Could VAR be Implemented into Boxing?
By Bradley White
Boxing could be set to follow in the footsteps of many of the world’s biggest sports after video technology overturned the decision of a world championship fight last Saturday night in London.
The WBC flyweight title clash between Charlie Edwards and Julio Cesar Martinez was marred in controversy as the referee’s decision was overruled following video evidence of an illegal blow.
The challenger Martinez was originally awarded the title via knockout, but when video replays in the O2 Arena showed him landing a devastating punch when the champion was down to one knee, WBC chairman Mauricio Sulaiman declared the fight a no-contest there and then in the centre of the ring.
Video technology has become a hot topic throughout the sporting world in recent years, every sport with enough funding being forced to have the discussion.
The recent addition of VAR into football has received negative backlash for disrupting the flow of the game but in other sports such as rugby and cricket it has become ingrained in the fabric of the game and regularly aids officials in making correct decisions.
The main difference between the aforementioned sports and boxing is the presence of one overseeing government body, such as FIFA or World Rugby.
Boxing’s multiple authorities make the implementation of video technology, or indeed any action affecting the entire sport, a much trickier issue. WBC are on record as having a video replay system in place for some time now (the first major incident taking place on Saturday), but there is no guarantee that the WBA, IBF and WBO share the same stance, not to mention the hundreds of national governing bodies that control the sport in their respective countries.
The decision on Saturday was relatively easy for Sulaiman to carry out as the WBC were the only major governing body involved in the fight – the British Boxing Board of Control do not currently have a video replay system in place but seemed to bow down to the higher power.
The difficulty will come when a bout is sanctioned by multiple governing bodies, in a unification for example, or perhaps if there is no belt on the line. While it made for quite the spectacle on Saturday night, Sulaiman as judge, jury and executioner is not sustainable moving forward. There needs to be a system in place.
Some form of agreement between all of the 4 major governing bodies would be paramount to this initiative being a success. If boxing in general was forced to implement a video replay system it would add some much needed consistency.
For example, many fans noticed that while the finish to the Edwards-Martinez fight was reviewed, the stoppage of Ryan Ford at the hands of Joshua Buatsi was not despite replays showing that Buatsi (the home fighter) looked to have struck Ford which lead to the stoppage.
Whilst title fights will nearly always be certain to get the most attention and it’s very unlikely video tech would be used in small hall shows, there is certainly a danger that, if not done correctly, the implementation of this technology could lead to further hometown or promotional bias.
Boxing after all, is far from a squeaky clean sport. This weekend, for example, Sulaiman was likely influenced by the home crowd loudly voicing their opinions on the original outcome. The decision to nullify the contest was the right one, but would the WBC chairman have made that same instantaneous decision had the fight taken place in Martinez’s home country of Mexico?
Clear guidelines would need to be introduced, along with an unbiased panel who would come to a decision on which fouls/incident were major enough to require action to be taken and report directly to the referee. It would also be important that the action in the ring would not suffer from constant stoppages for reviews.
As football fans know (and have likely complained about) this can disrupt the natural flow of the game and make for very frustrating viewing. It would be even more detrimental in boxing as along with throwing the fighters off their rhythm, it could also allow for more recovery time for a fighter close to a stoppage.
Ideally there would be no reviews during rounds whatsoever, with the VAR panel being given the authority to overturn or nullify results post-fight in case of any foul play (whether intentional or accidental) which may have lead to the stoppage of the fight.
Another potential element would be reviewing for any persistent or deliberate fouls in between rounds, enabling the referee to issue a point deduction if necessary.
Controversy is rife in boxing, perhaps more so than any other sport. Implementing a video replay system could work wonders, providing a counter for the years upon years of injustices that fans and fighters alike have had to experience.
However, boxing by its very nature is a contentious sport and would be important to not over rely on the technology and overturn every debatable stoppage or close decision.
Boxing is more sensitive to extreme scrutiny than other sports, one wrong decision can be extremely harmful to a career and any potential panel would do well to remember this. Once the fight is called to a close it cannot just be restarted and is unlikely to be reversed, just nullified.
While we all want to see the correct decisions being made, we could come dangerously close to a no-contest on every card.
If video technology is going to be implemented into boxing, the powers that be will have to work out a way to allow for reviews only when absolutely necessary and be careful not to over depend on the replays for decisions like other sports have been guilty of.
VAR in boxing can work, as proven on Saturday night, but in order for it to be a success the key is to respect the referee’s decision whenever possible and use the technology only for clear and obvious errors, correcting blatant mistakes whilst remaining careful to keep the video replay from becoming an intrusive, tedious element of the sport.