The Sour Taste of Boxing

The Sour Taste of Boxing

By Matthew Dean 

So boxing afresh with its latest controversy, has in the same breath, both entertained and exasperated us. The heavyweight fight of the year between Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder culminated in a scintillating battle controlled almost in its entirety by the Englishman. Nevertheless the eyes which decided the outcome saw a battle ensue, different to the one which had just transpired before us.

Whilst the American was outclassed over 12 rounds by the challenger and despite 2 devastating knockdowns being inflicted on his foe, there was still no overall winner. Fellow boxers, pundits and fans alike have reacted with anger and dismay as the judges could not separate the 2 combatants.

One judge ruled for Fury. 114-112
One ruled for Wilder 115-111
The final judge scored a draw. 113-113

Overall resulting in a split decision draw.

It is not the first points controversy encountered in the squared circle. I feel certain that it will not be the last either. We have these occurrences with frightening regularity, far too often for my own personal liking. However I have to concede that it can be difficult to establish who had the edge in the 3 minute period, particularly if rounds appear close. It is extremely subjective how the points are amassed and two people can often see different winning elements in a single round.

The 10 point must system is not an exact science in determining a winner so some disparities we can understand. But on reflection when one fighter consistently lands more punches, (jabs and power shots), outmanoeuvres the other with their defensive ability. And in addition to all of this, can withstand/recuperate from blows which would knock over a rhino, why does it become so hard to differentiate between the two opponents?

I confess these are not easy words to write for me as I am not a Fury fan but I have to concede in LA the better man was knocked down and rose to battle his foe to the very last bell. Kudos must be given where they are due. In addition, apart from one judge and Wilder himself, I have not heard a comment or seen an article which sets out how Wilder earned the draw.

As stated this is not a new phenomenon and we are all familiar with Canelo – Golovkin 1 & 2. Rulings recorded were:

Fight 1 a draw
Fight 2 Canelo won

Those who watched and even participated in fight 1 would refute the result. The margin of error in the scoring for Canelo shocked the world and even his own promoter Oscar de la Hoya could not understand what had happened. The judge responsible has reportedly now stepped down from her role.

The second fight was also a shock however the rounds were much closer than the first fight but again many felt Golovkin had done enough to earn the win.

We also witnessed Lewis – Holyfield in 1999. Despite Lewis being the busier fighter and dominating the battle, the result was a controversial draw. The decision was classed as one of the worst results in recent boxing history at the time especially considering it contested the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world. 8 months later, Lewis redressed this outcome with a unanimous decision over Holyfield.

Going back even further to 1987 we saw Hagler & Leonard battle it out in a matchup which still causes heated debates today. The fight was scored and outcomes were split as to the result. Leonard’s eye catching punches towards the end of rounds versus the power shots of Hagler. Less controversial as it was such a close match and both combatants masters of their craft so the only thing to be done was appreciate the battle which had taken place.

Looking up guidelines on scoring a fight, you can easily find information to explain how judges are instructed in determining a winner, the key elements being

Clean punching and effective aggressiveness
Defence
Ring generalship

But every person will look for something different within the context of these guidelines. How do you classify clean punching and effective aggressiveness to suit all tastes?

Do they refer to the number of punches landed overall in a fight?
was it the total number of power punches?
Should lighter blows which are part of a strategy such as opening an opponent’s defence, do these count as much?

On ring generalship
Was it the person who stood in the centre of the ring and bossed his opponent?
Or the fighter who moved tactically around the ring controlling the fight with strategy?
People see different elements

Among boxing lore there is a story that featherweight Willie Pep in 1946 won a round against Jackie Graves without even throwing a punch. Pep weaved, danced and feinted but never threw a blow. The fight eventually ended with a stoppage for Pep in the 8th and afterwards when the judges cards were reviewed he had indeed won the round on all the judges’ cards.

Realistically could you see this happening today?

There are other stories which unfortunately hang around boxing such as certain countries, towns or cities are difficult to be a visiting fighter and win. The adage in many of these is that “you have to knock the other fellow out, just to get a draw”. Controversial scorecards regularly appear from these locations.

We should also remember that judges are human and can be swayed by hometown favourites. A local fighter sometimes is given the benefit of the doubt when he is at home or close to home turf.

Amateur boxing is at this moment going through something of a hard time. It isn’t just in the professional ranks. After the Olympics in 2016, amateur boxing has had a torrid time. Due to a number of issues, it is facing de-allocation as an Olympic sport because of the points controversies which were recorded in Rio. The point scoring is different to the paid ranks but nonetheless the issue is apparent from grass roots levels to the very top.

How do we solve this?

As in some sports the introduction of a video referee to review a fight following a controversial decision would not be a good idea. It simply would not work in boxing from my perspective. Unless the rounds to be scrutinised can be reviewed immediately or before the final outcome is announced which would be almost impossible. I feel this would just result in belated victories possibly hours after the matchups which would demean the value of the win for the fighters.

Moving forward boxing needs to take charge of its own destiny. Too often we see decisions which mar the skill and bravery of the fighters before us. Judges need to be impartial and watch with an open mind. We are all human and sometimes have a favourite before the fight which can affect the call. They need to have the experience relevant to the level of fight which they are adjudicating so they can make more informed decisions. They need to have training on making these judgements and should they make decisions which are classed as going against the grain, they must be able to validate the call they have made. If they cannot explain the outcome they have just given, then they should be removed from the bigger fights and retrained or judge smaller matches until such a time when they are able to see the reality of the fight game.

Boxing is a dangerous game and anyone who has the courage to step inside a ring and put their heart and souk on the line should be rewarded for their hard effort, not penalised with shoddy judgement calls.

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