“Fighters are noble warriors, and always get it right in the ring. The people outside the ring are the ones who get it wrong.” Few could argue Teddy Atlas’ analysis of a problem that has plagued boxing throughout its rich history. Accusations of corruption and inept judges linger above the sport like a dark, toxic cloud. The disheartening fact is the pollution shows no signs of clearing for the foreseeable future. As long as these men and women are not held responsible for their actions, this trend will continue to make or break careers.
The long storied history of this pugilistic sport is littered with inexplicable decisions, a problem that has transcended generations. In 1947, Jersey Joe Walcott had dropped Joe Louis in the first and fourth rounds respectively and had worked over Louis’ eye to the extent that it had swollen shut. Most in attendance had no doubt that Walcott had done enough. Most, except those who mattered, the judges. The victory was awarded to Louis, who would later apologize to Walcott in the dressing room.
In 1993, Julio Cesar Chavez came to the ring with a ferocious reputation and an 87-0 record as he took on Pernell ‘Sweet Pea’ Whitaker. The bout had begun relatively closely, but Pernell Whitaker seized control from the fifth round mark and never let go. The slick Whitaker worked Chavez over outside and surprisingly inside too. The pro Chavez crowd in Texas had been silenced by what had unfolded in the ring. Again, a smog of disbelief hung over the sport as the judges scored the fight as a draw. Sports Illustrated would run with the headline ‘Robbed’ across the face of an astonished Pernell Whitaker.
In more recent times, Manny Pacquaio met Timothy Bradley in 2012. Pacquiao had out landed Bradley in 10 of the 12 rounds according to Compubox, and by almost 100 punches. Bradley had lost the fight in the ring, but came away with the victory. On such a high profile stage, this particular decision shone a spotlight on the ugly side of the sport, and the problems it still faces.
In recent years boxing has gone through a revival and showcased a series of entertaining fights. Competitive matchmaking such as Rigondeaux vs. Donaire and Garcia vs. Matthysse delivered bouts that fans craved to see. Unfortunately the competency of the sport’s judges again stole a portion of the spotlight.
Before focusing on the solution, let us place the problem under the microscope momentarily.
In a sport that is as brutal as it is beautiful, misguided and corrupt decisions have scarred boxing since its birth. One issue that blockades a solution is the absence of a worldwide commissioner or ruling body to run the sport. With numerous governing bodies in various countries, you are already limiting the jurisdiction of any ruling body. A boxing commission would be a step in the right direction, if implemented as a worldwide body. Any problems that arrive could be swiftly attended to, without outside influences at hand.
Open scoring of bouts was another option put forth. The problem with this solution is tarnishing the excitement of a seemingly close bout. If the judges’ scoring is announced aloud at the end of each round, it would nullify a lot of the drama of a hard fought bout.
A feasible choice may be a half point scoring system. In the case of a closely contested round, where perhaps neither fighter has done enough to justify a 10-9 round, a 10-9.5 option would allow a clear winner of the round to be chosen. A frustrating draw could also be avoided down this route.
Dawn Barry is the president of the chapter of USA Boxing. Barry’s facility trains in all aspects of the fight game, “I have so many people calling me saying they could be judges,” Dawn Barry says, stating that seven out of ten who apply, quit within the first two months. Barry works with about 225 amateurs a year, and of those only six get qualified to go professional.
When CJ Ross and Duane Ford made their retirement plans public, the decision was universally welcomed, a rare reaction for both judges in many years. A changing of the guard to usher in a new era of judges is crucially needed. Personally, I would like to see more retired fighters be encouraged to judge fights, through financial means or otherwise. An investment policy in judging may be required in this scenario.