The failure of judges being able to adhere to the majority and to pundits own personal score cards has always been a consistent problem within boxing as long as I can remember.
I recall staying up late with friends as young 13 year old waiting with great anticipation to see Lennox Lewis v Evander Holyfield for the WBA, WBC and IBF heavyweight titles live on Sky Sports Box Office. The heavyweight division was a high talking point on the playgrounds around the country with Mike Tyson biting peoples ears off in the ring, along with this strange (yet extremely talented) Canadian bloke claiming to be British and fast becoming a favourite to rule the heavyweight division. It was intriguing for any adolescent with access to a TV.
As me and my friends watched Lennox Lewis put on what we perceived to be a comfortable victorious performance, we anticipated the joy of boasting one of our countryman as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the World. Our judgement seemed to be vindicated when Harold Lederman reads his unofficial score card to HBO “117 – 111, 9 rounds to 3 Lennox Lewis!..No question! No doubt about it! Lewis wins the fight!”
Jimmy Lennon Jr. takes a deep breath before he announces to us on the TV screen for the big moment “Eugina Williams scores the bout 115 to 113 in favour of Holyfield” Dismay and despair are the feeling fast spreading among the souls of me and my young friends at 5.30am on a Sunday morning! “116 to 113 Lewis” announces Jimmy Lennon Jr. as we start to feel vindicated for staying up well past our bed time. “115 to 115 even a draw, ..both champions retain their titles”.
As Jim Lampley and Frank Maloney alike claim “high-way robbery” my disappointment and lack of confidence in the judging system began. Sadly along with my friends who joined me on that early Sunday morning in 1999 the same feeling of dismay and despair towards Judges has continued in consistent fashion. The latest example being Adalaide Byrd scoring 118 – 110 in favour of Saul Alvarez in the most highly anticipated fight of the year against Gennady Golovkin.
Ricky Burns v Ray Beltran being called a draw in Glasgow for the WBO World lightweight title in 2013, Manny Pacquiao’s robbery against Timothy Bradley in 2012, Dereck Chisora’s unjust defeat to Robert Helenius in 2011, the robbery of Martin Murray when he challenged Sergio Martinez for the WBC middleweight title in Maravilla’s native Argentina 2013, Mauricio Herrera’s misfortune against (at the time) WBC light welterweight champion Danny Garcia in Puerto Rico and almost every time Felix Sturm has won a fight. Is just a microscopic example of the ever present dispute with boxing judges.
Bias, corruption and basic judging ability are the obvious suspected problems with boxing judges from the highest and lowest levels of the sport. Mauricio Herrera, Dereck Chisora and Martin Murray’s misfortune can clearly be seen to be national bias-ism with a whiff of corruption. In many other it is not unsurprising to hear a judges and score card and left scratching our head, fortunately with three judges for championship fights the true victor is crowned. Unfortunately these poor judging performances are quickly forgotten as the fans and participating fighters feel appeased with a deserving winner.
The most shocking example of a judge not really paying that much attention has to be when Clark Sammartino got confused with which fighter was which! Lee Haskins defended his IBF Bantamweight title against Ryan Burnett in Belfast in June with Burnett dropping Haskins multiple times in the fight, wowing fans and pundits with a dominating performance over the soon to be former IBF bantamweight World champion, Lee Haskins. Sammartino scored the bout 118-111 to the surprise of even Lee Haskins after mixing up both Haskins and Burnett and writing the wrong scores in his scorecard. Eddie Hearn “This is scary! Apparently he (Sammartino) asked one of the photographers after round one or two. Which one was Lee Haskins? I thought it was just bad scoring! But then I looked at his card and he’s scored two 10-8 rounds for Haskins! To have your career in the hands of someone like that it’s well. He’s put the wrong scores in the wrong boxes.” Fortunately since then the scorecard has been corrected and Burnett has been awarded the Unanimous Decision. It does make you wonder did Adelaide Byrd mix up the ginger Canelo Alvarez for the brunette Gennady Golovkin when scoring 118-111 to Canleo?
What are the solutions to eradicate the on-going exasperation with the way a winner is a declared if there is no knock out in the world’s oldest combat sport? Many have called for ex fighters and coaches to be given more incentives to take up refereeing, many top level referee’s/judges already are former fighters. But it’s always nice to have non former professionals, who you would think would have less chance of being bias, especially compared to to former fighters. I am not screaming corruption here, but with boxing being such a close and familiar community, there is always the chance of just a hint of unintentional bias.
One big contrast about boxing from other sports is that it has no over ruling un-partial governing organisation. Football has FIFA (as corrupt as it may be) which governs all football matters around the globe, compared to boxing which has 5 relevant governing bodies all claiming a reputable World title used as tool for politics and misconception amongst the most recognised governing bodies. With the WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF and IBO at competition with each other rather than working together to squash the frustrating issue of poor judging and with all these things cost large amounts of money; an overseeing organisation would have to be set up voluntary with private funding. Along with getting the aforementioned organisations to sign up to such an idea, it would be considered at best, a distant pipe dream.
Is the sport doomed? Due to the constant disappointment of poor decisions? With boxing becoming more global and the fans enjoying more high profile accessible fights than ever before it would suggest not. However, with the continued inconsistency and unfathomable scoring from judges at the highest level, boxing promoter’s hopes of their sport breaking into the mainstream in a way football does in Europe or how the baseball does in the United States will always be impeded by this issue.
Holding the judges to a higher accountability and mandating them to address the media would at least bring closure after any dubious decisions and we would at least get some sort of explanation as to why a certain decision was awarded. But even this small request is the least likely of any of these suggestions to implemented.
By Adam Noble-Forcey