Once again, the ever-present beast that is controversy, rears its ugly head, in the form of boxing scorecards.

Callum Smith v John Ryder, WBA World, WBC Diamond and Ring Magazine Super-Middleweight title fight, M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool. 23rd November 2019 Picture By Dave Thompson

When judges’ scores are read out, the uproar follows just as night follows day. It is inevitable. Like the changing of the seasons or the tides of the sea, if you will. And like some of Del Trotter’s dodgy dealings, there are accusations of robbery and backhanded business aplenty.  Unlike the lovable cockney however, there is nothing funny about the latest controversy.

Callum Smith can count himself fortunate to still be world champion in my, and many others’, eyes. Ultimately, those that mattered believed he had done enough to earn the win. This is not a dig at Callum, he is just the latest in a long line of boxers to receive the rub of the green.

So why did the judges give him so much benefit of the doubt and disagree with most viewers?

Preconceptions

Everyone who watches boxing develops opinions on fighters. Who they like to watch, what they see as effective. If we accept that as fact, therein lies one of the main reasons boxing scores are so inconsistent.  This majorly hampers an individual’s ability to be objective. Taking last night as an example, Callum Smith was a 1/20 betting favourite, defending champion and potential star boxing in his hometown. Obviously, none of these factors should matter in the slightest. But just as obviously, they clearly do. Imagine being a judge (with all that knowledge) and having to decide who to favour in a close round. Almost like a referee giving a penalty to the away side at Anfield, there is a lot more at stake and a lot more scrutiny in place. This isn’t fair and isn’t right, yet it is almost impossible to rectify unless you start bringing in judges who have no idea who any of the boxers are!

Viewpoints

Most confusing aspect and easiest to rectify in my opinion.

Three judges from three different vantage points makes little sense to me. They’re all very close to the action but how often do we hear that is harder to call a fight from ringside? Sitting in the arena, almost underneath the action doesn’t do the judges any favours. There is no way all three judges could clearly see what was going on when Smith was backed up against the ropes, for example. So how do we expect them to be consistent? They’re all essentially watching different versions of the same action.

Good view of the action, until one fighter turns his back and obstructs the judge’s view

First thing to do then, ensure that all three are watching the same fight using an elevated camera.  This could done remotely via a monitor. Put them backstage in soundproof booths, isolated from any distractions.  Not only could this provide them with a better view, it would also enable them to eliminate any background noise and atmosphere.  They would have the same clear view of the entire ring.

Scoring Criteria

According to the British Boxing Board of Control themselves, the rules are as follows:

Breaking them down then, rule 3.29 is one of the most familiar to combat sports fans.  The old 10-9 round.  The last sentence in said rule states that “If he [judge] considers the round was even he will then award the maximum number to each contestant” yet, 10-10 rounds are widely mocked and derided.  I recently tweeted that judges need to be decisive, which I stand by, yet why should one boxer gain an advantage if they have barely earned it?

This has potential to cause total uproar but imagine 10-10 rounds were the default.  A round is considered even unless one boxer has clearly done enough to win it.  As it is presently, as soon as a boxer lands the first punch of the round, he is winning the round 10-9.  Obviously a lot more will happen in a round but should a round really be decided on the narrowest of margins? This would reduce the dramatic extremes in score totals as close rounds wouldn’t be given on the flip of a coin or “what you like”.  Following Josh Taylor’s win over Regis Prograis I debated the merits of 10-10 rounds with @mikey_manifesto who originally put this idea in my head.  It has percolated ever since and seems like it could be a potential solution to an all too regular problem.

There would certainly be more close score cards but wouldn’t they more accurately reflect the action in the ring?  After all, it is usually the close fights with wide scorecards that cause the most ire.

Rule 3.31 confuses me the most.  It is vague in its priorities and can be interpreted many different ways.  As hinted at earlier, boxers have different styles and those judging probably prefer different styles, even if subconsciously.  Let’s break it down into attack and defence.  What constitutes a scoring shot is easy enough to understand, if often difficult to identify unmistakably during the ebb and flow of a boxing match.  Defence is seemingly harder to define, or credit.  My interpretation of this rule says that credit must go to a boxer for slipping, blocking, ducking or getting away from punches.  Again, experienced professionals often tell us uneducated fans that boxers can’t win by running or nicking rounds.  If they are boxing on the backfoot effectively enough to avoid the aggressor, while not really dominating the action themselves, an even round seems like the obvious answer.

The final part of 3.31 sums up the current unpredictability nicely: “Where contestants are otherwise equal the majority of points will be given to the one who does most leading off or displays the better style.” Either they are leading off or displaying the better style.  Which is it?  If one leads off more and the other displays the better style, then we are back to square one!

The Panel

While we obviously want our boxing judges to have knowledge and experience of the sport, there has to be some shake up of the same old faces.  Too many times, the same small pool of officials are chosen for high profile bouts.  Yes, they have the experience of the big occasion but they also have (over) familiarity, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.  It would make great sense to integrate less experienced officials into big bouts under the guidance of existing judges.  This would allow younger officials to get the required experience and freshen up the system.

With everyone on there toes and refreshed, an increase in accountability would be welcomed by all.  I personally know that referees are assessed so I assume the same applies to judges.  The issue (like with many other aspects of boxing) is that all of this assessment is done behind closed doors.  The public are infuriatingly unaware of whether judges are actually held to account. 

Only to Fools do Scorecards Work
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