In the wake of the bizarre score cards from the Ryan Burnett win over Lee Haskins, Hellraiser was forced to think about the scoring side of the game we all love.
Part of boxing’s beauty is perhaps also one of its most divisive elements, its subjectivity. Different people appreciate and enjoy different styles of fighter, which is wonderful, it’s what the sport is built on. Though when it comes to scoring a fight this subjectivity can become polemic. Frequently the outcome of a bout is the cause of debate, and less frequently but still too often for many, it is the cause of debacle. There are a number of questions around scoring a fight to ask.
Assuming we’re discussing the “10 point must” scoring system - with three judges (it is practice in non title fights in the UK to have the referee score the fight and raise the hand of the victor after the final bell) how does one score a fight properly? Also, how is it boxing seems to see many controversial results, particularly in big, highly publicised fights? What, if anything, can be done to uniform scoring; and would it be a good thing to do so in any case?
This is an issue Hellraiser have experienced, painfully, twice of late. Ben Jones was the aggressor in his fight for the Commonwealth featherweight belt with Jason Cunningham, he forced the action and seemed to land more and cleaner shots. Hellraiser’s card had him a few rounds up, but he dropped a split decision. Then again more recently in a very similar style of fight for the English super lightweight title, Phil Bowes was elusive and stylish in the face of Glenn Foot’s relentless attacks. This fight was even closer, but we had Bowes edging a razor decision by a round. Foot was awarded the fight 95-93 on all three cards.
Scoring a fight can be a contentious issue. Deciding how rounds be awarded, particularly if there are two vastly contrasting styles, as mentioned in both Hellraiser fights, can be tricky. It is common to prefer an all out action style, but frequently fighters swinging with punches in volume aren’t actually hitting cleanly with as many shots as it appears. Defensive masters are often not given the credit they deserve, Floyd Mayweather obviously receives much acclaim, rightly, but even he got plenty of criticism for “running”. Similarly flurries of punches can be confusing and look ineffective, when in fact they were clean blows.
This can be a problem for scoring, in that depending on what you enjoy seeing or think you saw affects your points awarded. Scoring while watching on television can be particularly misleading, where clean hits can be harder to spot, and the issue can be further complicated by commentators adding their opinions. Punch stats are only available either post fight or to those watching television, and are therefore unhelpful when discussing live scoring a fight.
Using some high profile recent fights which were the cause of debate or controversy as example, how is it debateable results happen? Starting with the aforementioned Mayweather, specifically his infamous fight against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, where he flummoxed a much bigger man, one known for his adaptability and pressing style. Floyd made him miss and hit back cleanly. It was a competitive bout, but all those watching live gave it to Floyd (Boxing News gave Floyd all twelve rounds). Well, almost all, with the infamous exception being CJ Ross, who was one of the three judges. Ross scored the bout a 114-114 draw, and was hounded into taking a “break” from the sport. It was a huge controversy at the time and there were many unattractive accusations of bribes and bias, when in fact her card only differed on two rounds from fellow judge Dave Moretti who’d scored it 116-112.
Another controversial result came in the first Timothy Bradley versus Manny Pacquiao fight, where two active, come forward fighters went at each other convincingly for twelve rounds. The overwhelming consensus was that Pac Man had won and won cleanly. He dropped a split decision 115-113, 113-115, 113-115 and suffered his first loss for seven years. Again the result caused outrage. But why was this a controversy? It had been a close, competitive fight and both men enjoyed their share of success. One explanation is that controversies seem to happen more in high profile fights, because they are high profile fights.
High profile fights have more people watching and interested in the result. They have more press exposure and coverage. Therefore there is more attention on them and exposure of them. With this attention and exposure people expect, rightly or wrongly, a smaller margin for error.
To give an example: a ring announcer in a small hall show which is not televised gets his names wrong prior to a fight. Maybe one or two people’s feelings are hurt but it goes unremembered. Michael Buffer (not that he would) gets his names mixed up before a fight. The internet would go crazy. The papers would mention it. It is news because of when and where it happened. It’s the attention that causes the controversy of the event, not the event itself. The Pacquiao Bradley cards were close, the judges who sit independently at three of the four sides of the ring were unanimous in six out of twelve rounds. That suggests a close fight, not an abhorrent robbery.
Finally: the Ward versus Kovalev fight last November. A fight which the only unanimous opinion to come out of was that it was hard to score. This one is less controversial than the last two examples but highlights a point. In a mega-fight, it is surely better to have three independent people who may or may not have the same tastes in style marking, than an automaton which allows only one opinion. A fight is scored round by round, not at the end with a general feeling as to who was victorious.
The opinion of who won will always be disparate between individuals. But isn’t this disparity where one of the beauties of boxing lies? Boxing has something for everyone and we’ll all see fights slightly different to the next person because we’re watching from different perspectives or of different tastes. This is the scoring paradox, that the beauty of the subjectivity is also where boxing falls apart within itself, amongst fans and occasionally in the media. That one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
It is great that boxing has fans as passionate as it does, and as a result of this passion there will always be divisions of opinion. Divided opinion among the passionate can lead to, sometimes ugly, partisan behaviour. There is therefore a desire to eliminate this from the sport, understandably, though it can also be argued that it is the behaviour which is the issue, not the division of opinion. Imagine, though, that in an attempt to uniform scoring a system was put in place, akin to a hybrid of the old amateur electrical scoring or the television favourite of punch stats. This system alone decided the outcome of fights based on predetermined, consensus (boxing board) agreed criteria. Judges are done away with and this system takes their place.
Ask yourself, would this be better? No, it wouldn’t. Would it even stop people disagreeing with it? Again, of course not. There’s no sport in the world, or indeed person, government or religion, that doesn’t need to constantly ask “are we doing things the best that we can?” and boxing is no different. If a better solution to three judges can be found, great let’s try it. But there will never be a universal solution, and that needs to be seen as something brilliant which unites the sport rather than an obstacle which divides it.