It was once one of the biggest draws of the Summer Olympic Games and introduced us to stars such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ray Leonard, Michael Spinks, Evander Holyfield, Oscar De La Hoya, Lennox Lewis, Wladimir Klitschko and Floyd Mayweather Jr. It was a chance for us to build relationships with a new generation of fighters whom we were hopeful would have fresh, promising and compelling professional careers.
The only hope that Olympic boxing has now given us after a disappointing 2012 tournament riddled with controversy in London is that changes will be made to restore the sport to some level of respectability.
While there are several internal issues that need to be resolved within the International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA), there were five primary areas that severely limited my enjoyment of the 2012 Olympic boxing competition this year.
1. The Impact Of Poor Officiating and Judging On Sportsmanship
This issue has plagued both professional and amateur boxing for years. Not that this incompetence, ineptitude or possible corruption is any more acceptable in the pros, but at least the fighters are paid for their trouble. The young amateur athletes are merely fighting for recognition as they represent their country with dreams of winning a gold medal that could perhaps help launch a professional career. It was heartwrenching to watch bout after bout where the ‘wrong’ fighter would inexplicably get the decision, with appeals inevitably filed at alarmingly and embrassingly high rates. Several appeals throughout the competition were raised but only two decisions were actually overturned by AIBA.
The first involved a bantamweight fight where Magomed Abdulhamidov of Azerbaijan fell to the canvas six times in the third round against Satoshi Shimizu of Japan during the Round of 16 in the tournament. Not only were the knockdowns virtually ignored by Ishanguly Meretnyyazov, the referee from Turkmenistan who allowed the fight to continue, but the judges scored it an incomprehensible 10-10 despite the fact that the Azerbaijanian was grabbing, stumbling and holding the entire round. This led to a 22-17 victory for Abdulhamidov that was later overturned by AIBA. Meretnyyazov was expelled from the Games for his handling of the bout, while Shimizu went on to win the bronze medal.
AIBA also overturned American welterweight Errol Spence’s loss to Krishan Vikas from India. Upon review, AIBA found the Indian guilty of nine holding fouls in the third round of their bout during the Round of 16 in the tournament. Spence was thus awarded an additional four points, giving him the 15-13 victory and the right to fight in the quarterfinals where he was eventually eliminated after losing to Russia’s Andrey Zamkovoy.
Given the utter lack of credibility of the officiating and scoring, it became common practice for the losing fighter to raise an appeal throughout the competition. This went right down to the final bout of the tournament when super heavyweight Roberto Cammarelle from Italy protested a closely contested tie breaker loss to Great Britain’s Anthony Joshua to no avail.
It is unfortunate that the concept of fair competition, which includes sportsmanship in the face of defeat, was completely obliterated in this tournament.
2. Scoring Criteria
The scoring criteria in amateur boxing is far different from that used in the professional ranks. Only punches that are deemed to have landed are counted in the amateurs while the other factors used in the pros – effective aggressiveness, ring generalship and defense – are ignored.
All of these combined elements help to make a fighter more complete and, thus, more competitive. Simply counting the number of punches that land (a subjective measure itself as we saw in this year’s Olympics), makes the bout a one-dimensional game of cat and mouse where the fighter who is ahead is encouraged to merely protect the lead by avoiding contact, grabbing or keeping distance without engaging. The opponent is not given credit for pressing the action and being aggressive unless he can land enough shots to make up the difference. It is difficult to do that when his hands are pinned under his opponent’s arms and the referee allows this to happen or the judges simply miss the blows entirely.
Defense is a skill that should be emphasized at all levels of boxing as it can prolong a career and, quite possibly, a healthy life. Under the current scoring system, making an opponent miss shots prevents them from scoring points but it doesn’t award the defensive-minded fighter for doing that. Defense can then become a secondary component of the fighter’s repertoire and something that needs to be re-trained at the professional level.
3. Body Blows Are Not Counted
When counting punches that land for scoring purposes, body shots are not considered. This limits the fighter’s overall strategy and ability to wear an opponent down. Since there are only three, three minute rounds in Olympic competition, there is not always enough time to make adjustments over the course of a fight. A solid body attack not only slows down an opponent but opens up opportunities as his hands begin to fall.
Given the scoring structure and time limitations, Olympians may not want to risk falling too far behind by investing time in a body attack that does not generate immediate points. The back-end scoring opportunities may not result in the amount of points necessary to capture a victory. This again discourages a young fighter from being strategically mindful and impedes upon their overall development.
4. No Extra Points For Knockdowns or Standing Eight Counts
This may be the most outrageous scoring issue that currently exists in this competition. The ultimate goal in boxing is to stop your opponent. Hitting your opponent hard enough to knock him down or hurting him badly enough to warrant a standing eight count goes a long way in achieving that goal, so additional points most certainly should be awarded.
What’s next, not issuing a count at all after a knockdown and eliminating knockouts altogether? It is the most exciting part of boxing and failure to acknowledge it’s worthiness of additional points gives very little incentive to the fighter to exert the type of effort and take the level of risk required to score a knockout. Not to mention it severely dilutes the fans enjoyment.
Problems 2 – 4 should hopefully be resolved with an improved scoring system going forward. It may also help alleviate some of the issues with Problem 1, as well.
5. Greater Network Commitment
NBC has been a big supporter of the resurrection of boxing on network television with their successful “Fight Night” series this year, so it was not a surprise to see regularly scheduled Olympic coverage of the sport on CNBC and MSNBC during the day (non-prime time where it rightfully belonged). What was surprising, however, was the number of times live broadcasts were preempted for water polo and table tennis at times when there was some level of significance involved. This included Staten Island fighter Marcus Browne’s light heavyweight bout after Team USA had won their first four fights in the early stages of the tournament, Team USA’s last chance to medal in Errol Spence’s quarterfinal bout after AIBA’s rare reversal of his previous loss, and the introduction of women’s boxing for the first time as an Olympic sport.
Many people are quick to claim that boxing is dead and does not justify live broadcasts, even if in the middle of the day when perhaps only the hardcore boxing fans are watching. However, I assure you we are here and want to watch it. I would also venture to guess that there are more worldwide boxing fans than those interested in China vs Japan table tennis. If the ratings tell a different story, it may be due to disheartened boxing fans following the tournament through some other means.
At the end of the day, it is not the network’s responsibility to enhance the image of the sport. Only the boxing establishment and its active participants can affect any meaningful change.
This fan desperately hopes it can do that in time for the 2016 Games in Rio.
The Guardian, Olympic Boxing: Controversies highlight the failures of scoring system
Los Angeles Times, London Olympics: Changes coming as boxing endures another scandal