of Bradley, I was aghast. Boxing is at its core a noble sport but the politics involved have completely corrupted it. In the last seven months alone Las Vegas has seen three highly contentious decisions, Pacquiao was on the receiving end of a gift decision against Juan Manuel Marquez, although there is a case for Pacquiao winning that one. In April Brandon ‘Bam Bam’ Rios was gifted the decision against Richard Abril in a bout some experienced boxing reporters claimed was the worst decision they had ever seen.
Some judges are swayed by aggressive fighters such as Mike Tyson or Nigel Benn and so will score the fight accordingly
How can some judges seemingly get it so wrong? Judging fights is subjective and there are no hard rules as to how to score them – it all boils down to personal interpretation. Some judges are swayed by aggressive fighters such as Mike Tyson or Nigel Benn and so will score the fight accordingly. Other judges are more impressed by smooth, slick boxing such as that of Pernell Whitaker or Willie Pep. Indeed Pep once won a round in a fight without landing a punch - such was the defensive skill he displayed. So we see the subjectivity of judging in action. Most judges are unwilling to score a round even, so they may judge the round on who landed more punches or displayed slightly more skill.
Watching a fight at ringside, however, is vastly different from watching it on TV. On TV we have multiple camera angles and are closer to the action than those at ringside. At ringside the judge only has one angle to view and occasionally their view can be obscured, which can lead to potentially mis-scoring punches from one fighter. There is no simple solution to this problem simply because, as stated, there are no set rules for scoring fights. One way of tackling this was the way the British Boxing Board of Control scored their title fights - having the referee who is close to the action score the bout. This has some merits because the referee is closer to the fight than anybody else, and has the ability to move around the ring viewing the action from multiple angles. However, the flip side is that the referee is needed to enforce the rules, and by giving him the responsibility of judging you are potentially diminishing his ability to do either job. The BBBofC apparently agreed with that last point in 2005, as they introduced three scoring judges at ringside and took the responsibility of scoring away from the referee.
UFC appear to be having none of the problems facing boxing
So it would seem that for now we are stuck with this system and all its inherent flaws, but the authorities need to realise this is damaging boxing’s reputation at a time when they are facing a serious challenge to its position as the biggest full contact sport in the world, from UFC. UFC appear to be having none of the problems facing boxing – their top fighters regularly fight each other, and there is only one champion in each weight division. This is a challenging time for boxing and we need to ensure the boxing authorities, boxers, promoters, trainers, boxing media, and fans engage in discussions to find the best way to revitalise the sport.
3 Controversial Decisions in Boxing
1) In 1999 Lennox Lewis and Evander Holyfield fought at Madison Square Garden to unify a World Heavyweight title that had been splintered since 1992, when Riddick Bowe cynically threw the WBC belt into a bin. Lewis came into the bout 31lbs heavier than Holyfield, who had predicted he would stop the giant Brit in three rounds. Lewis used his height and reach advantage to completely outbox the smaller Holyfield and only once in round three did Holyfield apply any real pressure. In the fifth round Lewis had Holyfield hurt but for some reason backed off and he survived. The rest of the fight was all Lewis, as he jabbed his way to what should have been a comprehensive decision.
Nobody either in attendance or watching on TV had Holyfield winning except for one person - Eugenia Williams from New Jersey
At the final bell the majority of observers had given the fight to Lewis by a comfortable margin, and I remember scoring the bout 117-110 in his favour. Nobody either in attendance or watching on TV had Holyfield winning except for one person - Eugenia Williams from New Jersey. The judge, appointed by the IBF, scandalously had Holyfield ahead by two rounds. To compound this she also scored round 5, which was Lewis’ most dominant and one in which Holyfield was almost stopped, to Holyfield by 10-9.
Usually after a boxing decision the furore dies down but in this instance it intensified and the New York State Athletic Commission launched an investigation. Press scrutiny was such that everyone involved was subject to the media raking through their personal life – especially Eugenia Williams. Later that year the IBF were put under investigation by the FBI, who searched through papers from Don King’s offices in Florida, and as a result of the New York State Athletic Commission investigation, new rules were introduced regarding the appointment of judges.
2) A decision that is forgotten by some boxing fans because it was an amateur bout, but in my opinion this is as shocking as some of the decisions seen in the professional game. In the final of the Light Middleweight division at 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Roy Jones jr faced the home fighter Park Si Hun and dominated him over the course of the three rounds. Incredibly the judges scored the fight 3-2 in favour of the South Korean. Afterwards, the Moroccan judge admitted his mistake - he scored the fight for Park in order that the host nation would not be embarrassed by a shut out in the final.
3) The two best fighters in boxing met in a September 1993 at the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, Texas, when unbeaten Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez faced the slick, skilful American Pernell Whitaker for Whitaker’s WBC Welterweight title. Chavez was looking to win a fourth world title at different weights. After an even first few rounds Whitaker’s speed and movement were baffling Chavez, but even more surprisingly Whitaker was beating Chavez on the inside – an area where Chavez was regarded as the best in the sport. Although not regarded as a big puncher, Whitaker managed to hurt Chavez on several occasions with strong left hands. The predominantly pro-Chavez crowd went quiet as they saw their hero outboxed and outfought, and at the end of the fight the only possible outcome was a wide points win for Whitaker. When the scorecards were read out there were even boos from some of Chavez’s fans as a majority draw was declared, who thought Whitaker was a clear winner. There was an outcry from some of the boxing media, as the judges were appointed by the Mexico-based WBC - whose President Jose Sulaiman had close relationships with both Chavez and his promoter Don King - rather than the Texas Boxing and Wrestling Program. Despite the outcry this has still not been amended.
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