Bad Boxing Decisions

Gonna take a break from the usual public policy posts and hit upon my favorite sport: boxing.

A couple weeks ago, Brandon Rios scored a controversial decision over Richard Abril. Most observers scored the fight decisively in favor of Abril (myself included).

Bad decisions, unfortunately, are nothing new in boxing. One of my top 3 all-time favorites, Pernell Whitaker, was the victim of two horrible decisions, his domination of José Luis Ramírez that was scored for Ramírez, and his brilliant performance against Julio César Chávez that was scored a draw. Evander Holyfield’s first fight with Lennox Lewis was scored a draw, despite the near-unanimous consent that Lewis dominated. More recently, Paul Williams scored a decision over Erislandy Lara despite Lara pummeling Williams with lead left hands for 12 rounds. There are plenty of others, but these are egregious examples right off the top of my head.

Why does the sport continually do this? Because boxing judges don’t have to answer to the boxing public.

Athletic commissions rarely hold judges accountable for egregious decisions (the suspension of the Williams-Lara judges being a rare suspension). Has Gale Van Hoy ever been suspended? Eugenia Williams? If judges aren’t under any threat of losing their jobs, what incentive is there to improve on their job performance?

Many commentators, most recently famed trainer and ESPN boxing announcer Teddy Atlas, point to these decisions as reason to create a federal boxing commission, funded by federal tax dollars. To say this is wishful thinking is an understatement. Federal agencies are not known for their accountability. The financial crisis is in large part a result of regulators creating a morally hazardous climate for the housing market. Whatever problems boxing has will become even more widespread with the advent of a federal commission. Government agencies are known for COVERING UP incompetence and waste, not punishing it. Government agencies, who get their money via compulsion, don’t have to satisfy the “customer”, aka the taxpayer. Taxpayers don’t have the option of withholding funds for poor service. These same principles would play out with a federal boxing commission.

This is not to say the private players in boxing have helped. In particular, the sanctioning organizations have made a mockery out of the sport with their bogus rankings and multiple “world champions” in a single division, and do little themselves to punish bad judging. But it’s the private players that need to step up. TV networks, promoters, and the fighters themselves need to play a stronger role in determining who will judge fights. These players are the ones with the greatest stakes. They are the ones putting up millions of dollars, risking their health and lives just to compete. They are the ones that feel the hardest impact of incompetent judging.

I don’t expect this to solve all the problems in the sport. Controversial decisions will always be part of boxing. But hopefully the power brokers in The Sweet Science realize the time to act is now.

**UPDATE JUNE 10th: I see this post is getting a bunch of hits thanks to last night’s Pacquiao-Bradley fight. ESPN’s Dan Rafael has the story here. According to Rafael’s Twitter feed, HBO broadcaster Jim Lampley calls it the worst decision he’s ever seen. That’s bad. Also, the judges were appointed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. I’m just saying.

**UPDATE JUNE 11th: Think the judges will be held accountable? Think again.

**UPDATE SEPT 15, 2013: A perfect example of government agencies, in this case, the Nevada State Athletic Commission, not holding incompetence accountable. One of the judges for Pacquiao-Bradley was CJ Ross. She scored the fight for Bradley. Never suspended. She gets appointed judge for the biggest pay-per-view fight of 2013, Floyd Mayweather versus Canelo Alvarez. I scored it for Floyd, 118-110 (or 10 rounds to 2 for Mayweather), and that was probably generous. Ross scored it 114-114.

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