“I had Manny ahead, but that’s fine. All I can say is I think every judge should strive to get better.”
-Keith Kizer, Executive Director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission
Mr. Kizer is half right in this case.
First things first: “that’s fine”? No, it’s not fine. It’s far from fine. And what happened with the judging of this past Saturday’s Manny Pacquiao/Timothy Bradley fight cannot be defined as just another screw up by judges. This was something different, something that has infested boxing over the past few years, and something that is threatening to kill the sport.
No doubt Mr. Kizer has been in damage control mode as well as panic mode from the moment the scores were announced in Vegas on Saturday night. But how several of the people involved with this farce are so sure of themselves and so against what everyone else watching clearly saw is not only shocking, but downright appalling. Duane Ford, the 74-year-old judge who scored the bout 115-113 for Bradley defended his decision by saying the following:
“You’ve got to put the ball in the basket and Manny didn’t put the ball in the basket enough. … This isn’t American Idol. If I judge for the people, I shouldn’t be a judge. I went in with a clear mind and judged each round. … I don’t look at the punch stats but I saw Manny miss a lot of punches and Bradley hit Manny and win a lot of the exchanges. … I’m comfortable with my performance. I thought Bradley gave Pacquiao a boxing lesson.”
This not only reeks of arrogance, but also satisfies my thought that Duane Ford is an incompetent at this stage of his career as a judge. To score this past Saturday’s fight the way he did was bad enough, but to justify it in this manner is troubling. Judges are just as responsible for their job performance as anyone in any other profession. Last year all three judges who scored the Paul Williams/Erislandy Lara fight, one that I will get to later, were suspended indefinitely by the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board for their poor performance. The fact that Nevada isn’t going to do the same shows that not only do they not want to deal with the press that would come with such an action, but they don’t want to admit fault. In Jersey, those in a position to do something about a poorly judged fight not only owned up to the fact that it was poorly judged, but they did something about it.
Judging in boxing has become one of the things that is gutting the sport from the inside, and it’s only now really coming to the forefront. Boxing’s history is littered with uncouth and corrupt behavior as well as poorly judged fights and outright robberies. On the broadcast this past Saturday and after, people were talking about Roy Jones Jr. getting screwed in the 1988 Olympics and the Briggs/Foreman decision and the decision to Holyfield/Lewis I, but all of those just provide the historical context for the result of Pacquiao/Bradley. To truly understand why this means so much to those who follow boxing and those in the boxing community is because poor judging of easy-to-judge fights in recent years has become a rash on the sport. And ointment has been hard to find.
This recent rash started with Juan Diaz/Paulie Malignaggi I from August 2009. On that night in Houston, Diaz’s hometown, three judges (two from Texas) scored against Malignaggi in a fight that the majority of people ringside thought Malignaggi won. The concession that most people, including myself, gave was that a 115-113 score (seven rounds to five) either way was the only really acceptable score. Diaz won with scores of 115-113, 116-112, and most troubling, 118-110.
Last year, an even uglier incident occurred in New Jersey when Paul Williams was literally handed a win by judges in a fight that he did not win. That night Williams was able to stay as busy as Erislandy Lara the entire fight. The key difference was Lara’s left, a punch that landed at will against Williams with almost grotesque sound every time it landed. Williams’ face was swollen at the end and he never once tried to defend himself against that one part of Lara’s arsenal. My scorecard gave the fight to Lara easily. Again, the great majority at ringside and all those on the HBO broadcast of the fight concurred. The judges saw things 116-114 and 115-114 for Williams with one judge scoring the bout a draw. Preposterous might be the best way to describe all of that.
Then there was Khan/Peterson from last December. The fact that it was in Peterson’s home town was a red flag, the fact that Khan got deducted two points in the second half of the fight for pushing off (something I’ve never seen done) was another. And then there were the scorecards. Nelson Vazquez was the only judge on this night that had his head on straight, scoring the bout 115-110 for Khan. This was right around what my card showed at fight’s end and the way many people saw the fight: a game Peterson putting Khan through a competitive and tough fight, but not doing enough to win rounds. Judges George Hill and Valerie Dorsett saw things differently, giving Peterson the win with identical 113-112 scores. It should be noted that Hill and Dorsett didn’t have nearly the same experience as Vazquez when it came to judging 12-round fights as almost every fight Hill and Dorsett judged prior to Khan/Peterson had been under ten rounds.
And even this year there have been ugly bits of judging.
March 24th offered a night of poor judging in a state that has become highly suspect over the past few years when it comes to boxing: Texas. That night in Houston saw a double-header with future hall-of-fame inductee Erik Morales taking on undefeated Danny Garcia with James Kirkland/Carlos Molina preceding it.
The finish to Kirkland’s fight was odd with Molina being DQ’d after one of his cornermen got on the ring apron after the round had ended, but not before referee Jon Schorle finished his count of a knockdown on Molina right as the round ended. In a fight that Molina had dominated prior to getting knocked down and then disqualified, somehow judge Gale E. Van Hoy (a man who’s name is a bit notorious for poor judging) had Kirkland ahead by one when the fight ended.
The Morales fight that followed provided one of the moments of the year for boxing, in a surreal way. The judge’s scorecards were actually given to the corners every four rounds and as the fight neared its final rounds you could visibly hear Morales’ father yelling that “they’re giving him [Garcia] every round!” Those broadcasting the fight and many who heard it thought it was just a motivating tool. I certainly thought there was no way that could be possible as Morales was holding his own better than anyone could’ve imagined he would. But at fight’s end we found out that the judges had given Garcia virtually every round, ending with scorecards of 117-110, 116-112, and 118-109. There’s no doubt that Garcia won the fight, but the scorecards the judges handed in did in no way reflect what happened in the ring that night.
Aside from judging, the sport has crafted an ugly image for itself recently in other ways. Almost everyone will cite the fact that Mayweather/Pacquiao hasn’t happened yet as an example. True, but that to me is less a reason to hate the sport than the recent issue of performance enhancing drugs in boxing and the Texas State Athletic Commission.
This year, PED’s have already wiped out two fights that boxing fans in this country were in anticipation for. Lamont Peterson denied Amir Khan the chance at a rematch from their controversial first fight when he tested positive for synthetic testosterone. Then Andre Berto’s chance at revenge against Victor Ortiz from last year’s fight of the year was ruined when he tested positive for norandrosterone, a steroid.
Aside from a few cards at The Jerry Dome (Cowboys Stadium), boxing in the state of Texas has had a black eye that was only made worse this year. Firstly, they failed to get a pre-fight urine test from James Kirkland before the Molina fight, which makes me wonder why they even allowed Kirkland in the ring. But an even bigger oversight came after Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s unanimous decision win over Marco Antonio Rubio on February 4th. Following the fight, the Texas State Athletic Commission just plain forgot to give Chavez Jr. a post-fight urine test. There were rumors and reports of how dehydrated Chavez Jr. was and had to be during the week to get down to the 160-pound limit for the fight. The reason all of this became an issue on fight night was because Chavez Jr. gained over twenty pounds in the day that separated the weigh-in and the fight itself. While that in itself isn’t reason to believe that Chavez Jr. was cheating in any way, it would be reason enough to make absolutely sure the guy got tested after his fight.
But the most telling example of how far the sport has fallen, for me at least, hits closer to home. My father is the one who introduced me to boxing when I was a child. We would watch fights he had on videotape and as we were watching, he would let loose bits of wisdom and many observations about what was going on. He was the man who taught me how to score fights. He would ref my brother & I when we would have three-round exhibitions. Those memories of the two of us watching and scoring a fight are still the closest thing to bonding I’ve experienced with the man. And now those days are over as my father has become one of millions in this country that flat-out quit on the sport of boxing.
I do concede that the sport has done plenty to drive people away over the past ten or fifteen years, but the true fans of the sport have stuck around. Why? Because there is still plenty to enjoy about boxing. Remember any sport is basically a revolving door for men or women of great talent to come in and excel. Boxing is no different in this regard as there are many boxers currently that are not getting the just due and attention that they deserve. I’m talking about the Amir Khan’s and the Nonito Donaire’s, the Paul Williams’ and the Andre Ward’s. These are the men that have been trying to move the sport forward while always having to do it in the shadow of the only two boxers America cares about anymore: Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Newsflash: both men are nearing the end of their respective careers. And what that means for boxing is nothing but a period of darkness where the sport is going to be forced to craft a new identity and regain its integrity and popularity.
It’s not an easy road for the sport & it’s fans, and it’s also one that I’m finding harder and harder to travel. Earlier I did criticize people who I believed “quit” on the sport. I stand by that knowing that my own time as a boxing fan could be winding down. The difference is that I have stuck around through all the “boxing versus MMA” bullshit from years ago, the BALCO scandal that will forever haunt Shane Mosley, and the depletion of the sport’s popularity and overall standing in this country. Most people jumped ship at the first sign of trouble or just the changing of the century. I’ve stuck around, I’ve endured robberies and poor fights that had major hype to them. I’ve been rewarded time to time with an instant classic or a fight that exceeds expectations. But those have been less and less over the years.
This past Saturday night saw a fight that should have renewed Manny Pacquiao’s standing as a pound-for-pound giant while also showcasing an overachieving performance by Timothy Bradley. It should have been a night where, for the second straight month, a pound-for-pound king helped create a crowd-pleasing fight. Instead, it was just another slap in the face to the fans who truly love the sport.