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Save the Sport of Boxing from Dubious Judging

by David L. Hudson, Jr.

Its roots come from ancient Greece and Rome. Banned in 500 A.D. by the Emperor Theodoric it resurfaced twelve centuries later in England. John Milton praised it as a noble art for building character in young men. In recent American vintage, sports writers such as A.J. Leibling have affectionately dubbed it "the Sweet Science." Many of its major protagonists, such as Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali, have become transcendent figures representing historical periods as near-mythic giants.

The sport is boxing. Its spectacles have enthralled some of the finest writers of our generation: Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, and Gerald Early to name just a few.

However, something's rotten in Denmark. The sport has been besieged by incidents of horror, disgust, and corruption. Deaths, fixed fights, dubious judging, and mismatches have plagued this sport. It has no overarching body to ensure control, but rather has become burdened by a veritable alphabet soup of organizations. Boxing has received so many black eyes its face looks worse than Tex Cobb's after eating Larry Holmes' jabs. To me the continuing line of bad decisions that plague boxing represent its nastiest welts. Unfortunately, the parade of horribles includes the Whitaker-Chavez "draw," the Tiberi-Toney debacle, which led to a call for federal legislation, and Holyfield-Lewis I.

Last May, the U.S. Congress passed the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, which amended numerous sections of the Professional Boxing Safety Act of 1996. A provision in the recent law provides: "No person may arrange, promote, organize, produce or fight in a professional boxing match unless all referees and judges participating in the match have been certified and approved by the boxing commission responsible for regulating the match in the State where the match is held."

This represents a step in the right direction but it does not go far enough. Right now, fight promoters with vested financial interests in certain fighters pick judges. There remains at least an aura of impropriety where a fight promoter with huge financial ties to a certain fighter selects the judges.

How many times have you heard boxing announcers mention that such-and-such fighter has ties to an influential promoter? Furthermore, for every bad decision at a major fight, such as Lewis-Holyfield I, there are hundreds and perhaps thousands of bad decisions at local arenas. The phrase "hometown decision" carries enormous significance in boxing. Local fight cards are often nothing more than record-padding turnstiles for would-be contenders over washed-up journeymen.

As a licensed boxing judge in the state of Tennessee and as an ardent boxing fan, bad decisions disgust me. Fight judges must have the independence of mind and integrity to score a fight fairly and accurately.

Once when I scored a fight in my hometown of Nashville, Tenn., for a journeyman over an up-and-coming prospect, the promoter literally cursed at me. That's why independent bodies must select judges to remove the built-in bias for one fighter or the other.

A possible solution to this persistent problem is to have judges selected by the state boxing commissioner and no one else. The boxing commissions should evaluate judges' cards on a yearly basis to determine whether the scorecards are reasonably accurate. If a judge turns in a scorecard like Williams did in Lewis-Holyfield I that judge would not be used again.

Other sports, such as football and basketball, carefully evaluate their referees and use only the best during the playoffs. Why can't the sport of boxing employ a similar system and use judges who consistently judge fights accurately.

Everyone knows that there is inevitably some level of subjectivity in judging fights. Experts differ on how much to reward effective aggressiveness and ring generalship. However, I have attended fight cards with scores so bad that it made me want to shout louder than Bobby Czyz and Steve Albert did after Holyfield-Ruiz.

Boxing represents the courageous combat of individual versus individual, the epitome of the human struggle, and, at times, the sheer triumph of the spirit. But boxing needs help; it needs a process in which participants are judged fairly. Otherwise, "the Sweet Science" may well become a sour alchemy.

--- David L. Hudson, Jr. is an attorney, writer and boxing judge based in Nashville, Tenn. He can be reached at dhudson@fac.org








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