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Dec 11th
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Home Boxing The Difficulty With Decisions
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The Difficulty With Decisions

controversial_boxing“There is a fifth dimension … between science and superstition … it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”

I hear these words echo inside my head every time a great fight goes the distance. Rod Serling, a former boxer and author of the teleplay “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” knew a few things about the sport, and I often wonder if his introduction to the 1960’s TV series was a private joke about one of boxing’s greatest flaws - a bad decision.
 
Every time I hear an announcer say, “And now we go to the score cards,” I invariably cringe, because I know that what follows has every possibility of being controversial, at best. While it’s rarely a malicious bias that creates one of these career-devastating  pronouncements, a bad decision still remains one of boxing’s terrible injustices; but the real culprits are the arbitrary and convoluted concepts forced upon the judges.

In most sports, victory is bestowed by a purely numerical evaluation. With football, for example, the crown goes to the team scoring the greatest number of points; in golf, the fewest strokes; in running, the fastest time. And despite tennis players’ tantrums over questionable calls, photo finishes and instant replays can be reviewed to resolve disputes.  Not so in boxing.

Boxing provides two distinct paths to victory: by accumulating the highest number of points from two out of three judges, or by attaining a “knockout “ - boxing’s equivalent of “sudden death.” A KO is the most desirable result, because it is unequivocal and avoids placing the fighters’ destinies into the Twilight Zone of subjectivity.

controversial_boxing01Except for the soles of his shoes, when any part of a boxer’s body touches the canvas, the referee starts “the count” with the aid of a time keeper sitting ringside. To be certain the count is precise, the referee watches the timekeeper pound out the seconds on the mat. If a fighter does not assume a fully standing position by the time the referee reaches the count of ten, the fighter is considered to be knocked out. How a referee determines when a fighter is fully upright, and the accuracy of the count by the timekeeper, are points of contention and sources of enormous controversy. 

As many times as I watch it, I still see George Foreman clearly beating the count in the “Rumble in the Jungle.” But referee Zack Clayton saw it differently, and Ali regained the Heavyweight crown by KO in the eighth round.

It’s bad enough when the subjectivity of one man decides your fate in the ring; but when it’s left to three, fighters may as well throw themselves into a den of wolves.

Until recently, the referee acted as one of the judges, along with two others sitting ringside. Sometimes the ref even acted as the sole judge. But in the last few decades, the task of scoring has been delegated to three judges sitting at different sides of the ring. This provides disparate views of the fight and, while it allows one judge to see punches missed by the others, it can obscure the fight from a judge angled away from the action.

Fights are loosely judged on three criteria: affective aggressiveness, ring generalship, and defense. The first time I ever heard these principles expressed was in an interview with the highly respected referee, Arthur Mercanti, in the days when refs still acted as judges. But, even today, these criteria are accepted as the rule of thumb in the global boxing community.
 
“Effective aggressiveness” may sound superfluous, since many assume that if a fighter is aggressive he must also be effective. But it ain’t necessarily so. If a fighter rushes forward, flailing his fists about, but lands only ten out of a hundred punches, his aggressiveness is deemed ineffective because of a low punch ratio. On the other hand, if he can land punches at a rate of 50% or higher, even if he’s backing up while doing so, he is considered to be effectively aggressive. Fighters like Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Pernell Whitaker, and Larry Holmes were extremely effective at scoring points while backing up. Floyd Mayweather is the contemporary icon of this style.

“Ring generalship” is tough to define because it means different things to different people, and it’s often determined by a fighter’s style. A  true “boxer,” who can move fluidly and stay on the outside while controlling the fight with his jab, is to likely to be viewed favorably by the judges. But a “puncher” needs to dictate the rhythm of the fight by cutting off the ring, forcing his opponent either to run, or to stop and fight. In general, the fighter who can maintain his style, and still improvise while neutralizing his opponent’s style, will usually get the nod for ring generalship. 

“Good defense” is arguably the easiest thing to determine. “Hit, and don’t be hit” is the name of the game, and it’s usually apparent which fighter is better at avoiding punches. Whether he manages this through skill, fleet-footedness, or intimidation does not matter. The man who can best evade punishment will take this third of the scoring.  Roberto Duran was a master in this category. He fought aggressively, deftly pulled away from punches, and rarely gave ground.

It’s interesting to point out that the condition of a fighter’s face is not necessarily an indication of his score. It only takes one clean shot in the right spot to close an eye, bloody a nose, or open a cut over a boney part of the face. Some fighters have less elasticity in their skin and more vascularity than others. Fans who score a fight against a guy who looks like Frankenstein could be making a big mistake. Arturo Gatti was a prime example of a fighter whose raised hands at the end of the fight contradicted a face that often looked like ground hamburger. 

To make scoring even more complicated, each three-minute round is mentally broken into thirds: the beginning, middle, and end.  The judges must decide which fighter displays the greatest skill during the majority of the round, based upon the three scoring criteria. The fighter who wins the round is given a numeric value on the scorecards. In the commonly used “Ten Point Must System,” the winner of each round must receive ten points, with the loser receiving whatever the judges think he deserves. Rounds scored 10/9 are typical, but not compulsory.  Rounds which are heavily dominated by one fighter can be scored 10/8 or less, and one point is deleted for each knockdown. But, because the winner of any round MUST get ten points, if both fighters are knocked down in any one round the scoring starts to get tricky.

Even with all the confusion of the Ten Point Must, there are some in Mixed Martial Arts proposing a Twenty Point system where half points are given. If adopted, you’ll have scores like 10 to 8.5. Decimals are really going make things less complicated, aren’t they?

I much prefer the Five Point Must System, rarely used anymore, because - let’s face it - how many increments do you actually need to score a fight? Have you ever seen a 10/1 round? I haven’t. And, realistically, if a round was scored at less than 10/5, how many referees today would allow such a mismatch to continue? Five points simplifies everything except the wildcard of opinion, which is unavoidable.

While I’m on a rant, there’s another factor sometimes used in scoring that I strongly object to. There is simply no justification in awarding points to a fighter who is “perceived” to land the harder punches. How do you know if they’re harder? Sometimes a slapping punch makes a racket, but it’s not that hard. I’ve sat ringside countless times and, while speed and clean punching can be easily evaluated, it’s impossible to judge which punches are more powerful without a meter that measures force. And even if there were – why give that fighter the edge on the scorecards? The name of the sport is Boxing, not Power Punching.

So, how does one sort out this whole convoluted mess?  Well … maybe all split-decisions should be called Even Fights. No winner. (That’s gonna go over like a lead balloon.) Or maybe we should require a Super Majority for all decisions. A fighter needs be ahead by, let’s say, at least three points on each scorecard to win.

But perhaps looking for some fair, definitive method of scoring may only make something that is flawed even worse.

Technological advancements like Punch Stats have made decisions a little more obvious for the TV viewer, if not for the judges. But as a techno geek, I dream of the day when decisions are taken out of the hands of the judges, altogether. I envision it being much like more like fencing: touch-activated gloves that register the punches, sensors on the boxers’ body that monitor where the punches land, and mats that trigger the knockdown clock if anything other than six points of contact touch the mat.

I’m not holding my breath, but then again, maybe somebody should talk to Steve Jobs about this. If anybody can do it, Apple can.

Charles Long
www.convictedartist.com

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Jawbone  - re: Decisions/ And You Are Correct/ Poor Editing, |
Jawbone wrote:
Charles, You are absolutely correct and you champion many ideas I have espoused for decades. However, you and I don't have the power that determines many of these bouts-albeit, thats just a sad situation. the real forces are those behind closed doors, many shady figures and shady businessmen. Just as in the past when the MAFIA and their frontman, Frankie Carbo, completely controlled the boxing game, so too today is much of the game controlled by the same type of force but under new bosses and a slick guise.

There are Kings and Monarchs in this business and they make the rules. Consider if you will just how far into the future we will see honest judging by computers. Not in my or your lifetime I suspect. Hey, this boxing is a cash business for the right people.
As an aside and a supposedly entirely different matter, think of the enormous drug trade, the cartels, the incomparable violence for control and the blood money that feels good in demonic hands. To no one's surprise, those billions of untaxed monies are made by investments from bankers, lawyers, businessmen, foreign/illegal enterprises, Governments, CEO's, physicians, coaches, secret agencies, professional athletes, giant business empires with warehouse capabilites and organized distributorship, and even by government officials elected and non elected, etc. To pave their way to their blood money, political payoffs, all types of intervention with the 'Bang of the Buck' to the right authorities (Including police, DEA, Customs, etc), is right up there with movies and their influence that supports the drug business., Movie stars, athletes, and other so-called role models flaunt their use of drugs and sex escapades and make it feel groovy for youngsters. Yeah, the youngsters who by the tens of millions enter the foggy world of drugs including alcohol) and are deemed by their peers to be 'Cool.' In fact, they are being depraved of mind and few will escape the evil dream wolrd they entered and will need to to enter time and time again until our country is so fouled up with their drug fever and fervor that we can't take care of ouselves and slowly fall into a deep abyss. Then we can all kiss America goodbye. Our enemies are gloating as we speed down the road of destruction by drugs and eventually despair.
Okay, there are some comparisons to boxiing in that the elite make the rules and run the game the way they see fit. They believe in the 'Now' and the short 'Term' and have no conduit to the future.
With all due respect, a very nice article. If only we had a 'Soap Box' that would gather disenchanted boxing fans to our cause and start a rebellion against the Old Guard. Ha! Who is kidding whom?
Jawbone  - Decisions/ And You Are Correct |
Charles, You are absolutely correct and you champion many ideas I have espoused for decades. However, you and I don't have the power that determines many of these bouts-albeit hat ius a sad situation. the real forces are those behind closed doors, many shady figures and shady businessmen. Just as in the past when the MAFIA and their frontman, Frankie Carbo, completely controlled the boxing game, so too today is much of the game controlled by the same type of force but under new bosses and a slick guise.

There are Kings and Monarchs in this business and they make the rules. Consider if you will just how far into the future we will see honest judging by computers. Not in my or your lifetime I suspect. Hey, this boxing is a cash business for the right people.
As an aside and a supposedly entirely different matter, think of the enormous drug trade, the cartels, the incomparable violence for control and the blood money that feels good in demonic hands. To no one's surprise, those billions of untaxed monies are made by investments from bankers, lawyers, businessmen, foreign/illegal enterprises, Governments, CEO's, physicians, coaches, secret agencies, professional athletes, giant business empires with warehouse capabilites and organized distributorship, and even by government officials elected and non elected, etc. To pave their way to their blood money, political payoffs, all types of intervention with the 'Bang of the Buck' to the right authorities (Including police, DEA, Customs, etc), is right up there with movies and their influence that supports the drug business., Movie stars, athletes, and other so-called role models flaunt their use of drugs and sex escapades and make it feel groovy for youngsters. Yeah, the youngsters who by the tens of millions enter the foggy world of drugs including alcohol) and are deemed by their peers to be 'Cool.' In fact, they are being depraved of mind and few will escape the evil dream wolrd they entered and will need to to enter time and time again until our country is so fouled up with their drug fever and fervor that we can't take care of ouselves and slowly fall into a deep abyss; Then we can all kiss America goodbye. Our enemies are gloating as we speed down the road of destruction by drugs and eventually despair.
Okay, there are some comparisons to boxiing in that the elite make the rules and run the game the way they see fit. They believe in the 'Now' and the short 'Term' and have no conduit to the future.
With all due respect, a very nice article. If only we had a 'Soap Box' that would gather disenchanted boxing fans to our cause and start a rebellion against the Old Guard. Ha! Who is kidding whom?
 
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